Forty matriculants from schools across South Africa have received bursaries totalling R5-million to further their studies in the fields of the built environment from the Department of Public Works (DPW), in partnership with the Construction Education and Training Authority (Ceta).
Speaking at the event in Centurion on Tuesday, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi noted that each of the students would receive a R120 000 bursary, which would cover their studies at a tertiary institution, accommodation, textbooks and a monthly allowance.
“Money spent on the education of our children is not simply another expenditure and, therefore, a drain of the fiscus, but rather it must be seen as an investment in the lives of our learners. It must be seen as an investment in the economy and . . . in the future wellbeing of the society as a whole,” he added.
Careers in the built environment include civil, electrical, mechanical and chemical engineering; quantity surveying; property valuation; architecture; landscape architecture and town planning.
Of the 40 bursary recipients, 31 were from schools participating in the Department of Public Works schools programme. Fifteen schools in Mthatha, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Polokwane, Mmabatho and Kimberley took part in the programme. “The schools programme seeks to address . . . challenges and to promote teaching of maths and science, while opening up access to the built environment professions,” Nxesi noted.
In an attempt to address built environment skills shortages, the DPW adopted the Council for the Built Environment’s Skills Pipeline strategy, which comprises three intervention areas aimed at ensuring a seamless flow of professionals into the department.
This included the Push strategy, aimed at providing enough competent and skilled professionals in the built environment through supported and funded secondary and tertiary education programmes.
Nxesi explained that each student signed a contract with the department, which would see them work in the department for the same number of years it took them to complete their studies. He believed that this added practical value to the students’ careers.
Meanwhile, he called on parents to support their children while at primary and high school. “We want to promote parental participation; parents mustn’t just dump their kids at school and think that teachers are going to [perform] miracles. Parents must be there to support, discuss, exchange information and help [their children] deal with their problems,” Nxesi stressed.
Also speaking at the event, Ceta CEO Sonja Pilusa pointed out that the training authority had greatly contributed to the bursary scheme through its R50-million discretionary grant, which was aimed at supporting the implementation of all capacity building programmes in the DPW, including internships, artisan development programmes and schools programme.
Further, she noted that Ceta had allocated R1.2-billion in skills development over the last two years. “We have made the biggest allocation towards skills development out of the 21 sector education and training authorities (Setas); however, we are not the biggest Seta in terms of revenue,” Pilusa pointed out.
She added that in relation to bursaries, Ceta allocated R110-million in the last financial year, noting that these bursaries were divided among “quite a few” entities, mostly public, with R9-million was allocated to Public Works.
Nxesi told reporters that the schools programme formed part of the Public Works’ turnaround strategy, which was focused on streamlining activities, rooting out corruption, promoting efficient labour relations and generally targeting the challenges the department faced.
Last year, media reports stated that the department incurred a loss of R34.9-billion through irregular expenditure. Nxesi attributed the department’s overspending to a lack of skills and noted that the students presented with bursaries by the department would eventually supply these much-needed skills.
When asked if those without skills in the department were retrenched, Nxesi told Engineering News that the department was looking to retrain its staff through programmes, while those that could not be retrained, would possibly be redeployed in other positions. Nxesi added that retrenchment was not an option, as the department was grossly understaffed.
The retraining programme involved awarding bursaries to a group of employees, while some officials were placed in a candidacy programme.
Part of the Ceta grant was used in 2014 to award bursaries to 50 grade 12 learners under the DPW’s schools programme. Eighty-three more bursaries were awarded to students in their second, third and final year of studies. Nxesi said with regard to the 50 bursary recipients, a 75% success rate was achieved, with three students achieving between five and seven distinctions for their first-year studies. Of the 83 tertiary bursaries, 89% passed the subsequent year. However, Nxesi noted that the failure of the other students required analysis to identify the cause.
“Ideally, we don’t want anyone to fail,” he said.