Training centre stronger as it rises from the ashes
Sometimes it takes a catastrophe to reveal the inner strength of a society. For many, the looting that accompanied the civil riots in KwaZulu Natal was a sign of a fractured, weakening community. But at least one project has shown that the rebuilding effort has the potential of making South Africa stronger than it was before.
The Durban South Training Trust (DSTT), which was completely destroyed in the civil riots of July 2021, has risen from the ashes as a better, bigger centre and is once again training scores of youths in much-needed technical skills, including welding, boiler making and mechanical fitting.
Kevin Naidoo, the learning and development operations manager of the oil refinery Sapref, says the DSTT training centre is not only up and running in its newly refurbished complex in Prospecton, Durban, but it is now accredited as an official trade testing centre, all accomplished throughout the ravages of COVID-19. Kevin, a former teacher-turned-engineer, took over the DSTT training centre some eight years ago, when it was still based in an adjacent Durban area called Isipingo. When he joined, the centre had already been going for twelve years.
It was started as a collaborative initiative by several local industrial giants to address the dire shortage of skilled labour. Over the years, several of the founding sponsors rounded off their involvement and Sapref became the sole sponsor of the centre, which provides practical and theoretical training for 140 learners at any one time. Because the centre was situated on the same property as a large furniture retailer, it became one of the many targets of the widespread looting in that fateful week in July last year. The building was so badly burned that it was declared structurally unsound, and most of the training equipment was either stolen or destroyed.
Such troubled times could have given any company a solid excuse to let go of its sponsorship of the DSTT training centre to focus on its core business, but Sapref remained fully committed. Kevin says the importance of the training centre for Sapref goes beyond its immediate use of making sure there is a steady stream of trained workers to work at its plant, which is the biggest oil refinery in South Africa.
Imparting skills to unemployed youths is one way in which Sapref gives back to the local community. Most of the DSTT trainees go on to do their apprenticeships and develop their careers at a wide range of industrial companies, which is an important part of Sapref’s contribution to strengthening the industry as a whole in South Africa, says Kevin.
He set about finding new premises and came upon a large unused complex of about 2 000 square metres in Prospecton, an area next to Isipingo. The market-related rent for such a large complex was too high for the DSTT training centre, but Kevin saw that the training centre would fit so well into the premises that he decided to reach out to the landlord.
It so happened that the owner of the property, Business Partners Limited, nurtures a similar commitment to community upliftment and development as Sapref. “When they heard that we were a training centre, they asked us what rental we could afford, and accepted our proposal,” says Kevin.
Today, the DSTT training centre boasts five 50 square metre classrooms and two large training workshops and has room to grow its operations. Kevin says the DSTT and Sapref are open to partnering with other industry players to grow the centre.
In a recent step forward, the DSTT was accredited as a testing centre, which means it has the expertise to assess and evaluate the trainees from all other centres in their final exams.
Apart from the cultural fit, Kevin has found Business Partners Ltd to be a responsive and supportive landlord. In the recent heavy downpours experience in KwaZulu Natal, Business Partners Ltd maintenance team was quick to sort out any leaks in the roofing, and they take a keen interest in the functioning of the property.
The lease is for three years, but Kevin reckons the training centre will grow into its new home for quite a while longer as it rebuilds the community, one trainee at a time.