Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA) has launched a state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz Learning Academy (MBLA) in East London. The MBLA is a culmination of a R130 million joint investment by MBSA and the National Treasury’s Jobs Fund, which was signed in 2014.
The grant agreement signed by the two parties has seen the transformation of the MBSA Technical Training Centre into a fully-fledged and world-class Learning Academy. The MBLA is destined to be a strategic service provider in MBSA’s holistic approach to further education and training with an ultimate objective of helping the region in the continuing fight against high unemployment.
In July 1981 the MBSA Technical Training Centre first opened as one of the first multi-racial training facilities in the country. For more than three decades, the centre has been MBSA’s thinking tank and the main feeder of the plant technical workforce.
During this time, the MBSA Technical Training Centre made a significant contribution in affording opportunities to people who would otherwise not have received technical training and in the process ensuring a continuous feed of artisans into the East London manufacturing plant. The pool of skilled personnel that has been provided by the then Technical Training Centre have placed the East London plant amongst the best, allowing it to be a valued contributor in the global production network of Mercedes- Benz cars. It is also such training initiatives that have contributed to the plant’s proud heritage and history of almost seventy years in the country.
The centre, which has now been transformed into a Learning Academy, currently boasts some 180 learners and is expanding its numbers in order to have surplus capacity to better provide artisans for the broader community as time progresses. This is over and above the company’s internal needs.
“The Mercedes-Benz Learning Academy aims to be the most advanced automotive training facility in the country. We will do this by continuing to provide high-quality technical training which will produce skilled artisans in our continuing bid to curb unemployment, particularly amongst the youth in the region, in partnership with government and its initiatives for job creation. Through the academy we also aim to provide our people with a sense of purpose by giving them confidence in what they do,” says Mercedes-Benz CEO and Executive Director Manufacturing, Arno van der Merwe.
“Education and skills development is of paramount importance to the business and the sustainability of our company and the communities in which we operate. To this end the company has over many years showed its commitment to participate in the national collaborative effort to ensure skills transfer and job creation for workers in the automotive sector – not only for our plant but for the broader industry,” adds Van der Merwe.
As such, the joint agreement with the Jobs Fund came at the time when the rapid advancement of technologies had placed enormous training demand on both the MBSA manufacturing plant and the industry in the region, exposing a widening gap of technical training expertise.
“The Jobs Fund partnered with Mercedes-Benz South Africa because the project satisfied two critical criteria for us. Firstly, the intervention would respond to a specific need in the labour market and it would improve the pipeline of appropriately skilled artisanal labour that could be deployed not only at Mercedes-Benz South Africa, but also within the broader labour market. Secondly, and more importantly, Mercedes-Benz South Africa would also guarantee employment contracts for many of those completing the training programme. The Jobs Fund is appreciative of the positive collaboration it has shared with Mercedes-Benz South Africa,” says Najwah Allie-Edries, Head of the Jobs Fund.
In the immediate future, the MBLA aims to be an externally accessible training facility that will offer trade tests, training and essentially placement of unemployed persons to the industry, thus bridging the gap between jobseekers and industry.
The MBLA has increased the current training staff complement accordingly from 10 to 14 technical instructors. Plans are also in place to increase the number of trades that are currently facilitated by its accredited Trade Test centre to include all major trades including automotive electrician, millwright, fitter and turner, motor mechanic and mechatronics.
There are three categories of trainings currently offered by the MBLA. These are the shop floor skills training targeting unemployed school/college leavers for industry; apprenticeships focusing on qualified unemployed school/college leavers to artisans; and advanced technology training which upskills existing artisans with skills and advanced technologies.
The state of the art MBLA is equipped with cutting-edge advanced technology, ranging from robotics and plant automation to metal joining technologies. There is also a variety of robot cells with some stand-alone robots as well as those equipped with other technologies such as grippers, weld guns, stud welders and more. In addition, the MBLA’s automation laboratories feature programmable logic controllers (PLC’s) and simulators together with the learning units.
MBSA is also piloting Digital Transformation, through Virtual Commissioning Technology, which is being researched. The MBLA will develop modules and a virtual commissioning lab, and thus be able to offer facilities and training to employees in industry and local line builders. Benefits include: management of changes in production, reduced commissioning time and impact to production, as well as improved proof of concept and safety.
“Being part of the group of learners who receive training at the Mercedes-Benz Learning Academy has been one of the best experiences of my life. I have been prepared for the work environment and have established values and morals that I can carry even beyond industry to my own life as well. In addition, our instructors always emphasise that there are many people who have been here before us that have gone on to achieve greater things in life and this is something that inspire me to give my best,” says 22-year old Jiovanni Bossr from King Williams Town, who is one of the trainees at the academy.
The MBLA aims to continue unlocking opportunities by providing the best possible people development initiatives in the region.