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Free State graduates return from China

Vincent Pono from Botshabelo in the Free State successfully graduated with a B. Eng. in Mechanical Engineering in June last year from the Beijing Institute of Technology.

With matric results fresh in the minds of the 2019 matriculants the race is on for  securing tertiary studies and jobs with both undertakings getting more challenging in our tough economic times. But there are always good news stories.

Recently 34 Free State students graduated with different degrees from universities of technology in the People’s Republic of China. The qualifications included, among others, degrees in engineering, economy and trade; computer science; and pharmaceutical engineering. In total, 65 Bachelor’s Degrees and three Masters Degrees were conferred on international students from various countries.

Such achievements bode well for the province shortly after the province celebrated being number one in the country in terms of the 2019 Grade 12 pass rate, with a record breaking 88.4 % of students passing their 2019 National Senior Certificate (NSC) examinations.

Commenting on the graduates from China, Free State Premier, Sisi Ntombela, “This achievement by our students abroad emphasises the Free State Government’s passion for education and our collective desire to leave a lasting legacy that will increase the number of appropriately skilled people who will meet the province’s demands.”

One such skilled graduate recently joined SA Truck Bodies (SATB) in Bloemfontein. Vincent Pono from Botshabelo in the Free State matriculated in 2013. The next year he was off to China with a scholarship and successfully graduated with a B. Eng. in Mechanical Engineering in June last year from the Beijing Institute of Technology.

Danie Fourie, Group Marketing and Recruitment Manager SATB, a member of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), said they were delighted to employ one of the returning graduates. Pono joined SATB in November last year. Pono is equally excited about this opportunity. He says the four-year course was tough, especially with the language issue. The first year (2014 – 2015) was dedicated to acquire a basic knowledge of Mandarin. But this was not fully adequate and Pono had to put in an extra effort to keep up with his studies,

“During my undergraduate studies, most of the lectures were in Chinese. It was difficult to keep up. So I had to use YouTube and put in double the effort to understand the content.”

Pono says he was impressed by the exceptional work ethics of the Chinese and adds, “One of the most important things I have learned in China, is never to underestimate yourself.” At times he didn’t think he was going to succeed, but perseverance and self-belief pulled him through.

He is now enjoying the experience at SATB where he thrives on the importance of precision and a fast-paced working environment, “I am really enjoying the work, and most importantly learning a lot from highly skilled engineers.”

Jakkie Olivier, CEO of the RMI,  says it is encouraging that the motor industry, and in particular the vehicle body building fraternity, employ engineering graduates. The South African Vehicle Body Builders’ Association (SAVABA), an RMI association that represents professional vehicle body builders in South Africa, uses only the latest equipment and employs highly trained staff to ensure strict compliance with SABS standards and other legal specifications. “As an industry we have to urgently address the relevant automotive skills shortages. The reality is that there has been no real focussed skills development and/or under-investment in human capital for job specific requirements for many years in our country. Skills have been outpaced by technology and this has resulted in a loss of business and profits. Up-skilling and re-skilling of employees will result in increased productivity.”

Louis van Huyssteen, RMI’s Training Director concurs, saying it is all about maintaining professional standards and changing perceptions so young South African learners and graduates view the motor industry as an industry with exciting career prospects.  “We need to demonstrate our career pathways and fast-track our own training programmes to entice graduates, TVET college graduates and secondary school learners.” 

Olivier concludes, “Our industry is committed to Government’s National Development Plan’s Vision for 2030.  Latest Bargaining Council statistics showed year-on-year growth in both registered employers and employee numbers for the past three years.  The RMI understands that Government alone cannot meet these goals. Skills development in our sector remains a strategic priority for the RMI Organisation which is driven through our eight Associations.”

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