Bridging the technical skills gap in Africa

In an industry where over 30 000 technicians are required per year to maintain, service and repair growing fleets of heavy equipment and power systems, Caterpillar’s Technicians for Africa bridges the skills gap on the continent. Caterpillar’s Toby Kirgan tells Quarrying Africa that the programme, initially launched in 2015 in Nigeria, Mozambique and the DRC, has over the years, expanded to cover 33 countries. Munesu Shoko reports.
A Technicians for Africa graduate working in Tanzania.

It’s well known that the dearth of technical skills is one of the biggest risks facing businesses in Africa and the world at large. Given that skilled technicians are the lifeblood of its activities, Caterpillar launched its Technicians for Africa (T4A) initiative in 2015 to tackle the technical skills gap in Africa.

T4A is a free online programme offered for Africans seeking a new and exciting career as service technicians. The programme gives future technicians a base level of technical knowledge to make them viable candidates for careers in heavy equipment technologies and other related fields.

“We saw the T4A programme as an effective vehicle to build better lives while enabling Caterpillar, its dealers and the wider industry to build a technician talent pipeline,” says Toby Kirgan, senior organisation development consultant at Caterpillar.

Students are first introduced to the programme through Caterpillar dealers, social media sites, their schools or other marketing platforms. They then register for the free online programme to begin their training. They start with the T4A curriculum.

The curriculum comprises 18 courses: four Introductory, ten Level-1 and four Level-2 courses. Once they successfully finish the programme, they gain a Certificate of Completion, which can be used to improve their chances of securing a technician’s job in the automobile, trucking or heavy equipment industry. Students can also use it to help enter leading vocational schools.

Key successes

Since its inception, the programme has recorded significant successes. To provide context, over 5 500 students have now completed the programme. Over 1,25-million have visited the website and 67 000 students have registered for the programme. These numbers, says Kirgan, continue to grow.

“Students who have successfully completed the T4A programme have taken many different paths to success,” adds Kirgan. “Some of them have enrolled in dealer apprentice programmes to continue their development as service technicians, while the local Cat dealers have hired others. Some of the beneficiaries of the programme have found employment with other companies, continued their education at a local vocational school, or have opted to work in another industry.”

Toby Kirgan, senior organisation development consultant at Caterpillar.

Why Africa?

According to Kirgan, Caterpillar is focused on growing its technician talent pipeline across the globe. However, while collaborating with its dealers and customers in Africa, the company recognised an urgent need to support developing local talent to fill the growing number of technicians’ jobs within the capital equipment industry.

“In the past, many of these roles were filled by trained technicians from other parts of the world. Technicians for Africa supports our dealers as they work to grow their local talent pipelines by providing world-class training at no charge to students who are interested in learning more about Caterpillar and our products,” he says.

Beyond the introductory training, students who successfully complete the T4A curriculum also begin to build a relationship with their local Cat dealer, as many of the participating dealers host facility tours and on-site career days for the graduates.

Kirgan stresses that Caterpillar knows the importance of continually attracting, recruiting and retaining quality technicians for its dealers and customers.

“Our industry needs over 30 000 technicians per year to maintain, service and repair our growing fleets of heavy equipment and power systems solutions. T4A is designed to introduce new students to our industry and expose them to meaningful learning that will assist them on their education and career journey. Whether these students find their career at a Cat dealer or with a customer, we are excited to know that we have been a part of their journey,” concludes Kirgan.

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