South Africa’s Open Trade Training Centre (OTTC) for refrigeration artisans (aka student technicians) held a launch event on October 4 in Johannesburg to announce development plans for its Skills City Africa project, a novel concept that would be a major hub for training refrigeration technicians.
For the project, OTTC has bought a 7-hectare (17.3 acres) property adjacent to its current training center in Springs, Johannesburg, where it has been training ammonia technicians since 1993.
The dream is to, within the next five years, build an all-in-one hub for artisans to train, work, and live so that they can go into the industry ready to “put up shop,” as Isolde Döbelin, OTTC Director, put it. “I want to train multi-skilled people who can go anywhere in the world and get a job,” she explained at the launch, noting that other trades like plumbing and electrical would be taught as well.
One part of the new site will be developed as a training center while a section has been set aside to build factories that offer employment for students while they train. Each new student will get two decommissioned shipping containers – one to serve as living quarters and another that will be used as a personal workshop.
Once they have completed their training and become a qualified technician, they can simply take their containers and start a business anywhere on the continent. “Nobody should be unemployed,” said Döbelin, who has been nurturing this idea since 2005. “There is so much work to be done in this country if we only had the right skills.”
Natural refrigerant training
OTTC is well versed in natural refrigerant training. It was the first training facility in South Africa to offer a practical ammonia diploma, and nearly 400 students have graduated from its six-week hands-on course. It also recently finished construction of a state-of-the-art CO2 system to enable practical training of students.
The Skills City Africa project will be run as a non-profit organization by a trust fund set up for this purpose, putting all money generated back into the project. Döbelin envisages an environmentally sustainable development complete with a racing track, hotel, conference center and an ice rink, even a crèche.
Döbelin so far has the backing of German training association BIV, which has been involved with OTTC for over 30 years, though Döbelin is asking for addi- tional industry support to make her dream a reality.
To pledge its support, the head of the BIV, Heribert Baumeister, BIV’s Federal Guild Master, came from Germany to attend the launch event and say a few encouraging words. He was accompanied by Karsten Beerman, Director of German training organization IKKE, who called the idea “wonderful” and echoed Döbelin’s call for industry support. “I see a great future for this project,” he said, vowing to do whatever he can to ensure its successful execution.
This article originally appeared in the November-December 2019 issue of Accelerate Magazine.