It’s been an incredible journey for High Gear and an even more remarkable one for the programme’s students and graduates. South Africa’s automotive economy relies heavily on the skills of our mechanical and electrical engineers and High Gear’s proactive approach to revolutionizing the talent pipeline has not only created jobs, but also empowered the automotive industry.

In South Africa, the transition from education to employment is a challenging one, and garnering a qualification by no means guarantees gainful employment. High Gear addresses this crucial gap by aligning closely with the needs of the automotive industry. By providing students with hands-on work-integrated learning experiences, students are able to harness their skillsets to best compliment industry requirements. This system not only increases the employability of High Gear graduates, but all contributes to closing the skills gap in a sector vital to the national economy.

Work-integrated learning and practical training are essential ingredients to High Gear’s success. The classroom can be a stifling environment. One can learn about the works of Monet, Picasso and Da Vinci, but if you’ve never picked up a paintbrush or a sketch pencil you can never fully understand the artist’s process. There is a difference between knowing how to do something, and actually doing it. And this is High Gear’s unique offering. The programme has transformed the classroom into a space of practical learning instead of passive listening. And the work-integrated learning (WIL) experiences entrench students in the sights, sounds and motions of the automotive industry.

Six industry-relevant courses were successfully aligned with the programme, including N4, N5 and N6 Mechanical Engineering. As well as N4, N5 and N6 Electrical Engineering. Even more impressive were the 19 partnerships between private sector entities and TVET colleges that emerged from the initiative. The synergy between the education sector and industry was what really began to drive innovation and skills development within High Gear. These partnerships also drastically increased the potential for postgraduate employment.

Students of the programme agree that one of High Gear’s most valuable assets is how it champions work-integrated learning. Tiny Tshekela, a Mechanical Engineering graduate, said that the exposure to the workplace helped provide him with a more holistic understanding of the industry. “[It] gave me more ideas. I don’t just want to be an artisan. I [actually] want to a millwright”, said Tshekela, showcasing how practical engagement with industry can ignite passion and purpose in students.

Zuko Mzayidume, a Mechanical Engineering student, said that his experience made him realise that mechanical and electrical automotive engineering don’t exist separately from each other. Speaking on his experience with the machinery during the WIL programme, Mzayidume said that “the two are always connected” and that going forward in his studies and in the work environment he would now look at electrical and mechanical engineering as complimentary rather than exclusive.

“It was really helpful and enjoyable to just see components being manufactured”, said Electrical Engineering graduate, Siposethu Bucwa, who was impressed with how many different jobs were on offer with an electrical engineering degree and how many different avenues he could take.

Many other High Gear students saw the WIL placements as journeys of discovery and that the practical learning had really opened their eyes to the expansive nuances of the world they would eventually step into. These epiphanies, engendered by the WIL, eventually assist industry, as graduates who are placed from the programme already have hands-on experience, meaning companies need to spend less time on practical training post-placement.

While the placement rates achieved by the programme speak for themselves, the best study on High Gear’s positive impact is student feedback – and it’s evident that students are not only responding well to the programme, but genuinely benefitting from the updated curricula, practical learning and industry experience provided.

After much success, High Gear is not content to rest on its laurels and is excited to upscale its impact. Khalil Patel, High Gear’s Programme Director and Chief of Party, is looking forward to the opportunities future partnerships may bring, saying “We invite industry leaders, educational institutions and potential students to join us in this revolutionary journey. Together, we can continue to transform the landscape of our technical education and ensure a brighter future for our graduates and the automotive industry”.

IYF (International Youth Foundation) remains overwhelmingly confident about the future success of the High Gear initiative and urges all potential partners to get in touch by visiting www.iyfglobal.org.

“This is just the start of an incredibly impactful industry renaissance,” said Patel. “We know it works. It’s now time for us to extend our reach and our mission.”

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