TEN talented unemployed graduates are being sponsored by Oceana to take part in one of the country’s few top level skills development programmes in the commercial fishing industry.

The ten trainees, aged between 19 and 30, and including one woman from Gugulethu, are from Kuruman, Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, Paarl and Port Elizabeth.

For the next three years, they will undergo an intensive programme of practical workshop training as well as skills transfer on board the ‘Desert Diamond’, a 7 700 ton horse mackerel trawler, purchased by Oceana in 2003 at a cost of R77 million.

“Initially we relied heavily on the specialist skills of the Russian crew, but over the past three years we’ve been rigorously transferring skills to South Africans,” says Gregg Vincent, MD of Blue Continent Products.

“Since 2003, 59 of the 99 Russian complement have been replaced with South Africans who are now fully qualified in fish processing. Our goal is to qualify 90 trainees to replace the majority of the foreign crew by 2010.

“All in all, we have taken on 74 cadets, who are all from previously disadvantaged communities, and were mainly unemployed.

“This forms part of Oceana’s plan to ‘South Africanise’ the horse mackerel industry and to help alleviate the crucial shortage of qualified specialists in the fishing industry. To date, the company has invested over R2 million in the training programme,” says Vincent.

This year’s trainees are Shukrey Abrahams (24) of Mitchells Plain, Eugene Bergens (2) of Port Elizabeth, Vincent de Wet (20) of Paarl, Junaid Hoosain (24) of Walmer Estate, Giovanni Jonker (21) of Maitland, Tshipa Kolwane (27) of Kuruman, Roger Lebuso (19) of Mitchells Plain, Sisanda Mbanga (22) of Gugulethu, Bongani Ndzombane (30) of Manenberg, and Simphiwe Thanda (22) of Port Elizabeth.

According to Anderies Bester, head of human resources for the Desert Diamond, the ten successful cadets were selected out of 65 applications received from all over South Africa and Namibia.

“Most of them already hold formal qualifications in mechanical and electrical engineering, ranging from N4 to S4 diplomas. They will now start their learning pathway towards a national diploma in maritime engineering, or national certificates in maritime studies, and marine electrical and fishing grade watch-keeping,” says Bester.

These programmes will be accredited by either the SA Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) or the Transport Education Training Authority (TETA).

“Oceana’s wholehearted commitment to the national skills development and job creation strategy is further underscored by the launch of the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition (JIPSA) by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka,” says Bester.

Based on the accelerated and shared growth initiative for South Africa (ASGISA), JIPSA has pinpointed priority areas such as engineering and planning skills for the transport, communications and energy sectors, all of which are at the core of the country’s infrastructure programme.

According to Victor Muhlberg, executive officer of TETA’s maritime chamber, Oceana was the first stakeholder in the maritime industry to produce qualified able seamen out of its TETA-affiliated learnerships.

“We would encourage others in the transport industry to follow the Oceana role model, which has proved to be highly successful,” says Muhlberg.

Last year, Oceana was voted the best maritime business by the Department of Transport for its ‘South Africanisation’ skills development programme.