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College of Cape Town Apprentices shine through Covid Lockdown

Tilly Reddy Deputy Principal Academic College of Cape Town

In a bid to address the skills crisis of technicians across the automotive sector, 2019 saw the first intake of apprentices by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) at two Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges across South Africa.

Tilly Reddy, Vice Principal: Academic from The College of Cape Town says as Centres of Specialisation the Colleges play a vital role in tackling youth unemployment and addressing the skills deficit that currently exists in the industry. Jakkie Olivier, Chief Executive Officer of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) concurs saying that the reality is that there has been no real demand-led skills development and/or under-investment in human capital for many years in our country. Skills have been outpaced by technology and there has been a loss of businesses and profits,” says Olivier.

Reddy says as the training is split between one third theory and two thirds practical in the College workshop, lockdown initially presented some unique challenges. “We made contact with the apprentices via WhatsApp and then loaded them on ELECTUDE, a simulation platform where we could compile different tasks/courses with various learning areas. Each apprentice was given a licence to log onto the programme and could then proceed to attempt the tasks remotely. Our facilitators were able to monitor their course progress.” Reddy says unfortunately many of the 30 apprentices, all employed at Dealerships and independent workshops, had challenges completing the tasks, mainly due to data for connectivity.  “Some of our apprentices just could not afford data, whereas others live in areas where there are no internet infrastructures.”

When the College opened in June, Reddy says lengthy discussions were held with key stakeholders including Retail Motor Industry Organisation’s Team Convenor, Louis van Huyssteen and Abe Dun, the Centre of Specialization Reference committee chairperson and member of the implementation committee, as to how best to deliver the curriculum safely in the current environment, particularly as the Western Cape Covid numbers were still on the increase.

“We decided that to teach the practical component, which comprises of mainly face to face demonstrations in groups in the workshop, would be too risky so we elected to rather just focus on the theory component through online learning.” This gave the apprentices the flexibility to stay at their workplace where the numbers are much more controlled and they could still contribute to their company’s production.  “We gave the apprentices hardcopies of learning packs. They were also given links to related videos and Youtube links to further reinforce the understanding of the related topics. Assessments were then held at our College at the end of each 3-week session with the necessary social distancing protocols in place,” says Reddy.

Reddy says the practical component will start in mid-September 2020 now that the situation has improved for the apprentices to return to college.

Commenting on the success of the remote learning, Reddy is happy with the progress made thus far. Of the 3 assessments completed to date, only 5 apprentices have failed to reach the 80% pass mark required by the curriculum in 2 assessments. “We implemented an intervention strategy to help these apprentices achieve the required pass mark and the response to this has been great. We also communicated with their workplace mentors/managers to schedule the 5 of them to come to college for intervention classes. We must remember that this method of learning is new to all of us, therefore some teething challenges will occur,” she says.

Reddy says it is definitely easier to use WhatsApp rather than rely on Zoom or teams as all the apprentices have smart phones and WhatsApp tickets. She says the WhatsApp groups are also very busy every night. “We have 3 groups comprising a Study Forum, a General Forum and an Intervention Class Forum.  Questions are posted and anyone (facilitator or peer) can answer. What I have noticed is that those apprentices who are sometimes shy to ask questions in class, will inbox me privately if they don’t understand something. I can then post the question on the general forum and see what response I get from the others.” says Facilitator Abdul Salie

“In a strange way Covid has done us a favour,” says Reddy.   “Many of the dealerships do their further training of technicians for new products via online learning so this method we’re using now prepares the apprentice well for this new normal. The apprentices have been forced to manage their time responsibly to complete the tasks and prepare for the assessments, work independently and also as a team; follow instructions; self-motivate and use new technology and software on online platforms which support blended learning.”

Her only wish is that moving forward online platforms should be zero rated for e-learning which will remove many of the current challenges and embrace the future of learning.