It is here: the Automotive Industry Development Centre’s second phase of the Gauteng Automotive Learning Centre is open. As a critical delivery pillar of the Public Private Partnership between the AIDC and Nissan SA, the Learning Centre is now working to skill, upskill, train and educate new experts in the automotive and allied industries. With the advent and launch of the second phase complete the programmes become distinctly richer and more practical.

The Learning Centre opened a week of proceedings from 6-9 September, with dignitaries, officials and stakeholders delivering their contributions to the massive project. The Learning Centre’s Operations Manager, Ms Natalie Nelson says the organisation’s explicit goal is “to improve our world with the power of skill”. With critical shortages in many skills in the local automotive industry, the AIDC aims to develop individuals’ skill levels to retain and attract automotive investment, and make South Africa globally competitive. The reasoning is simple: investors take skills levels seriously as it directly impacts on the cost of production and with this in mind, the Gauteng Provincial Government co-funded the construction and development of both existing phases of the AIDC’s Learning Centre.

The new facility has been built to include state-of-the-art, real-world technical training and plant equipment that is inter-changeable with current world-class automotive manufacturing plants. Learners who take up the accredited courses at the Learning Centre will be exposed to the very same equipment that they will eventually encounter in the line of work, giving them a perfect opportunity for preparation to be highly-skilled workers who can integrate seamlessly into the real-world working environment. The location of the facility matters: in the heart of the Rosslyn automotive hub in Tshwane, the Learning Centre is immediately accessible by many of the major automotive manufacturers and component manufacturers who are housed within the Rosslyn area.

Such a facility is rare: the AIDC’s International certificated Learning Centre is the only one of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, and is on-par with the most advanced automotive learning centres in Europe or the United States. It is certified as such, and it meets global standards in training, being a shining demonstration of what is possible in higher education in South Africa. It is a FESTO Authorised Centre for Training (FACT), with FESTO’s Mr Nico Landman handing over the certification during the Open Week as well as delivering a presentation on the benefits of having a facility like the AIDC’s Learning Centre in South Africa.

The facilities available in the centre were on full functional display during the opening week, with the World Skills competition electing to host the automotive-related segment at the new facility. The skills covered at the event included Vehicle Painting, Auto-body Repair and Automotive Technologies, with the conclusion of the open week coinciding with the final awards ceremony and announcement of the winners, who will go on to the national competition to be hosted in Durban in early 2017. Visitors could see the competitors in action, putting the Learning Centre’s state-of-the-art facilities and equipment into active use for all to see.

CEO of MerSETA, Dr Raymond Patel, says, “Hope lies in manufacturing: skills training outside of school is in extremely high demand. Higher education should move towards underpinning courses in high-demand sectors.” This is exactly what the AIDC’s Learning Centre does: the institute partners with established higher learning institutes to enhance existing courses with content and practical exposure that directly relates to the automotive sector, where there are a number of scarce and critical skills shortages. This results in a holistic higher education solution in a meaningful environment for the automotive industry.

According to the World Bank, the critical skills shortages in South Africa are a main inhibiting factor to achieving global competitiveness. The AIDC’s main role is to step in and address this: the Learning Centre was not made to compete with other higher education institutions, but it rather serves to complement them and broaden the efforts to address the province’s and country’s skills shortages.

The first phase of the Learning Centre opened in 2014, and was made up mainly of classrooms for learning theory. It is an accredited merSETA training provider, and to date, more than 2,700 learners have been trained there in over 10,000 modules. The Learning Centre’s first phase alone contains eight fully-equipped classrooms, two PC rooms and a library, along with office space for training partners if they need.

The now-open second phase can accommodate 200 learners per day, with facilities to carry out practical training in a range of aspects of the automotive assembly process. These include modules for welding, painting, autotronics, mechatronics, PLC and CNC training, technical training, interior trim fitting and even robotic spot welding. All stages of the manufacturing can be replicated in this new segment of the facility. To ensure that the offerings are always in line with the industry’s needs, the AIDC has established an Industry Skills Forum, where stakeholders can meet to openly discuss shortcomings in the industry and how these needs must be met to keep the automotive industry growing and competitive on the global stage. The outcomes of this forum then guide the learning outcomes in the courses on offer at the Learning Centre.

A number of manufacturers have already come on-board to make use of the AIDC’s Learning Centre in their own training operations: Nissan SA, Ford, BMW, IVECO, Feltex, Nampak and others have already partnered with the AIDC, with more in the process of finalising their commitments. The City of Tshwane, UNISA, the Tshwane University of Technology and a number of other higher education institutions are also educational partners, with many of the courses on offer being certified by them. A third phase is also currently under development: the Trade Test Centre is expected to be completed in 2017, and will complete the Learning Centre’s comprehensive offering.

The vision for the Rosslyn region is to develop the Tshwane Automotive City, a manufacturing hub that includes industry, residential areas, recreation, education and retail all within an urban hub centred on the needs of the automotive industry. With the AIDC’s Learning Centre now opening its doors, that vision is a step closer to reality: the development of automotive industry skills and the improvement of South Africa’s attractiveness in the world automotive manufacturing markets which will, over time, dramatically transform the Tshwane region into a world-class automotive hub for the international industry.