Umgano Training Academy secured funding from the Department of Higher Education and Training and the National Skills Fund, for 60 Learnerships in General Forestry and Nature Conservation. These young learners, pictured at Mabandla village, are paid a stipend for the duration of the year-long course.

The establishment of a training academy at a remote rural village in southern KwaZulu-Natal is set to unlock the human resources potential of the local people and support development initiatives taking off in the area.

The Mabandla community established the Mabandla Community Trust some 20 years ago, utilising grant funding to develop 1 300 ha of gum and pine plantations as a first step to develop their community and create jobs. Since then the forestry business has taken off and led to the establishment of a sawmilling business, with plans to expand into agriculture processing, cattle breeding and eco-tourism.

Pool of relevant skills
The establishment of the Umgano Training Academy was the logical next step to create a pool of relevant skills to support the development initiatives in the area and drive the process forward.

The economic development of the Mabandla Community is driven by the Mabandla Community Trust with over 3 200 household beneficiaries. The Mabandla Community Trust is the 100% shareholder of the Umgano Development Company (Pty) Ltd (Umgano Devco) with a number of subsidiary companies providing employment and economic development opportunities, such as Umgano Forestry (Pty) Ltd and Umgano Timber (Pty) Ltd.

Umgano Training Academy is an initiative of the Umgano Foundation NPO and Umsonti Community Forestry NPC. The initial focus was on setting up a campus in the Mabandla community and offering accredited forestry, sawmilling, environmental and agriculture related training for Umgano and related communities in lower KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.

The Umgano Training Academy was accredited by the FP&M SETA in 2016 to offer a range of short forestry courses and full qualifications that lead to National Qualifications Framework (NQF) credits.

Extension of scope with other SETAs has enabled the Academy to offer courses in eco-tourism, conservation, agriculture and business management.

The Academy secured a long term lease for the Mabandla Cultural Centre, an ideally located training venue with office space and accommodation for up to 60 students in five large rondavels.

Learnership participants at Zintwala and Sihleza, conducted by Umgano Training Academy.

Successes to date:
• Securing an FP&M Seta Discretionary Grant for 3-year bursaries for two employees of the Umgano Development Company and three students from the Umgano area for the period 2016 – 2018.
• Securing an FP&M Seta Discretionary Grant in 2016 and 2017 for various skills training courses for chainsaw operators, fire fighting teams, chemical spraying, brushcutting and supervisory courses
• Securing an FP&M Seta Discretionary Grant in 2018 for a General Education and Training Certificate (GETC) General Forestry Learnership and GETC Lumber Milling Certificate for Foremen, Senior Clerks and Supervisors at Umgano and Zintwala.
• Providing skills training courses for chainsaw operators, herbicide sprayers and fire fighting for the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform.
• Developing training material for the FP&M Seta for a Safety Officer qualification.
• Securing grant funding for Learnerships including a stipend for 40 unemployed students for General Forestry and 20 students for a National Certificate in Nature Conservation through the Department of Higher Education in 2018/2019.
• Securing grant funding through CHEP South Africa and Human Capital Investments (HCI) for a GETC General Forestry Level 1 Learnership at two nearby communities – Zintwala and Sihleza – for 20 unemployed youth.

Future Plans
The Umgano Training Academy has some exciting plans for the future. These include securing accreditation with Agri Seta to train learners who will be employed in the Umgano Agrico company on a vegetable growing and processing initiative; turning the Umgano Training Academy campus into a learning resource centre offering computer and business courses as well as supplementary science and maths education for school learners.

The Long term vision is to operate further afield to service the demand for rural skills in developing rural economies throughout South Africa.

Left to right: Aubrey Sithole and Sipho Mahlalela (Department of Higher Education), James Ballantyne and Bhekani Dlamini of Umgano Foundation visit the Mabandla forestry site where the General Forestry Learners are doing their practical.

Umgano Training Academy is registered to offer the following courses:
• Various forestry and agriculture skills training courses that are unit standard aligned.
• General Education and Training Certificate: General Forestry (NQF Level 1).
• General Education and Training Certificate: Lumber Milling (NQF Level 1).
• National Certificate: Forestry: Silviculture (NQF Level 3).
• National Certificate: Forestry: Timber Harvesting (NQF Level 3)
• National Certificate: Nature Conservation: Resource Guardianship (NQF Level 2) – through MOU with Greenskills

*First published in SA Forestry magazine, July 2019

Visit www.umgano.org.za/umgano-training-academy/



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