Paving a Path to Work

Young people graduating from the Installation, Repairs and Maintenance programme in the iLembe district now have certified skills as a springboard for future training and entry into the workplace, writes Shannon Moffett, key expert for Vuthela’s Private Sector Development (PSD) and Building Inclusive Growth (BIG) Components.

On 30 November 2022 was a major milestone for the Installation, Repair and Maintenance (IRM) hub on the Mandeni Campus of the Umfolozi TVET college with the graduation of the first cohort of youth and artisans to go through the programme. Graduating were 43 youth from the Assistant Handyperson programme who completed their theory and practical courses in electrical, carpentry, plumbing, painting, and carpet Installation. Also graduating on the day were seven candidates from the Artisan Recognition Prior Learning Programme (ARPL) who qualified as electricians and three who qualified as fitters. The ARPL is a process whereby people’s prior learning can be formally recognised in terms of registered qualifications and unit standards, regardless of where and how the learning was attained.


The programme is being implemented by National Business Initiative (NBI) and the Umfolozi TVET College, funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, which sponsors the Vuthela Programme, GIZ and Sappi, and supported by the Vuthela iLembe LED Support Programme. The IRM hub seeks to expand opportunities for job retention and job growth in various business activities, including manufacturing, plumbing, electrical, general maintenance, domestic appliance repairs, autobody repairs and cell phone repairs.


Unlocking opportunities

Broad objectives include to unlock opportunities in IRM enterprises across the formal and informal economy – including township economies – through appropriate training and employment and enabling the recognition of IRM skills for current workers and new entrants in the IRM sector.

The IRM Initiative aims to open opportunities for new job seekers entering the labour market and to formalise the skills of young people who are already working in these enterprises. Industry frameworks will be developed for recognising the role that IRM Assistants can play in the economy.

Large enterprises and small businesses who provide IRM services require skilled workers to become more productive and grow their share of market. Upskilling the current IRM workforce and training new entrants through incentives will enable IRM entrepreneurs to expand their operations on a large scale, thus improving the prospects for national economic growth.

IRM roles account for about two million jobs (12% of all employment) in the South African economy, and around 736 000 are occupied by young people, according to the NBI. Two-thirds of these jobs are in Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and the majority are in the informal sector.

The high number of informal jobs in these industries restricts growth, productivity and market access for enterprises, and opportunities for young people to receive proper IRM training are scarce.

The supply of skills under the IRM initiative will be matched to labour market opportunities to improve the prospects of successful trainees finding work.

Training is centred around a demand-driven curriculum, allowing the participating public TVET and Community Colleges to respond directly to IRM opportunities in the marketplace.

Novel approach

The IRM Assistants training takes a novel approach by equipping young people with functional skills that enable them to undertake a variety of tasks across several disciplines. This has the potential to empower many thousands of South Africa’s youth to enter the job market, making a significant impact on youth unemployment.

Attending the graduation, Mr Dumisani Mbongwa, Director of Economic Development Planning and Human Settlements at Mandeni Local Municipality and a member of the Vuthela Project Management Team, said it was a day for all the graduates to celebrate.

“You are an innovator in a skills development programme which is a step in your career journey. The certificate is your insurance policy; it is your passport to your artisan training. Take all the experiences from the programme to your next journey and I wish you well wherever you go,” he said.

Ayanda Nzuza, one of the graduates said she applied to join the programme as she plans to be a businesswoman in the electrical industry.

“I am the first person to graduate in my family so my parents are extremely proud of me. I plan to further my skills and learn new ones from various people in the electrical field,” she said.

Also indicating a desire to start his own business, Velenkosini Ngobe said, “This programme has benefited me as I have registered my own business providing painting and electrical installation services in residential homes. However, I require work from people.”

To assist the youth on their artisan journey, they were each presented with a toolbox and a tablet in addition to their certificates at the graduation.


To understand what the newly graduated youth were planning to do in the future, a digital survey was designed on the Survey Monkey platform and distributed to the youth. The survey was also designed to understand the challenges of the programme so that its future design can take this into account. The survey received a very good response, with 80% completing it in just two days of the survey being open. Some of the findings of the survey are presented below:

  • Before they started the course, the trades that the youth had the most knowledge and skills in were in painting and glazing, followed by electrical. They knew the least about carpet installation and repairs, and carpentry.
  • By the end of the course, the youth reported that they had the most knowledge and skills in plumbing and electrical, and the least knowledge in carpet installation, and painting and glazing.
  • In terms of enjoyment of the course, the youth indicated that plumbing and electrical were the most enjoyable subjects, with carpet installation being the least enjoyable.
  • Overwhelmingly, the majority of youth plan to continue studying or training towards an IRM trade (86%) now that they have graduated.
  • When asked what trade they would prefer to do their future studies in, two-thirds indicated electrical (62%), which was followed by plumbing (32%).

A key component of the IRM model is to absorb general repairers who are wanting to start their own businesses into the entrepreneur support programme of the hub. Other exciting plans for 2023 include an intervention to support 15 newly recruited SMEs which will bring the number of SMEs supported by the hub to 32. These SMEs will receive technical assistance from the hub’s senior business advisor, Mr Sipho Nkosi, and are expected to grow and be job creators in the short to medium term. Furthermore, a new cohort of 60 youth will be trained in the new year. The hub will also be looking at the IRM ecosystem in the district, with a view to coordinating demand for services being supported through the hub.


Nothando Nyawo always dreamt of becoming a qualified artisan in the electrical field. Now that dream has become a reality through the ARPL programme.


Nishay Sewchuran said he has been unemployed for a while and saw the programme as an opportunity to upgrade the skills he already has as well as learn new skills.


“This qualification is a springboard to getting a job in the field of electrical engineering. Today means a lot to me because I am the first person in my family to graduate.”