Gaopalelwe Santswere

Statistics SA recently revealed that youth unemployment remains unacceptably high in the first quarter of 2018. While South Africa’s unemployment rate is high for both the youth and adults, the unemployment rate among young people aged 15 – 34 was the highest at 38.2%, indicating that the youth are particularly vulnerable in the current labour market, writes Gaopalelwe Santswere.

It is simply unfathomable that one in every three work ready young people did not have a job in the first quarter of 2018. A large number of these young people have become discouraged with the labour market and are turning to less savoury mean to put food on the table.

So how does government effectively address this serious social issue?

I believe that using key national programmes such as the reform of the country’s energy sector could go a long way in addressing these social issues. The South African government is currently at a crossroads in determining the best energy mix for the country which will be laid out in the upcoming Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). Energy reform at this level requires large scale infrastructure projects and these projects should directly benefit the people and particularly the youth of South Africa.

So what is the most appropriate energy mix for the country and is the least cost model necessarily the best?

When determining an energy mix, various different factors and objectives need to be taken into account besides simply cost. In 2016 the Department of Energy revealed the following very well thought out key objectives in sculpting the most effective energy mix for the country;

  • Ensure Security of supply
  • Minimise cost of energy
  • Promote job creation and localisation
  • Minimise environmental impact
  • Minimise water consumption
  • Diversify Supply Sources
  • Promote Energy Efficiency
  • Promote energy access

Looking closely at these objectives it becomes very clear that the cheapest model on paper may not be the most appropriate model for the country.  It is also abundantly clear to me that only one energy source ticks all of these strategic objectives and that source is nuclear. For the sake of this article though, I will focus primarily on promotion of job creation and localisation.

Nuclear remains the most viable option in order to stimulate the economy in the coming years and yet the national conversation and narrative around the Nuclear Build Expansion Programme has been tainted with inaccuracies and baseless fears spurred on by emotional propaganda. The blatant refusal by anti-nuclear lobbyists and some so-called “researchers” to take into account real world scenarios, as well as widespread perspectives founded on fictional rhetoric that is mostly seen in the movies, is seriously damaging our economy and prospects of future growth and ultimately the future of our youths.

I believe that a balanced and representative mix of South Africa’s energy resources is very important for the sake of diversification but the reality is that a nuclear industry expansion programme will have the largest multiplier effect when it comes to economic development, social development and will be key in addressing our country’s National Development Plan objectives.

In addition to this, the Nuclear Build Expansion Programme will foster a much needed supplier development pipeline and will encourage a wider development of artisanal skills such as coded welders, boilermakers, plant operators, carpenters, electricians and pipefitters, which are all skills currently lacking in the country. Not to mention the development of high level skills such as scientists, engineers and project managers – thus helping address the youth unemployment crisis and help create broader small-to-medium enterprises and services, in both the private and public sectors.

Independent analysis recently done for a 9.6GW build programme and published in the NIASA Skills Report shows that construction phase alone would contribute almost 33 000 direct and sustainable jobs over a period of 8 – 10 years. This without considering the immense multiplier effect that would be created through localisation requirements, which will create more even sustainable careers as well as develop new local high-tech enterprises. Higher levels of localisation in the construction phase will also have a very positive knock on effects, including specialised job creation in the following phases of the programme which spans roughly 60 – 80 years.

The aspects of nuclear expansion programme that need localisation are the complete nuclear fuel cycle – including mining, conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication as envisaged in Nuclear Energy Policy of 2008. Manufacturing of nuclear grade components, such as large steel vessels, piping, pumps, valves, and electrical cabling. Last but not least, maintenance and operation of the nuclear power plants, depending on the size of each individual unit.

One also needs to take into account the incredibly high quality of the workmanship needed in the nuclear industry. Development of these skills requires at least two years of on-the-job training and mentoring by master craftsmen with decades of experience. A combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes in a particular field, which, when acquired, allows a person to perform a specific job or task to the identified standards. Competence may be developed through a combination of education, experience and training which the youth of this country desperately need (I am reminded of the equation: Competence = knowledge, skill and attitude).

With an increase in South Africa’s infrastructure projects and a new focus on the country’s nuclear energy industry expansion, we anticipate that the nuclear build expansion programme would further encourage learners to take up STEMI (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Innovation) subjects and provide them with an opportunity to contribute to a wider economy and be globally competitive.

Necsa and Eskom are currently leading the charge to have Nuclear Science and Technology Applications incorporated into the National Science Curriculum, an innovation which would be a first in Africa. This will provide our youth with innovation and a perspective into the careers of the future which are global in perspective, yet can be implemented locally to address social and economic challenges.

The Gauteng Department of Education, through MEC Panyaza Lesufi and Necsa Group CEO, Phumzile Tshelane formed a very progressive partnership and collaboration to place a focus on Nuclear Technology, through maths and science. This is an example of Africans who have the tools and skills to find African solutions for the country. All we need to do is provide our youth with the enabling resources.

On the 24th April 2018 we witnessed the launch of Nuclear Technology Schools of Specialisation at Edward Phatudi Secondary School and Phelindaba Secondary School in Attridgeville South of Pretoria, which are a means to contribute to the South African economy by address Education priorities and ultimately contribute to the NDP objectives.

Speaking during a recent radio interview the MEC highlighted that the quality of education and teachers need to be of the highest level when you speak of nuclear. “You cannot speak about math literacy, you need to speak about pure math, so we are investing in the development of our children”. He further noted that, “We are investing in the economy that is already existing, which simply means that people that qualify are not going to be at the end of the queue of those that are unemployed”.

Principles of least cost purchasing (for example buying the cheapest technology) from highly subsidised economies (with artificially low labour costs) will only destroy any hope of a developing country like SA in achieving true economic growth. Developing economies depend on firm Government commitment, intervention, and incentives for strategically focused industry development that has the potential to grow innovation – as opposed to idealistic economic theories which assume all economies are at the same level; the reality is that the playing fields are not level and never have been.

Government needs to consider this and focus on strategic industries such as the nuclear industry to bolster a globally competitive position and further address the high unemployment rate amongst the youth.

About the author

Gaopalelwe Santswere is the Executive Chairperson of South African Young Nuclear Professionals Society (SAYNPS) and President of the African Young Generation in Nuclear (AYGN). Both are non-racial associations and home for young professionals in the nuclear industry across the African continent.

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