Sappi Southern Africa launches skills centres

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Sappi Southern Africa CEO Alex Thiel recently unveiled new skills hub in Ngodwana, Mpumalanga and Umkomaas in KwaZulu-Natal, thereby reinforcing the company’s commitment to boosting skills development and ensuring job creation for youth within its communities.

“A lot of hard work is required to build a revitalised South Africa, reduce the fiscal deficit and stabilise debt after years of poor growth. To achieve this, we will need more of our citizens actively participating in the economy through jobs or entrepreneurial ventures,” said Thiel, at the opening function.

“At Sappi, we are contributing and will continue to contribute to this goal. The opening of our skills centres, which will provide local unemployed youth with vocational skills that will enable them to create small businesses and increase their chances of finding jobs, is an exciting next step in Sappi’s efforts,” he added.

Sappi Ngodwana Mill General Manager, Naresh Naidoo greeted attendees at the launch with the skill centre’s motto, sinikeza abantu amathuba okuphumelela, which means, We are giving people opportunities to succeed. “Sappi endeavours to operate our business sustainably, which means giving our people good quality employment opportunities, training and development, and other employee wellness assistance. However, we know that we can only employ a small percentage of those who are unemployed. In working towards our mission to continue growing our commitment to and investment in our communities, Sappi has thus established the Ngodwana Skills Centre, which will contribute to the much-needed skills development and social upliftment of the communities surrounding our mill,” said Naidoo.

Local communities will also use the centres during recess and weekends for other community-based skills programmes. The centres also aim to integrate with schools in the area, in terms of career guidance and practical exposure to the engineering and operations environment, through equipment available at the centres. For Ngodwana Mill, the centre is also good news as it affords the mill a bigger pool of plant-ready artisans-in-training for its own purposes. Their contractors will also benefit from having more qualified people to recruit during annual maintenance shuts. By establishing a centre of excellence in training for technicians, repairmen and other workers to do basic engineering skill programmes, the Ngodwana Skills Centre aims to help fill the critical skills gap that exists in South Africa.

In her speech during the opening of the Skills Centre, the Chief Director of District Operations in the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education, Mrs Thembelihle Gumede said, “The department of Basic Education works closely with the Department of Higher Education in order to place the children who pass grade 12 in Universities, Universities of Technology, however there are children who cannot go to those institutions. They are happy that Sappi has created this Skills Centre in Umkomaas that will close that gap. It will allow people to start their own businesses and sustain themselves. This centre will make a difference in people’s lives.”

The skills centres – which consist of lecture rooms, engineering workshops, an operational simulation plant and a community skills centre kitchen and workshop – are being implemented in a three-pronged approach.

“The training was very good and informative, I enjoyed everything. This opportunity really changed my life and I would like to encourage other young people to grab every opportunity that comes their way and to never lose hope,” said Sappi process trainee Lindisizwe Shongwe, who was employed by Sappi in January 2018 after completing the Ngodwana programme in December 2017.

“Sappi has ensured great opportunities and a good life for me,” he added.

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