Adult basic education and training critical for re-industrialisation

South Africa needs to reindustrialise. However, this strategy is reliant upon skilled employees in the manufacturing industry. At the most basic level, they need to have English literacy and numeracy skills. This is where adult basic education and training or “ABET”, including maths and English, has an important part to play in the reindustrialisation of the country.

Adult basic education and training or “ABET”, including basic maths and English, is a critical component of the upskilling that needs to take place in the South African manufacturing industry to ensure that it can compete at a global level.

Appropriate basic English literacy and numeracy skills are prerequisite on any modern factory floor or in the warehouse. It is impossible for workers who are not proficient in English literacy and numeracy to engage with more sophisticated skills in very competitive manufacturing environments.

A case in point is Lean production.With its origins in the highly productive Japanese manufacturing industry, Lean entails producing parts as they are required in the correct quantities. This “just-in-time” method of manufacturer lies on advanced technology and seamless production stages to greatly improve production and reduce waste. Lean methods involve small teams of skilled workers who take increased responsibility for meeting production targets.These workers also promote a shared vision of the company, actively participate as problem-solvers and engage in continuous workplace training to further hone and refine their skills.At the most basic level, they have a thorough grasp of maths and they are able to communicate effectively, preferably in English which is the official language of business.

Adult basic education and training raises skills for4IR

Mitigating risk of marginalising low skilled employees as South Africa increasingly digitises

To compete worldwide, South Africa will also have to fully embrace state-of-the-art technologies and production methods associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution or “4IR”. Our government wants us to have completely undergone this transition by 2030. This is considering that it is an importantcomponent of its reindustrialisation strategy. Upskilling and job creation are among the main reasons for government placing so much emphasis on 4IR. This is despite it being essential to compete globally and acknowledged by most industries as critical for their sustainability.

Notably, the country is behind others when it comes to harnessing these “cyber-physical systems”, although it is gradually transitioning into a digital era. These systems provide completely new capabilities for people and machines. They also represent totally new ways in which technology becomes embedded within societies and even human bodies. Examples of 4IR industries include genome editing, new machine intelligence types and breakthrough materials that are based on nanotechnology. These industries are all reliant upon very sophisticated skills and there is a real risk that low skilled employees will be further marginalised if the private sector does not focus on upskilling through workplace training initiatives. Low skilled workers have become increasingly more vulnerable as the South African economy has modernised over the years. The demand for workers with higher skills levels demonstrates the need for adult basic education and training or “ABET”, including English literacy and maths instruction in the workplace.

This is the total worth of each South African industry and its overall contribution to the total economic value of the country in 2018.

  • Finance, real estate and business services: R640 368 228 613 (22,39%)
  • General government services:  R478 692 538 116 (16,74%)
  • Trade, catering and accommodation: R431 668 773 614 (15,10%)
  • Manufacturing: R386 883 873 805 (13,53%)
  • Transport, storage and communication: R273 192 556 983 (9,55%)
  • Mining and quarrying: R230 514 386 567 (8,06%)
  • Personal services: R170 530 340 058 (5,96%)
  • Construction: R107 665 136 484 (3,77%)
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing: R74 157 433 156 (2,59%)
  • Electricity, gas and water: R65 931 792 241 (2,31%)

A summary of all the manufacturing categories and their contribution to total manufacturing as at January 2018:

  • Meat, fish, fruit etc.: 7,20%
  • Coke, petroleum products and nuclear fuel: 7,02%
  • Motor vehicles: 6,74%
  • Basic iron and steel products: 6,45%
  • Beverages: 6,41%
  • Other chemical products: 6,08%
  • Other food products: 5,39%
  • Non-ferrous metal products: 5,29%
  • Basic chemicals: 4,32%
  • Parts and accessories: 3,79%
  • Other fabricated metal products: 3,71%
  • Paper and paper products: 3,61%
  • Grain mill products: 3,11%
  • Other: 3,11%
  • Plastic products: 2,96%
  • Special purpose machinery: 2,48%
  • Non-metallic mineral products: 2,41%
  • Dairy products: 2,04%
  • General purpose machinery: 1,71%
  • Other transport equipment: 1,47%
  • Structural metal products: 1,38%
  • Printing, recorded media: 1,32%
  • Products of wood: 0,92%
  • Wearing apparel: 0,86%
  • Publishing: 0,79%
  • Rubber products: 0,77%
  • Other electrical equipment: 0,77%
  • Furniture: 0,74%
  • Radio, television and communication apparatus: 0,74%
  • Household appliances: 0,65%
  • Other textile products: 0,65%
  • Bodies for motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers: 0,64%
  • Glass and glass products: 0,57%
  • Electric motors, generators, transformers: 0,57%
  • Sawmilling and planing of wood: 0,56%
  • Professional equipment: 0,46%
  • Insulated wire and cables: 0,45%
  • Electricity distribution and control apparatus: 0,43%
  • Textiles: 0,36%
  • Leather and leather products: 0,33%
  • Footwear: 0,28%
  • Accumulators, primary cells and primary batteries: 0,18%
  • Electric lamps and lighting equipment: 0,15%

A summary of the main sub-sectors of South Africa’s manufacturing industry, as well as their contribution to job creation and the number of people that they employed in 2018.

  • Basic metals, fabricated metal products, machinery and equipment: 260 917 (22,13%)
  • Food, beverages and tobacco: 236 515 (20,06%)
  • Coke, refined petroleum products and nuclear fuel: 163 720 (13,89%)
  • Wood and products of wood: 133 170 (11,29%)
  • Transport equipment: 115 888 (9,83%)
  • Textiles, clothing and leather: 85 019 (7,21%)
  • Furniture, manufacturing and recycling: 67 531 (5,73%)
  • Non-metallic mineral products: 56 226  (4,77%)
  • Electrical machinery and apparatus: 41 716 (3,54%)
  • Radio, television and communication equipment: 18 319 (1,55%)

English literacy and numeracy for more productive and efficient factories

Adult basic education and training or ABET gives manufacturers the edge

Triple E Training, a leading accredited provider of adult basic education and training or “ABET, has been helping South African manufacturers upskill their staff for more than 30 years.

For example, the company’s basic English literacy workplace training has helped low skilled workers to read and understand important workplace documents. These include standard operating procedures and work instructions to improve productivity and reduce waste. Low skilled workers who have completed the company’s English literacy workplace training programmes can also read and understand job applications, payroll forms, transport schedules, maps, tables and charts. This is in addition to safety signs and information to also help significantly improve occupational health and safety in the workplace.

Moreover, low skilled workers who have completed the accredited training provider’sbasic English literacy workplace training programmes submit comprehensible reports. This is because they can spell and construct sentences once they have completed their workplace training.

Meanwhile, the basic numeracy component of adult basic education and training or “ABET” enables low skilled workers to work with basic maths concepts. Furthermore, basic numeracy training has enabled low skilled workers to find solutions to problems that do not have a standard answer. This is another very important benefit of basic maths training that has long been acknowledged by this accredited training provider’s manufacturing clients.

Workplace training for the future

English literacy and numeracy training for a modern economy

Low skilled workers who have completed Triple E Training’s basic English literacy and numeracy training are also in a better position to be upskilled or reskilled. This is a very important benefit of adult basic education and training or “ABET”, especially at a time when South Africa attempts to reindustrialise in an increasingly global economy and needs to enhance skills.

Last year, the country hit the lowest global competitiveness ranking before Corporate South Africaeven had to start navigating the catastrophic impact of the breakout of COVID-19 virus. The local manufacturing industry was among the economic sectors that was endured the hardest blow by the hard lockdown and subsequent restrictions to the movement of people that were implemented to stop the spread of the virus.

Local manufacture has been contracting for about three decades. This, in turn, has resulted in a reduction of economies of scale due to underused capacity; eroded efficiencies;increased costs; andfewer exports. A decline in manufacturing capacity has also led to fewer factory shifts and retrenchments, compounding South Africa’s very high unemployment levels. This is especially among low skilled workers, women and young adults.

According to the 2020 World Competitiveness Yearbook, or “WCY”, which is published by the Switzerland-based Institute of Management Development, South Africa fell by three notches in terms of its ability to compete at a global level. The country ranked 59 out of 63 countries in this survey, which is considered a leading indication of competitiveness between nations.

A summary of under-utilisation in the South African manufacturing industry over the last couple of years

  • Q2:2016: 18,6%
  • Q2:2017: 19,1%
  • Q2:2018: 19,3%
  • Q2:2019: 18,7%

Manufacturer takes adult education and training or AET seriously

Continued investment into workplace training, including Basic English literacy and numeracy

One of this accredited training provider’s clients in the manufacturing sector is Huhtamaki, a key global provider of sustainable packaging solutions.

The company continues to invest in quality workplace training to enhance productivity and efficiencies at its factory in Springs, Gauteng, South Africa, where quality moulded fibre packing has been manufactured since 1976 for leading food retailers in the country. At the same time, the company is helping address South Africa’s high adult illiteracy problem. About one third or 8,7-million South Africans over 20 years of age may be functionally illiterate. This is due to, among other reasons, shortcomings in the formal education system and poverty.

Certainly, Huhtamaki’s ongoing investment into adult education and training or “AET” is yielding positive results. Training in basic English communication and numeracy skills has significantly improved employees’ ability to work with the latest sophisticated machinery on the factory floor. There has also been a notable improvement in the accuracy of stocktaking in the company’s warehousing operations due to adult education and training or“AET”. Moreover, those employees who have completed various levels of adult education and training or“AET” are able to communicate more efficiently with their supervisors.

General Household Survey – literacy rates by province 2009 – 2011


Western CapeEastern CapeNorthern CapeFree StateKwaZulu-NatalNorth WestGautengMpumalangaLimpopoSouth Africa
200996.787.786.289.191.487.897.186.887.091.7
201097.089.182.891.290.787.397.787.084.391.7
201197.489.684.390.591.585.797.087.786.291.9
Department of Statistics. 2009 and 2011

Adult basic education and training for an engaged workforce

Workplace training improves workers’ morale

Importantly, the accredited training provider’s workplace training has also resulted in improved employee engagement. “It is encouraging to see just how enthusiastic the Huhtamaki employees in Springs, South Africa are about completing their workplace training. They could hardly wait for their workplace training to recommence when it was suspended during the lockdown. This is because they have seen for themselves how important basic English literacy and maths skills are in just about every facet of their daily lives. This is over-and-above the applicability of the skills in a modern workplace. A positive attitude towards training and optimistic feedback from learners is always a good indication of the quality of our adult education and training or‘AET’,” Marco Maree of Triple E Training says.

Triple E Training has been supplying quality adult education and training or“AET” to Huhtamaki South Africa since 2017.

Over the years, more than 20 Huhtamaki employees in South Africa have participated in Triple E Training’s maths and English literacy training programmes and seven have already progressed through the various levels of adult basic education and training or “ABET”. At the time of writing, Triple E Training was training 15 of the company’s employees in basic English literacy and numeracy skills.

Flexible workplace training, including Basic English literacy and basic numeracyskills

Accommodating industry to provide top-class adult basic education and training or “ABET”

There are many reasons for Huhtamaki South Africa choosing to partner Triple E Training for its adult education and training or“AET”, ranging from adult basic education and training or“ABET” Level 1 through to ABET Level 4.

Importantly, the accredited training provider can provide a flexible workplace training solution that accommodates Huhtamaki’s shift schedules. Moreover, the company delivers a highly professional workplace training service. The accredited training provider’s facilitators are highly skilled and experienced in adult learning and are always punctual. This has ensured a positive training outcome for the company and the participants.

“It is always an absolute pleasure working with a company that takes workplace training very seriously, as opposed to training just for the sake of it. Huhtamaki South Africa is investing in the success of its people, and this shows through its continued investment into quality ABET,” Maree concludes.

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