Public Works Academy: progress update by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure

Public Works and Infrastructure

21 August 2019
Chairperson: Ms N Ntombongwana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department briefed the Committee on the Public Works Academy that is to be set up with the South African Property Owners’ Association in order to capacitate the Property Management and Trading Entity to manage the state’s massive property portfolio. The Academy is still at a conceptual stage and the Department could not say when it would be implemented. However, the Department has partnered with various stakeholders such as higher learning institutions, councils and departments to develop content for the curriculum which would ensure that beneficiaries of the Academy will be equipped with technical skills.

The Department outlined progress with other training measures which have been directed at the staff of its Property Management and Trading Entity.

Members were not entirely satisfied with the progress made by the Department so far due to uncertainty on funding; the targeting of beneficiaries; partnerships with stakeholders; implementation of the Academy and whether the focus would be only on existing employees of the Department. Members sought clarity on students in Polokwane who contacted the Committee seeking help in order for the Department to address their issues. The Department committed itself to respond to this matter in writing.

Members questioned whether the Academy was necessary as a new physical facility because the Department can partner with various higher learning institutions and tailor modules and content to meet the Department’s objectives and needs.

The Department clarified that most content and training available was on soft skills and the built environment profession required technical skills. That is where the Department would bridge the gap with the Academy. In addition, the Department made it clear that Public Works had a huge property portfolio and capacitating its employees and grooming graduates and young people from outside with the technical skills and experience would reduce the need to outsource asset management to the private sector.

Meeting report

Opening remarks
The Chairperson said that in one of the previous meetings the Department indicated that its Property Management and Trading Entity (PMTE) would set up a Public Works Academy with the South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA) to capacitate the PMTE.  The Committee resolved on receiving a full update on the Public Works Academy and that was the purpose of the meeting.

Director General’s comments
Mr Themba Maseko, Director General (DG) at the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) said that there is no Academy at the moment. Although the Public Works Academy is still at the concept stage, there are programmes currently in place for capacity building for PMTE in the built environment. The Department would welcome suggestions because its researcher was still engaging with various stakeholders.

The Department felt that there was a need to create its own capacity and refrain from relying on the private sector or higher learning institutions because of the unique nature of the public service. The Department also assists the young graduate in the profession to be equipped with the technical experience to ensure that they register as professional. The Department works with the Council for the Built Environment (CBE)  which is the custodian of the built environment profession. As it stands now, the Department cannot report on the Academy itself, but will point at various concepts that the Department currently has.

Briefing by the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) on the Academy
Ms Hlubikazi Zibi, Researcher for the Public Works Academy took Members through the presentation and provided an overview of the Academy. The aim is to centralise the efforts of professionalism in the built environment and standardize to improve efficiencies so that training is not done in different departments in isolation. At present the Department has no statistics to see whether there is progress. The Academy will also assist in identifying the gaps within government institutions that are implementing infrastructure. This will help monitor and evaluate where the skills are needed.

The research is looking at structures such as transport, super-structures, water, energy, municipalities and Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs). The stakeholders engaged with included provincial departments, government entities, water boards, State Owned Enterprises, and more. The integration will lead to a master plan which will assist the Department make use of the data in terms of planning and implementing. This will also assist in identifying whether there are gaps in the policies, processes or provincial systematic issues.

There is a lack of capacity in the DPWI, the Public Works family and the state in implementing operational mandates. Secondly, the existing skills development system does not produce relevant skill sets in the quantity and quality required. There is also a lack of transformation in the sector. The output of the exercise is to build state technical capacity in the built environment professions whilst carrying out the education and skills development as transformation. The Academy will be there to orientate the existing employees that are managing the state’s assets to understand and start using best practises. The researcher has assembled some data and is collecting information from institutions to look at the skills required and skills planning and ways to absorb the beneficiaries of the training. The Department was also looking into a funding process – these were the enablers to actually implement the Academy.

The Department has partnered with various stakeholders to develop content without re-inventing the wheel. These include  technical and vocational education training colleges, universities, departments, and the CBE. The Department is currently interacting with the stakeholders so that when the funding is available it can partner with various institutions for specific roles.

In terms of content development, the Department was already in discussions. The interaction with higher learning institutions will ensure that the wheel would not be re-invented but existing content and structures would be used to ensure that everyone is capacitated.

A building was already identified in Pretoria for Public Works to utilise for the Academy so the institutions that will be doing the training can come there and the Department will not waste resources travelling.

Progress to date included:
-Up-skilling DPWI permanent employees who are working within property management
-SAPOA short courses took place during 2017 up until 2019, in partnership with Wits University
-316 officials were trained in the identified courses (facilities management, real estate, Certificate for the Commercial Property Practitioner, and Property Development Process)
-86 officials to be trained and 125 to be placed for mentorship in the industry in 2019/2020 (contract extension awaited).
-The IREM (Institute for Real Estate Management) opened its doors to the PMTE and invitations for enrolment into various training programmes aimed at fast tracking professionalization of Property Management for officials have been extended. Enrolment for the post graduate diploma in Property Management and Development was offered by Wits University for 2019.

2019/2020 Professional Service Branch Annual Performance Plans targets (internal to PMTE) outlined:
-40 schools are enrolled for a programme to promote careers through built environment qualifications at universities
-40 bursary scheme beneficiaries will complete Built Environment Qualifications
-1 212 beneficiaries will participate in the Skills Development Programmes
Ms S Graham (DA) asked what SIPS and HCI stood for. She also wanted to know whether the Academy would be applicable to existing employees only or if people from the outside will be welcomed to be part of it.

She failed to understand whether this was an add-on for people who already have the experience or it aimed at taking people straight from school with no experience, developed, trained and capacitated. She asked the Department who would pay for course fees and sought more clarity on the 40 schools programme enrolled under the annual performance plan targets for 2019/2020. Lastly, she wanted to know whether it was necessary to have new physical facilities for the Academy instead of utilising facilities of existing institutions.  

Ms M Hicklin (DA) asked whether it would not be financially viable to rather tailor modules and training content at existing facilities or institutions that the Department has partnered with to meet its needs or develop content that can be added on the existing modules to capacitate the beneficiaries. She wanted to know about the funding model that would be used and when the Academy would be opened. She remarked that although the Academy was not a new thing it seemed that the Department was still “kicking the ball around” about this Academy.

Ms A Siwisa (EFF) said that the idea around the Academy was to capacitate the Department, but the Department mentioned higher education institutions. She said if the Department could get the institutions to provide what the Department wants and take the personnel there now this would improve productivity. Right now there was no clear direction. Perhaps, the Department could liaise with certain schools and build up kids from lower grades such as grade 9 because the older personnel may be approaching retirement and it is more beneficial to capacitate younger generation.

The potential learners from schools should be targeted as part of planning for the future because this is something that must not end today. Is the department taking new matriculants or is it focusing on the existing employees only? On the graduates, would the department ensure that employment would be guaranteed and where is the funding coming from?

Mr W Thring (ACDP) asked for the date the Academy would be running and what will the total cost be for implementation of the Academy.

Mr T Mashele (ANC) said that departments over the years have struggled to improve human resources capacity. Is there a retention strategy so that after providing the skills training, the Department does not lose the people to the private sector? What will it cost the Department to ensure the Academy is up and running especially during the current economic conditions with the Department suffocating with limited budgets?

The Chairperson wanted to know whether there was a programme of training currently in existence to maintain the properties the Department has. During the earlier engagements it was reported that the Union Buildings are more than 100 years in existence, but is the Department training the management on such old infrastructure to assist the PMTE?

The DG said that the concept being devised is that the Department was looking into a programme to fuse into the training programmes run by the National School of Government which is already an institution whose purpose is to train. Because the Department is biased towards the built environment profession, the approach the Department would take is that whilst government ensures that it budgets for training public servants are applied, space is created in there to accommodate the built environment profession – this is one of the concepts.

The other concept is that because this training in its nature it should be more practical,  when the Department brings in service providers to do work in the Department there is a requirement that they fuse in a training programme to include young graduates to get first-hand practical experience.

The schools programme starts with children from grade ten. Secondly, the programme is not only meant for employees of the Department but for young graduates. The Department, after evaluations and analysis, came to a realisation that the young graduates need to be admitted as professionals. The Department would take them on board and assist with practical experience and to allow them to register as candidates through the completion of the programme. At the end of the qualification, the Department would ensure that it partners with the private sector to ensure that employment opportunities come forth.

The Department was not yet aware of the date in which the Academy would be implemented and established. The rest of the comments and gaps identified by Members would be heeded by the team and ensure that those gaps were filled.

Ms Lydia Bici, Deputy Director-General: Professional Services said that when the Department takes kids from grade 10, they stay with them for more than 15 years and provide all the relevant training for them. The Department realised that there are a lot of institutions and the Department is also responsible for Councils which are the same ones responsible for curriculum so that people can get their built environment certificates. As the Department got deeper into the conceptualisation stage of the Academy, it has tried to avoid duplication. When the Department engaged with provinces, it came to the realisation that there was significant lack of capacity, even at national level.

Secondly, the realisation in working with CBE was that there was no transformation because the industry has fewer black people and women. The Academy is needed as there is no capacity to manage the portfolio of the Department. There are institutions but the Department was not aware about who is doing what and the team is also looking into having a repository of information.

The Department’s property portfolio is huge and the Department outsources the management of this portfolio to the private sector. The aim of the Academy was to reduce the outsourcing. Provincially and even nationally there is a lack of alignment and understanding on what proper asset management of the portfolio entails. So the Academy will start by bringing all government institutions together as well as other relevant institutions to ensure that there is one voice.

Ms Zibi said SIPs and HCI stood for Strategic Integrated Projects and Human Capital Investment, respectively. In the schools programme, the Department approached schools that were performing well across the country and ensured that the learners get qualified and get entrances into universities and receive bursaries. Every year the Department meets to award the bursaries but it also goes into the schools to monitor and see where the challenges are and actually learn from them why they are performing well. The Department also goes to underperforming schools and assists them where they can improve. There is still a long way to go but the idea is to understand where the gaps are and ensure that the individuals register for relevant courses in universities. This is a massive problem because there is an entire pipeline for the built environment and there is no integration. For example, when the team meets with provinces, it tries to understand when they plan for capacity building especially for artisans, but there are challenges there because of policies.

There are many institutions  that may provide skills but they are soft skills, they are not the technical skills the built environment profession requires. The Department will continue capacitating its employees as well as people coming from the outside. That will help the latter with technical skills and experience so that even if they do not get absorbed by Public Works they are able to get employment elsewhere because they have been equipped with the relevant skills.

Mr Ayanda Dakela, Deputy Director General: Project Management Office at DPWI said that the contribution of the Academy is that capacity is being built on behalf of the operational side of PMTE. The Department gets graduates from university and it puts them on the candidacy programme for three years and attaches them to mentors to acquire the skills required to be professional.  

The skills are sitting in the private sector but the Department wants the skills in the public sector to reduce the reliance on contractors and sub-contractors. The department in KwaZulu Natal introduced a model where it did projects in-house using the candidates and paired them with a professionally registered person. The work would get checked and by so doing the reliance on consultants would be reduced. This is a model that the Department would like to pilot, particularly with the Academy. This would build capacity for the state to see that the PMTE is better capacitated to carry out its asset management mandate.

The Chairperson said that sometimes explanations may lead to other questions. Just after the first meeting with the Department, the Committee received a correspondence from students in Limpopo but what the Committee has heard today does not speak to what those students are going through. The students call Members every day to check on how far the Department was resolving their issues.

Ms Siwisa said that she was worried that the Department would be focusing on schools that were performing well because there are learners that perform. She felt that if selection was only limited to performing schools that would close out other learners who may be performing well but coming from poorly performing schools.

She wanted to know whether the programme was available to the public as well and whether there has been any engagement with the Department of Education and, if so, how it was involved.

Mr P Van Staden (FF+) said that he was concerned about the inception of the Academy. The department of education must be brought on board and the focus should be from early childhood and that way the focus would be developing talent.

The Chairperson said the idea was good but also the built environment profession is male and white dominated. The reason she was following up on the Polokwane issue was because it is on the built environment field that still remains predominantly white and male. Departments usually come up with programmes but then lose the plot somewhere down the line.

In 2007 the Department came up with a great programme to train youth on the maintenance of government structures but that programme fell off the rails. Now this is a good programme but is it going to transform the built environment programme?

The DG said that in light of contributions made by Members, the Department will ensure that all comments and suggestions were heeded.

On the long term employment of graduates, the Department employs them through contracts and it works with the Department of Public Service and Administration which is the custodian of long term government employment. The Department is looking into closing that gap and ensuring that long term employment would be made available for graduates in the future.  

On the issue of schools, the programme was advertised by the Department. He assured Members that the Department tries to assist the development of the skills from a young age and the majority of employees in the Department actually came from the programme especially in the technical area.

On funding, there is no financial problem because the Department is using its baseline to run the programme. It is funding that is budgeted for and dedicated for purposes of ensuring that capacity is built within the built environment area. The team does not envisage issues with funding because it is committed to ensure that this programme continues.

Ms Bici asked to respond to the Committee in writing on the Polokwane matter.

The Chairperson agreed.

The Chairperson said that the Committee will interact with the Department on an ongoing basis regarding the programme because it is an important programme.

The meeting was adjourned.

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