‘Artisan’ is a term used to describe a craftsperson who uses their hands when working. Artisans, despite what the word may lead you to think, are not necessarily confined to more ‘artistic’ craft fields like carpentry (woodwork) or a jeweller who makes jewellery. Instead, artisans span many industries, from more creative and decorative pursuits like sculpture and mosaic, to more functional areas or work like mechanical or electrical repairs.
The need for artisans in SA
The South African government has identified artisanal and technical skills as being in ‘strong demand’ in the market, and has listed them as ‘priority skills’. More specifically, South Africa has a shortage of qualified electricians, boilermakers, fitters and turners, welders, and automotive motor mechanics.
Electricians are responsible for installing, repairing, maintaining, and replacing electrical circuits, wiring, and components in both residential and commercial buildings. Eskom is regarded as one of South Africa’s largest employers and as South Africa’s need for electricity grows, so too does its need for electricians. According to Payscale, an electrician in South Africa can earn between R225 000 and R380 000 per annum.
Boilermakers create large containers made from steel, iron, or copper, intended to hold large amounts of gases or liquids. Boilermakers often work at power plants and other industrial plants. Given South Africa’s large number of labour- and machinery-intensive industries, boilermakers will always be in high demand. They can expect to earn anywhere between R300 000 and R460 000 per annum, according to Payscale.
Fitter and turners
Fitters and turners specialise in studying blueprints, plans, and drawings in order to be able to construct, assemble, manufacture, and fit parts of machines. They are also responsible for maintaining and repairing different types of machinery. As with boilermakers, given South Africa’s considerable number of processing plants, fitter and turners are in short supply. They can expect to earn between R230 000 and R410 000 per annum.
As the name suggests, welders are specialised in welding, which is the process of fusing different materials, usually different metals, but sometimes plastics and polymers will be welded, too. Welders work across all engineering and engineering-adjacent industries. A welder in South Africa can expect to earn R160 000 per annum, according to Indeed.com.
There are several types of mechanics, but the one of which we think most often is the automotive motor mechanic. These mechanics specialise in diagnosing problems in, and repairing, light motor vehicles (your everyday car). Mechanics are also responsible for routine preventative vehicle maintenance in addition to repairing vehicles that are already exhibiting signs of dysfunction. Mechanics are highly sought after in South Africa and can expect to earn between R120 000 and R380 000 per annum, depending on whether they work on petrol or diesel vehicles.
Advantages and disadvantages of working as a skilled artisan
As with any career, a job in technical engineering has its own pros and cons.
The overarching benefit of these careers is that they do not require a university degree, as a technical diploma and work experience – as in an apprenticeship – will qualify you to work in these fields. Further, you can earn while you train. These careers also present great employment opportunities as these skills are very scarce and, consequently, qualified persons can expect good prospects in terms of their salaries. Depending on the technical career, there are also opportunities for entrepreneurship and self-employment, particularly in the case of electricians. These careers are also great for people who enjoy hands-on work as opposed to sitting behind a desk at an office job.
Many, if not all, of these careers require work experience in the form of an apprenticeship, which can take years to complete. These careers can also be quite dangerous depending on the job site and career/job-specific requirements, and physically taxing. For example, welders are often at risk of burning themselves. Sometimes, job sites are also fraught with health and safety risks like poisonous gases and other hazardous materials. Further, careers in these fields also come with long and sometimes irregular working hours, which can place some strain on an artisan’s personal or family life.
All skilled tradespeople start their careers as apprentices. During an apprenticeship, a student will be mentored by a master tradesperson and gain practical work experience. Once the student is considered to have enough experience, they will work in entry-level positions, eventually making their way up to master craftsperson. College SA’s national technical certificate (NTC) courses mirror this progression in that students start with an N1 qualification and work their way up to an N3 qualification.
Studying to become an artisan with College SA
College SA offers nationally recognised and accredited courses in boiler making, motor trade, electrical, welding, and fitting and turning trades. These are registered on the National Qualification Framework (NQF), and all five courses contain three levels ranging from NQF 1 to NQF 3.
You do not need a matric certificate to enrol in these courses at College SA – only a Grade 9 pass in English, Mathematics and Science. College SA also offers an NTC bridging course for prospective students who would like to study a trade course but do not meet the entry requirements.
As College SA is a distance-learning institution, you can study and complete your course in your own time from the comfort of your home. Registrations are open throughout the year, so there are no enrolment closing dates. Our courses are affordable, and fees can be paid either upfront or in monthly instalments.