Harnessing Hidden Skills to Accelerate Plumbing Industry Transformation

Artisanal Recognition of Prior Learning (ARPL), which formally recognizes prior learning in terms of recorded qualifications and unit standards, can be a very effective driver for transforming the formal plumbing industry and the plumbing sector. construction in general. This by enabling more qualified and experienced craftsmen operating in the informal plumbing industry to obtain a recognized qualification. Through closer collaboration between key industry bodies, public institutions, training providers and industry, ARPL’s reach could be significantly expanded to enable more people to access jobs. decent, safe, and better paid jobs in the formal plumbing industry, while also having the opportunity to grow and develop as professionals and individuals. About 80% of the approximately 100,000 unskilled “plumbers” in the informal sector are black Africans.

Additionally, ARPL has the potential to play an even greater role in helping to address the acute shortage of skilled plumbers in the country, while supporting the National Development Plan’s goal of producing the additional 30,000 artisans per year. year that are needed for major public works. programs. The existing training and education system is struggling to keep pace with the large demand for professional plumbers. This takes into account the many industrial, commercial, hotel and residential developments that require reliable and safe water and sanitation services in the country. In 2018, just under 90% of all homes in the country had access to drinking water through an onsite or offsite tap or pipe. Meanwhile, just over 80% of all South African households had access to sanitation services.

At present, over 86% of all people working as plumbers are unqualified to do so, with over half of the industry’s total workforce currently operating in the informal sector. Some of these people acquired their skills by working in the formal plumbing industry. They let their employers deal with homeowners who may not want to pay the fees charged by professional plumbers or cannot afford these services. In some cases, they are permanently employed by professional plumbing companies and work on an ad hoc basis in the informal plumbing industry to supplement their income. Some people work in the informal industry to survive due to limited job prospects, especially for low-skilled people. The very low rates at which these people provide their services are unsustainable and undermine both the formal and informal plumbing industries.

Brendan Reynolds, executive director of the Institute of Plumbing South Africa (IOPSA), says the dire shortage of skilled plumbers and growing “informality” in the industry is a long-standing problem. “These issues threaten the sustainability of the professional plumbing industry and efforts to strengthen a trade that plays a key role in providing water and sanitation for health, hygiene and well-being. This is in addition to the efficient use of water and energy. The consumer is also increasingly at risk due to these challenges. Since unqualified plumbers have not had any formal and structured training, they may not be up to date with the latest plumbing standards and regulations. This is especially the case in the informal plumbing market where there is generally little compliance and enforcement of regulations and standards. Among the many risks associated with poor plumbing execution are leaking or burst pipes that can lead to costly property damage. In extenuating circumstances, entire plumbing systems may also need to be replaced at significant additional cost to the homeowner. Not to mention the many health and safety risks associated with substandard plumbing fixtures. These include the potential contamination of drinking water, the spread of disease, burns and, in some cases, explosions,” says Reynolds.

Unlike professional plumbers, the informal sector has also struggled to keep pace with recent industry trends, such as “green” plumbing systems that reduce water and energy consumption. This expertise is particularly important in a water-scarce country that is also grappling with a serious energy crisis. Many professional plumbers have had training in various areas of “green” plumbing. This allows them to better meet the high demand for sustainable plumbing solutions, while honing and expanding their skills to ensure they are still relevant.

IOPSA and the Plumbing Industry Registration Board (PIRB), the professional body for the South African plumbing industry, continue to promote the ARPL program. By recognizing prior knowledge, skills and competencies through appropriate assessment processes, ARPL enables people who have acquired their learning outside of traditional education and training to achieve certification. Typically, professional plumbers have completed a 3-year post-matric qualification at National Qualification Framework Level 4 and the necessary industry-related plumbing training before taking a trade test.

People who have worked for at least four years in the industry can apply to take the ARPL to gain a qualification. Checklists and phase assessments are used to determine candidates’ readiness to take their trade tests. If limitations in their knowledge are identified, candidates have the option of taking additional training. Once candidates have completed this instruction, a technical portfolio of evidence can be compiled and used to recommend them for commercial testing.

However, the ARPL program has its limitations. Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), which recently undertook extensive research into the effectiveness and limitations of ARPL in addressing the “informality” of the industry and the shortage of qualified plumbers, has made recommendations to improve the system.

Among the obstacles identified are the costs associated with participating in the ARPL. This prevents many self-employed workers in informal industry from participating. TIPS therefore suggests that the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), the sectoral education and training authorities and the national craftsmen moderating body should endeavor to remove the cost of training entirely. ‘ARPL. Another alternative is to offer a grant or incentive to make the program more affordable. In order to remove the cost barrier, IOPSA, PIRB and Harambee offer fully funded ARPL training with commercial testing.

TIPS also suggests that education and skills bodies, TVET colleges, the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) and DHET work with industry to find alternatives to the qualification of the QCTO Red Seal. For example, individuals could qualify to become plumbing assistants. This approach will ensure that qualified people in the formal market who do not pass the trade test can still access decent employment opportunities.

Meanwhile, TIPS recommended that the IOPSA and PIRB continue to encourage formal industry to enroll unskilled employees in the ARPL. This includes making them aware of the benefits of the program and the importance of having qualified employees.

Although the training is beneficial for both employers and employees, some companies are still hesitant to send their team members to ARPL. Some employers cannot afford the time it takes for employees to go through several processes before they are ready to take their trade tests. There are also companies that don’t want to pay the higher salaries demanded by qualified employees. Some employers also fear that employees will leave the company once they are qualified to start negotiating on their own. This means they will lose skills and incur costs to replace them, while having to compete with more skilled plumbers in the formal market.

“IOPSA and PIRB are proud of the role we have played so far in helping to transform the South African plumbing industry through, among other initiatives, the ARPL. We have made tremendous strides in promoting ARPL versus professional designation over the years. However, with the help of other important industry stakeholders, we can ensure that the program is able to play an even greater role in addressing the ‘informality’ of the profession and the severe shortage qualified plumbers,” concludes Reynolds.

For more information, visit www.iopsa.org