During its hosting of the State of the Motor Industry (SOMI) event on 8 August 2017 at its headquarters at Wesco Park in Sandton, Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) announced the creation of the Toyota Empowerment Trust (TET).
Quite an impressive feat. No, not the announcement, I’m talking about getting three acronyms into one sentence. We South Africans love our acronyms - something like the TET offensive. But seriously, the TET has been seeded with R42 million in start-up funding to focus on skills and enterprise development initiatives in the automotive industry. Initially, it will facilitate the training and qualification of specialised automation technicians.
Andrew Kirby, president and CEO of TSAM, says that “The Toyota Empowerment Trust will implement training and enterprise development initiatives alongside and in support of our other education initiatives. These include our Toyota Teach programme that supports over nine primary schools and our Toyota Technical Education Programme (T-TEP) that supports, and often manages, technical high schools in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.” In the accompanying press release, we learn that Toyota has already started with the creation of a fully-equipped robotics and automation training facility in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. This facility will train technicians in the maintenance of complex manufacturing equipment, such as welding and spray painting robots.
The new robotics and automation facility will form part of TALA, Toyota’s corporate training division. TALA has campuses in Gauteng and Durban and is one of the largest corporate training facilities in South Africa. In addition to the training, the TET will eventually be able to support qualified technicians to start their own maintenance firms and offer this highly sought-after specialist service to Toyota and other vehicle manufacturers in South Africa. Kirby adds that “as the largest vehicle manufacturer in South Africa, we are ideally suited to offer this type of training. Trainees will be able to hone their skills at our manufacturing facility in Prospecton, Durban, and we will no doubt use their new talents to full effect at our plant. I trust that many of the trainees will find employment at our plant or, in the case of prospective small business owners, a stable base of work from where they can expand their services to other manufacturers.”
Wonderful stuff, this press release, but let us dig a little bit further. This empowerment initiative, together with other initiatives in the industry, such as the R3,5 billion transformation fund launched by South Africa’s seven original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and many other sterling efforts by the industry, are part of an urgent drive to get more black owned suppliers integrated into the global automotive supply chain, and by extension keeping South Africa relevant in the global context.
It’s a double edged sword, as the South African automotive industry has to serve two masters. First, the insatiable drive by the government to transform the industry, under the guise of radical economic transformation, puts enormous pressure on the OEMs, as they attempt to turn their business models on their established heads; and second, the need to remain relevant in a highly competitive global environment. It’s a unique challenge, and it’s a tough challenge. And it’s a challenge not faced anywhere else in the world, because other countries focus on their economies rather than their ideologies. Well, not everyone. Cuba and Venezuela, for example, live in their discredited 50 year old communist bubbles, whilst North Koreans are frozen in their hermit craziness.
The big difference between South Africa and the CUVENOKOs (here I introduce my very own acronym) is that whilst South Africa desperately clings to its automotive industry, the CUVENOKOs simply don’t have an industry, as their ideologies have all but killed any hope in making even a dinky car. Let us pray that our ideologues do not take us down the same path.
The good news is that the guys and gals in the South African automotive industry are made of hardened steel, and when the going gets tough, they simply do not give up. I, as a 45 year industry veteran, can attest to this.
I leave the last words to Billy Ocean, “I'm gonna get myself 'cross the river, that's the price I'm willing to pay … I'll climb any mountain, I'll do anything … When the going gets tough, the tough get going, when the going gets rough … “