Learning a different set of skills

Learning new skills during the pandemic in South Africa

Pattern-cutting and sewing are not skills generally associated with fitters, millwrights and instrument technicians. However, one of the key things COVID-19 has taught us is the importance of flexibility. Trainees at the Sappi Saiccor Skills Centre demonstrated this when they took on the challenge of mask-making.

In an effort to ease the shortage of masks, Sappi procured thousands of surgical masks for community clinics and health care centres in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. But there was also a need for thousands more reusable cloth masks for our own employees who were continuing to deliver essential services during the national lockdown.

A sewing business in nearby Umkomaas had stopped operating due to the lockdown restrictions but had spare sewing machines available for rent. These were installed at the Skills Centre. Apprentices who were not able to continue with their normal training schedule due to the restrictions, sprang into action making cloth masks.

“We are pleased to be able to teach our apprentices new skills, which not only keeps them gainfully occupied, but also provides for a definite need in the market,” commented Regional Learning Manager for Sappi Southern Africa, Melanie Jacobs. “When the lockdown is over, we will be looking into providing training opportunities to local unemployed youth in the area for the continued production of cloth masks, to supplement the other skills which we are teaching community members at the Skills Centre,” she commented.

Rob Griffith, Learning and Development Manager at Saiccor Mill, added: “Within a short time, our apprentices were working at full steam and they were soon producing around 100 masks per hour. Our apprentices are doing a great job, despite being from completely different trades like fitters, millwrights and instrument technicians.”

Learning a different set of skills