Department of Transport Human Resources scarce skills and job creation strategies

This premium content has been made freely available


21 February 2012
Chairperson: Ms N Bhengu (ANC)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

The meeting, focusing on human resources development in the Department of Transport (DOT), was a follow-up to discussions in June 2011, when Members of the Committee had expressed their dissatisfaction at the overly-generalised plans presented by the DOT, suggesting that a more focused presentation was needed on what skills were needed, where they should be placed, and how educational institutions could assist. Members had also felt that provincial and municipal level planning should improve, had questioned the concentration of programmes in urban areas, and noted the lack of proper integrated links between various systems of transport. The Chairperson gave examples of how China had managed to address similar problems over a period of 17 years, through a number of allied and focused interventions. She suggested that DOT had to develop similar models that also addressed transformation issues, using vital research, including that being done by the Department of Science and Technology and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

The Department of Transport (DOT) gave a briefing that focused on Human Resource and skills development and job creation interventions in the transport sector, confirming that road and rail skills were needed, chiefly in engineering. Between 470 and 500 students were trained annually at Transport Centres of Development, in engineering and management. The Sector Education and Training Authority TETA, as well as other institutions and bodies also undertook training, and a national vocational certificate was offered by the Further Education and Training (FET) colleges. The S’hamba Sonke programme applied labour absorptive methodologies in road construction and maintenance. The Shova Kalula programme promoted bicycle manufacturing. There were challenges around getting capacity to address the shortage of rail rolling-stock, but there were partnerships being formed with other countries. However, few provinces showed cooperation. The initiatives were aligned to the New Growth Path.

Members still expressed criticism about this presentation, noting that not only were the documents submitted late, and some were illegible, but they still did not address some of the concerns raised previously. The Department conceded that there had been a misunderstanding as to what was expected. Members queried some of the figures, did not believe that there was a lack of capacity to address the shortage in rail rolling-stock, and insisted that there was capacity to build trains, but not enough funding. They asked what happened to those in learnerships after completing their training, where trainee engineers would be placed, suggested that special centres of training should be created, and asked what was expected of the institutions of higher learning. They suggested that recruitment strategies had to be strengthened, had to extend to rural areas, and that the Shova Kalula programme must have a rural focus. They felt that not enough specifics had been given of where and how the DOT wanted to move forward, and how it would do so. Members asked that a focused presentation on the sector education training authorities was needed, as well as an indication of how DOT was driving them. Members asked for specific comment on recruitment of women, expressed concerns about use of consultants, and asked for a breakdown of skills development by province. The Chairperson stressed that all programmes had to be derived from a carefully thought out strategy, based on an assessment of the past and vision for the future, coupled with a model that focused on a core element of transport, in order to concentrate energies on obtaining skills and developing manufacturing capacity in that area. A decision in favour of rail could enable South Africa to use its minerals and raw materials for manufacturing stock, instead of exporting it. A broad plan and model must be formulated that spoke to the New Growth Path.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s introductory remarks
The Chairperson noted that this meeting was a follow up to a meeting held on 21 June 2011. At that meeting, there were criticisms raised that the plans presented by the Department of Transport (DOT or the Department) had been too generalised, and Members felt that any interventions should be squarely based on plans already developed that spoke directly to what scarce skills were needed, where they should be placed, and how educational institutions could help. Members also thought that that there had to be a plan for provincial and municipal levels. Expertise had to be brought into the country, in order that skills transfer take place. Another question the Department was called upon to answer was the reason was why S’hamba Sonke prioritised urban areas. Managerial plans were needed to create jobs in rural areas. DOT had been encouraged to look at gas buses, which emitted less carbon. Staff shortages had to be addressed.

The Chairperson proceeded to outline the Portfolio Committee’s position. In 1994, the democratic government inherited a system with four different educational departments, one of which was “Bantu Education”. She herself had been required to take Domestic Science as a school subject, to prepare her for training as a domestic worker. Many parents did not know what was being offered to their children. The issue of skills shortages had been raised in one of the State of the Nation Address, and the DOT undertook a survey in 2003. It was found that there was a lack of integration between railway and road transport. The public trains infrastructure was not linked to public facilities. There were no roads to many schools and clinics in rural areas. A person living in Umlazi or Port Shepstone could not catch any rail links to an airport, and the lack of railways to ports meant that only some goods could be moved by ship. She noted that she had recently traveled on the train between Johannesburg to Cape Town, which had taken 27 hours, and although it was a good enough train, it was not really serving South Africans. People were unable to rely on good train links and waited hours at taxi ranks and bus stops.

She reminded Members that in 2010 this Portfolio Committee had undertaken a study tour to China, a country that had found a model to deal with challenges that it faced, thirty years previously, similar to those in South Africa. China too had faced congestion, high travel costs and an non-integrated transport structure, and it had sought a model that would address poverty and integrate communities. The first decision taken was to select a single mode of transport to form the backbone to the total system, and this was rail. China had assessed the skills needed, especially engineering skills, had studied systems used in the leading countries, and realized that rail had the capability of being a mass mover of both freight and people, was not as influenced by the weather as other modes of transport, and offered the ability to develop different systems, such as high speed rail. In order to develop its own rail systems, China formed partnerships with other countries, sending its own engineers to study in those countries. Some engineers with academic backgrounds were trained to develop the curriculum, and others, who were specifically skilled in science and technology, were trained to develop China’s own technologies, and assume ownership of intellectual property. China had reached its goals for the rail network in 17 years. China had also now made a commitment of R200 million to assist South Africa. In accordance with the New Growth Path, minerals like metals and others could be processed in this country to create jobs and remove inequality. The study tour also produced information on mineral resources used to build trains and tracks. South Africa also had aluminium and iron ore, but currently was exporting these products.

The Chairperson said that DOT had to develop a model to inform transformation. Skills development could not be restricted to the Pretoria office. Scarce transport skills were needed to respond to challenges. Information had to be taken to the Department of Higher Education and Training and the Department of Science and Technology. The DOT was a department responsible for policy development, and in this regard she stressed that without a policy, there could be no model.

The Chairperson said that there were some DOT officials in the provinces who had tried to fix asphalt roads with a cement mixture, despite the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research findings on materials that would not bond. Fatal accidents due to bad road conditions cost millions of rands in claims. The Portfolio Committee and the DOT now had to work as a collective to find solutions. The Portfolio Committee would try to assist but would be firm with the DOT if the latter resisted change or refused to learn from good practices. There was no need to gloss over or window-dress any challenges.. The Department had to show the challenges.

Department of Transport’s Human Resources strategy to produce skills for the transport sector, and job creation: Briefing
Ms Dipsy Wechoemang, Chief Director, Human Resources and Medical, Department of Transport, outlined the critical skills that were needed in the DOT, in both the road and rail sectors. The greatest demand was for engineers. She then outlined some of the strategic interventions to strengthen the sectoral skills base. Between 470 and 500 students were enrolled annually at the Transport Centres of Development, to study transport engineering, economics and management. The Transport Sector Education and Training Authority (TETA) created learnerships, bursaries and internships for unemployed people in the transport field. South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) and Road Accident Fund (RAF) were also involved in job creation interventions. South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) had identified a number of job creation interventions in the maritime industry. There had been responses to job creation interventions from Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Kwazulu-Natal, in the form of bursaries, skills programmes and learnerships. Further Education and Training (FET) colleges had begun to offer National Certificate Vocational (NCV) qualifications in transport operations.

The S’hamba Sonke programme focused on labour absorptive methodologies of road construction and maintenance. The Shova Kalula project would develop skills in bicycle manufacturing. Current capacity challenges included the inability to address shortages in rail rolling-stock manufacturers. Maritime skills were needed in the areas of ship design and building and marine engineers.

International partners in skills development were China, Czechoslovakia, Canada, Belgium , Singapore and Japan. Japan could assist with development of high speed rail technology.

Ms H Mnguni, Director, Department of Transport, added that there was engagement with various sector education and training authorities (SETAs), and more women were being drawn into engineering. A local government sector skills plan was being developed. Policy and strategy would infiltrate municipalities and provinces through skills development programmes, although the DOT had found that there was not yet substantial cooperation and only a few provinces had given their cooperation.


Ms N Ngele (ANC) complained that the document had been submitted to the Members too late to be of much use, and noted that in some sections the print was too small to be legible. This created a problem for Members in formulating their questions.

The Chairperson explained that when documents were submitted less than a week prior to the meeting, they could not be placed before study groups, and the different political parties did not have a chance to consider their party policy positions, so that Members were in danger of addressing personal views in Parliament.

Mr I Ollis (DA) asked about the reference to strategic interventions that started in Grade 1. He asked whether the figures, stating the same numbers of those employed and unemployed, were correct, as this seemed to be unlikely.

Ms Wechoemang replied that she had meant Grade 9, and not Grade 1. The figures had been obtained from SETAs.

Mr Ollis remarked that it was not true to say that South Africa lacked capacity to address the shortage in rolling rail stock. The country had the capacity to build trains, as there was a yard at Nigel and three more in the Western Cape. However, there was a lack of funding. Government had to spend money on this issue, and new trains had to be built, as much of the rolling stock was old.

Ms D Dlakude (ANC) asked if funded learnerships led to learners being placed after completion of the learning period. She asked what DOT expected of the higher learning institutions.

Ms Dlakude felt that there had to be a recruitment strategy for the rural areas. Matriculants there received little, and were not exposed to the Internet. Some did not even have access to radio or newspapers. She asked about recruitment criteria, and repeated the Chairperson’s point that Shova Kalula had to have a rural focus. There were still children who had to walk to school, and did not even have roads to walk on.

Ms Dlakude asked where the 257 engineers, who were being trained in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KZN, would be placed after training. Rural municipalities could provide no access roads and there was a dire need for engineers in those municipalities. Institutions that still resembled those of the apartheid era could not train people for transformation. She suggested that a centre had to be created to deal with that.

Mr L Suka (ANC) remarked that he had thought that some historical background to challenges would be given. The DOT had to give specifics, of where it was currently and where it intended to go, and provide a budget for that. He wondered about the possible contribution of Further Education and Training (FET) colleges.

Mr Suka said that he had also expected the DOT to go deeper into gender issues. He felt the recruitment strategy to be weak. He had thought that there would be investigation into how rural areas could be seen as areas of recruitment.

Mr Suka asked where the people who assisted with training were currently placed. He thought a special and focused presentation was needed on the SETAs. It did not appear that the DOT was driving SETAs. SETAs, in his view, remained largely aloof and unapproachable, even though they had been given much money. He asked if jobs were really being created, and stressed that there had to be a robust and serious job creation strategy, with time frames.

Ms Wechoemang responded that the recruitment strategy aimed to attract women through the Technogirl programme. Transport activity centres instilled interest in the study of mathematics and science, as did mobile laboratories. More people were being attracted to the engineering fields. A transport curriculum was being introduced in FET colleges. There was engagement in Cluster discussions, but other departments were inclined to say that they were not obliged to report to the DOT in terms of the Skills Development Act.

Mr M Duma (ANC) remarked that the training of communities could not be done in Pretoria. He asked for a breakdown of skills development by province, and for targets per province, as well as the number of communities that were targeted. It seemed as if only Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KZN and the Eastern Cape were achieving anything, whilst the other provinces did not seem to work with the DOT.

Ms Wechoemang responded that systemic issues had to be resolved. Every department and agency had to have a workplace skills plan and present figures to their SETAs.

The Chairperson remarked that the intergovernmental relations framework allowed for information to be shared between spheres of government. DOT had to develop policy, and had every right to get information from the SETAs. The Department was in fact admitting that it and the SETAs were not working cooperatively, but apart.

Ms Wechoemang responded that she was trying to explain why some provinces did not give information. There were systemic challenges to be overcome.

Ms Mnguni said that figures had been extracted from the Department of Education report. She agreed that there was a need to get a clearer indication from the SETAs as to what they were doing.

Ms Mnguni said transport qualifications were also being developed at the FET colleges, to try to close some of the operational gaps. This had started as a pilot and was being extended to other provinces. There had been an approach to Mpumalanga, but this province said that it lacked capacity. Eastern Cape said that it would be ready in the next phase. Transnet had been asked to discuss rail issues with the FET colleges. There had been partnerships forged with universities and FET colleges. The Department of Higher Education and Training was involved in maritime development. There was tracking of the Centres of Development (COD) to ascertain their impact, although the DOT had not made site visits and it did need increased funding. There was a need to check whether the institutions being funded were responding properly to the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed, and, if not, this should be interrogated. She noted that continuous audits had to be conducted to ensure continued aligned with government policy. Where there was scarcity of funding, ways had to be found to generate funds. The Coordinating Committee had reviewed the situation in the previous year, to assess whether DOT was responding to the government mandate.

Dr Maria du Toit, Deputy Director General, DOT, conceded that some of the information that the Portfolio Committee had requested was not available, but explained that there was a misunderstanding as to what the Committee required of today’s meeting. She asked that the DOT be given a chance to engage with its modal counterparts, especially in municipalities and provinces. She admitted that there were challenges around the macro plan. There had to be an interdepartmental framework. It was clear that ad hoc solutions could not succeed. There had to be an integrated definition of transport, related to multi-disciplinary skills development.

The Chairperson agreed that the DOT had not provided the information that was needed. She asked that the Department read the 2003 Report on Transport, as well as the Committee’s own Study Tour Report on its 2010 visit to China. She encouraged the DOT to interact with its counterparts in China.

The Chairperson noted that the DOT briefing had focused entirely on programmes, and had not discussed the strategy and model. Programmes like S’hamba Sonke and Shova Kalula should be derived from a pre-existing model and strategy, and this must first be outlined. In order to make the right strategic interventions, the problems of transport in the country must be well understood. Planning by the DOT should focus on addressing those problems, and DOT must ask itself where it wanted to be, how it wanted to move from the past, what was needed to effect that move, and what the DOT already had at its disposal. It would also have to decide how much time was needed.

Skills were needed in order to develop transport, and so the question was whether those necessary skills existed. However, the skills needs could only be identified once a decision about the backbone of transport had been made – for instance, China had chosen rail as that backbone. Investment patterns could then change according to the main focus, for it would not do to invest the same amounts across the board. Investment of human resources depended on strategic choices. One of the four modes of transport should be chosen as the investment priority. China had managed to open 24 manufacturing plants, after choosing rail as its focus. She believed that trains could be manufactured in South Africa. Human Resource development in South Africa would allow the country to prepare for skills development, and the workforce could then be absorbed into productive employment.

The Chairperson said again that current skills levels had to be identified. New engineers had to be trained, and current ones upgraded. Learning centres that could contribute with financial resources to build skills must be identified, and the DOT had to build a relationship with them. The Department of Health had succeeded, through its strategic actions, in obtaining a medical scholarship from Cuba for a student from a deep rural area. There were institutions in other countries that could help. The DOT had to give direction and speak to the challenges. It was unacceptable to have a SETA that would return money instead of ensuring that it was spent on training.

The Chairperson noted that SAMSA had set a good example, being clear about what was needed for maritime development. The Chief Executive Officer of SAMSA had told the Committee that opportunities for job creation were being lost. He could tell accurately how many ships regularly passed along the coastline. South Africa had sold 57 ships in 1993, preventing the country from being a maritime player.

The Chairperson continued that the Budget Review and Recommendation Report provided an opportunity for Parliament to influence the budget, and this would mean that resources could be directed to where they were needed. The President had spoken of railway links between Johannesburg and Cape Town, which would lead to the development of towns. There had to be a broad plan that spoke to the New Growth Path, including roads, and the skills needed for roads.

She expressed her concern that so many departments relied on consultants, rather than on the Department of Science and Technology, despite the fact that consultants were only out to make money, and government wanted to reduce costs. In North West there had been hiring of 110 consultants. Officials were appointed who lacked skills. In China, government enterprises were showing profits and the Chinese government was developing skills. It was not right that so many of the 239 municipalities did not even have an engineer, and that they depended on consulting engineers.

She again reiterated that it was necessary to have a model in order to develop programmes effectively. She invited the DOT to fully outline its challenges, as part of the development of a strategy in line with the New Growth Path.

The meeting was adjourned.


  • We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting

Download as PDF

You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.

See detailed instructions for your browser here.

Share this page: