Youth driv­ing SA back to rail

Public Sector Manager - - Feature -

Lo­cal youth are at the fore­front of as­sem­bling, test­ing, com­mis­sion­ing and de­liv­er­ing new and mod­ern com­muter trains for South Africa.

They are em­ployed by Gi­bela at the first-of-its-kind R1 bil­lion train man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity in Dun­not­tar in Ekurhu­leni, about 50km east of Johannesburg.

It is at this new 72-hectare plant that they are build­ing the Pas­sen­ger Rail Agency of South Africa's (PRASA) rolling stock of mod­ern com­muter trains.

Gi­bela – a part­ner­ship be­tween Al­stom, a multi­na­tional world leader in in­te­grated trans­port sys­tems and South Africa's Ubum­bano Rail and New Africa Rail – was launched in 2014 to de­liver on two ma­jor con­tracts for PRASA. Th­ese are to man­u­fac­ture 580 state-of-the-art X'Trapo­lis Mega com­muter trains, over 10 years, to re­place the aged cur­rent fleet for Metro­rail and to sup­ply tech­ni­cal ser­vices and spares for the trains dur­ing their first 19 years in ser­vice.

The cut­ting-edge train pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity was re­cently un­veiled by Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa. It is a crit­i­cal hub for pro­vid­ing on­site main­te­nance and en­gi­neer­ing ser­vices, a train­ing fa­cil­ity for rail­way-spe­cific ar­ti­san skills and

an en­gi­neer­ing cen­tre of ex­cel­lence.

The con­struc­tion of the fac­tory com­menced in Jan­uary 2016 with man­u­fac­tur­ing ac­tiv­i­ties start­ing in 2017.

Em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties

Ac­cord­ing to Gi­bela, cur­rently more than 400 peo­ple are di­rectly em­ployed in the fac­tory and it an­tic­i­pates that the num­ber will rise to more than 1 500 once the fac­tory is in full pro­duc­tion.

Of th­ese, more than 200 are en­gi­neers and tech­ni­cians – in­clud­ing 80 women who have been trained and de­ployed as full-time Gi­bela em­ploy­ees; 50 skilled and semi-skilled ar­ti­sans and tech­ni­cians; and 65 ap­pren­tices, who be­gan their ap­pren­tice­ships at the new train­ing cen­tre since last year.

Youth such as Ma­pula Tse­bela (25), a semi-skilled me­chan­i­cal fil­ter, is one of the pre­vi­ously un­em­ployed who has ben­e­fited from the project.

Re­spon­si­ble for the in­ter­nal in­stal­la­tions like door trim­mings, roof arcs and seats, Tse­bela from neigh­bour­ing Tsakane town­ship, said the project has changed her life by giv­ing her an op­por­tu­nity to be em­ployed full-time.

She found out about the project through a web­site, ap­plied and was hired in April 2018.

“The six months work­ing here has changed me. It has been a great ex­pe­ri­ence since I was fresh from col­lege af­ter grad­u­at­ing in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing at Ekhu­ru­leni East Col­lege. This plant has cre­ated a great ex­pe­ri­ence for me and many other youth in this area,” she said.

An­other youth who is ben­e­fit­ing from the project is Sibu­siso Sime­lane. He is an elec­tri­cal fit­ter who started work­ing last year Novem­ber af­ter hear­ing about the project from the De­part­ment of Labour.

Sime­lane said he had to un­dergo fur­ther skills train­ing which was of­fered by the com­pany.

“This is a big project for South Africa and I'm part of mak­ing his­tory. Even gen­er­a­tions to fol­low will know about this project. It has changed my life,” said Sime­lane.

He said the plant is help­ing to ad­dress the most press­ing chal­lenge in South Africa to­day: un­em­ploy­ment, es­pe­cially among the youth.

The over­all em­ploy­ment eq­uity at the plant con­sti­tutes 49 per­cent fe­male and 51 per­cent male, with 635 full-time em­ploy­ees, 90 per­cent of whom are black, ac­cord­ing to Gi­bela.

To meet the de­mand­ing lo­cal con­tent re­quire­ment of at least 65 per­cent, Gi­bela has taken on board 54 South African sup­pli­ers to sup­ply ma­te­ri­als, parts and ser­vices. This has cre­ated more than 4 700 jobs which the com­pany is sup­port­ing through its ac­tiv­i­ties.

Look­ing ahead over the next 10 years, the train­ing cen­tre is ex­pected to skill over 6 700 ar­ti­sans, about 2 000 en­gi­neer­ing tech­ni­cians and nearly 600 pro­fes­sional en­gi­neers across South Africa's rail sec­tor.

A mile­stone for South Africa

Speak­ing at the un­veil­ing of the fac­tory to the pub­lic, Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa said it was a sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment for pas­sen­ger rail, the econ­omy, in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing in the coun­try.

The Pres­i­dent went on to wel­come the in­vest­ment com­mit­ment, say­ing the project demon­strates the value of the part­ner­ship be­tween the gov­ern­ment, its agen­cies and the pri­vate sec­tor, en­sur­ing that pub­lic in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture is ef­fec­tively lever­aged to pro­mote in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, lo­cal­i­sa­tion and job cre­ation.

“When we talk about the ex­pan­sion of our econ­omy, it is a place like this and peo­ple like you that we are talk­ing about,” he added.

Af­ter decades of un­der-in­vest­ment in new trains for pas­sen­ger rail trans­port, the Pres­i­dent said this in­vest­ment sig­ni­fies a new era in the mod­erni­sa­tion of the com­muter rail net­work.

Restor­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing and cre­at­ing jobs

This fac­tory will have a pro­found im­pact not only in the sphere of pub­lic trans­port but also in de­vel­op­ing the coun­try's man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity, Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa said.

“For in­stead of sim­ply im­port­ing new trains, we have used this op­por­tu­nity to in­vest in lo­cal in­dus­try, ca­pa­bil­i­ties and skills.”

Af­ter years of de­cline, Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa said the gov­ern­ment is de­ter­mined to re­store man­u­fac­tur­ing as a grow­ing sec­tor of the econ­omy, in large be­cause it has great po­ten­tial to cre­ate jobs, sup­port sec­ondary in­dus­tries and in­crease the coun­try's ex­port ca­pac­ity.

“This fac­tory will demon­strate that South Africa has ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties that will only gain in value over time.”

Turn­ing to the rail sec­tor, the Pres­i­dent was of the view that the fac­tory will serve as a cat­a­lyst for the trans­for­ma­tion of pas­sen­ger rail ser­vices and pub­lic trans­port more broadly.

“It demon­strates our de­ter­mi­na­tion to de­velop pas­sen­ger rail as a crit­i­cal en­abler of eco­nomic growth and so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

“Our rail­ways must be­come the ar­ter­ies of a grow­ing econ­omy that brings mean­ing­ful im­prove­ment to peo­ple's lives,” he said.

Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa, with Trans­port Min­is­ter Blade Nzimande and Gaut­eng MEC for Roads and Trans­port Is­mail Vadi dur­ing a visit to a new train man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity in Ekurhu­leni, Gaut­eng.

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