By Eamonn Ryan | Photos by Eamonn Ryan

Kwakho Mpepho has evolved from a high school teacher to a training manager specialising in the construction sector. A stint with the Master Builders’ Association North (MBA North) led to his current position with the Institute of Plumbing South Africa (IOPSA), as he ‘fell in love’ with this most hands-on of industries.

Kwakho Mpepho, IOPSA Training Manager.

Kwakho Mpepho, IOPSA Training Manager.

Mpepho started his career as a teacher, having come from a highly academically inclined family. “It was a tradition in my family that before you do anything else you complete a teaching qualification. My mother was a teacher, while my father, although he was a salesman for a tobacco company, his father was a teacher and most of his siblings were all teachers, lecturers and professors.” Following his teacher qualification and then a further BA degree, he taught for a year and finally entered the world of training consulting.

“This introduced me to the education and training environment as we know it in South Africa. At a consulting firm I started as a facilitator, where I learned the hosting of training events and assessing work-related training and accreditation by Setas (sector education and training authorities) in different industries. With this consulting experience I then moved to the ‘other side’, working for a financial services company Avbob, to deliver training to their employees. This was at a critical time when all financial services companies were having to upgrade and upskill themselves in terms of the FAIS (Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services) Act to ensure they were ‘fit and proper’ for the function,” says Mpepho.

This involved him in sourcing training providers, checking on their accreditation and working with teams of functional trainers and assessors. He then broadened his experience further at delivery company DHL, where he was involved in the delivery of the employee induction programme from Germany and identifying South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) aligned training material for staff where necessary. “I personally deliver training on the ‘soft’ skills rather than technical subject matter of each particular industry and have been primarily involved on the regulatory side of training: working with Setas, accreditation and alignment of material. We had subject matter experts and my role is to ensure that the training they deliver is fit-for-purpose.

From left: AJC Plumbers’ four apprentices – Innocent Mnisi (26); Sandisiwe Mbolekua (25); Sheron Mashele (24); and Keelibone Mahlake (30) – with owner Arthur Classen second from left.

From left: AJC Plumbers’ four apprentices – Innocent Mnisi (26); Sandisiwe Mbolekua (25); Sheron Mashele (24); and Keelibone Mahlake (30) – with owner Arthur Classen second from left.

Entering the construction industry

He has been IOPSA training manager for the past year and involved in a new industry: construction. “What’s stimulating about this work is the empowerment and joy it gives to learners and apprentices. For instance, on the IOPSA apprenticeship pilot, I deal with people who, based on their family dynamics, would typically not qualify for such a trade but now are on that path. One individual in particular is the best of the current intake and whose leadership skills are growing by the day. That is extremely rewarding to be part of. This individual is at a point of being completely self-motivated to the extent he himself recognises what gaps he still has in his training and on his own initiative will approach an employer so as to work there on his apprenticeship and get the necessary exposure.”

One of the biggest challenges of his job and the apprenticeship programme, he says, is to improve the job readiness of applicants. “A lot have never worked before; their culture is not job-oriented; and they don’t understand what the word ‘professionalism’ means; they don’t know how to communicate with supervisors; they occasionally just don’t pitch for work. The flip side of this is that employers can be so tough on them that they crack, and we have to intervene. The apprentice is our employee, though their first point of reference would be the college when they’re studying, and the employer if it is work related. “It is also a physically demanding job, and it is a process to get to that point.”

Before IOPSA, says Mpepho, he worked for the Master Builders’ Association where he met Lea Smith, a Master Builders Association North’s EXCO member who is also the current President of IOPSA – who was an important role model to Mpepho. “He’s a visionary and highly influential in the construction industry generally and plumbing as well. I had ideas at the time regarding apprenticeships which are already implemented in the plumbing industry, and Lea was one of the few leaders who had an advanced understanding of the education and training landscape in the country and as a result supported the initiatives. Under executive director Brendan Reynolds, IOPSA is far ahead of many employer associations in the construction sector in terms of the impact it is making on its industry. Furthermore, my manager Nick Joubert is a rare breed of person in that he both possesses technical knowledge and understands the regulatory framework and training at advanced levels.”

Mpepho was instrumental in encouraging MBA North to participate in the DHET’s Centres of Specialisation initiative. This followed an invitation by the MBSA (Master Builders South Africa) executive director to represent the federation at the initial meetings with DHET.
It was this which led him to IOPSA, as IOPSA already understood and managed apprenticeships. It has already implemented a pilot project, led by Mpepho.

He says he is currently facing arguably the biggest challenge of his career: acquiring the technical skills of plumbing, a challenge he relishes.