Based in the city of Polokwane in the province of Limpopo, the university is anxious to respond to the South African mining industry’s urgent need for skilled miners and trades people, but needs help with curriculum development, program delivery and facilities planning.
“They have a dean in place, they are building relationships with the mining companies in their region and they have a business plan,” said Barnard. “The next step for us is to help them move forward with the development of mining technician and mining technology programs.
“South Africa’s post secondary institutions are under-resourced and they’re not turning out students with the skill levels the industry needs,” said Barnard. “You have to remember that South Africa has only been a democracy for 10 years, so it has had a lot of growing and learning to do.”
Until 1995, she said, the country was ruled and controlled by a small minority. Black South Africans, who comprised 90 per cent of the population, were relegated to the bottom strata of society. With the change in government, they have to train and educate 40 million people to participate in the economy.
“That’s a huge challenge,” said Barnard. “While I was in the country, the government announced that they want 20,000 more skilled trades people trained and graduate 1,000 more engineers every year.”
Barnard traveled to South Africa as part of an Ontario delegation participating in Electra Mining, Africa’s largest mining trade show. She also met with senior executives of De Beers and Anglo American, explored opportunities with Damelin, a private South African educational institution, and conferred with representatives of a manufacturing consortium.
Damelin expressed an interest in working with Cambrian College and Sudbury’s Northern Centre for Advanced Technology on mining-related short courses and online health and safety curriculum.
Desperate for qualified tool and die trades people, the manufacturing consortium is planning to adopt a local college, supply it with equipment and assist with the development of its curriculum.
“They looked at our tool and die and machining curriculum, and said it’s exactly what they need,” said Barnard.
On top of everything else, the country is losing 10 per cent of its workforce every year to AIDS, prompting some mining companies to cover the cost of anti-retro viral medication for their HIV-positive employees.
Despite all the challenges, Barnard was impressed with the progress the country is making and the determination of South Africans to put the past behind them.
“One White Afrikaner – a senior businessman – said, ‘I could take my business offshore anytime, but South Africa is my country. I believe in what we are doing and I’m going to be part of the solution.'”