Under normal circumstances, Mikateko Ruth Matshebele and Mpho Thulare would never share a classroom.

Matshebele is a 37-year-old civil engineering graduate who dreams of running her own company. Thulare is a 24-year-old unemployed construction graduate trying to gain vital experience.

But for the next two weeks, the two will share a makeshift classroom on South Africa’s first-ever course for bakkie builders, learning the art of bricklaying.

The short course is a venture launched by cement manufacturer PPC to upskill South Africa’s scores of informal builders.

“PPC is a proudly South African company committed to helping to build the country. Unemployment, and especially youth unemployment, is a huge challenge and it is vital that companies like us do our bit to bridge the skills mismatch which is undermining South Africa’s development and help reduce unemployment levels,” says Njombo Lekula, PPC’s Southern African Managing Director.

He says the initiative is also an attempt to ensure skills transfer in the construction industry.

“South Africa is losing valuable skills to other countries, while young people are choosing not to study construction. It is therefore important that we ensure these skills are not lost, or a once highly sought-after construction country is not going to have skills and we will have to import the skills, at great cost, to build our own country.”

The courses on offer – which will be available across the country – include bricklaying, plastering and construction management. It incorporates both theory and practical instruction.

PPC, South Africa’s largest manufacturer of cement, foots the bill for the course. Attendees can either apply to attend or can be nominated by a retailer or supplier. PPC has partnered with training service provider and private FET college Motheo Academy, who will provide the instruction.

“We have chosen Motheo Academy to do the training as they have an exemplary record of providing exceptional, relevant instruction in the built environment. We want to give participants the best opportunity to improve their skills so they can build better lives. To do that, we needed to provide them with the best instruction. PPC knows that it is only by working together that we can build stronger communities,” says Lekula.

PPC launched the initiative last week.

Thirteen students from Gauteng attended the first course which took place at PPC Cement Hercules factory in Pretoria West.

Participants also receive a financial incentive to help them buy the construction tools they require after the course.

Over 200 bakkie builders from across South Africa will be provided with the opportunity to attend the course over the next 8 months.

The 10-day plastering course will include learning how to plaster walls and screed a floor while the five-day management programme will include learning how to supervise construction teams, health and safety on a construction site and the use and storage of construction materials.

All attendees who successfully complete the NQF level 3 (bricklaying and plastering) and 4 (construction management) programme will receive South African Qualifications Authority certificates.

Lekula says PPC is targeting builders as it will empower and uplift local communities.

“Informal builders are small businesses which play a vital role in building our communities while also providing much-needed direct investment, two objectives which align with those of PPC,” he says.

Matshebele welcomed the initiative which she hopes will provide her with the skills to either find a job in the construction industry or start her own company.

The unemployed civil engineering graduate from Mamelodi East says when she had heard about the course on radio, she immediately decided to apply.

“I’m looking for experience,” she says. “I am hoping that this experience, together with the degree in civil engineering will either net me a job or allow me to open my own engineering and building company, which has always been a dream of mine.”

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