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Paper industry offers life-changing career avenues through learner placement programme

Sakhile Zincume from Gingindlovu in KwaZulu-Natal had been held back in grade 11 twice before finally completing his matric.

Sakhile Zincume from Gingindlovu in KwaZulu-Natal had been held back in grade 11 twice before finally completing his matric. He went on to enrol in pulp and paper making at Umfolozi TVET college and through hard work and diligence, Zincume finished his three-year course and participated in a 12-month placement programme at Sappi Stanger spearheaded by the Paper Manufacturers Association of South Africa (PAMSA).

Zincume, now a boiler attendant at Sappi Stanger mill, has since held a variety of positions at the mill and embarked on a career journey that seemed farfetched back when he was 17.

The class of 2023 is nearing the end of a school career that has spanned well over a decade. Many matriculants will face some difficult choices ahead of the onward tertiary education journey and potential job opportunities. PAMSA, in partnership with key academic institutions and the FP&M Seta, supports learners on this journey through its successful training and learner placement programme.

The PAMSA programme seeks to provide young people in the neighbouring mill communities with better opportunity and create a talent pool for a sector that produces everyday essentials such as cardboard boxes and paper packaging, tissue, pulp, printing and writing paper. South Africa is one of the world’s largest producers of dissolving wood pulp and the largest producer of pulp, paper, and paper products on the African continent. The pulp and paper sector alone contributed a R45 billion to the local economy.

In partnership with Durban University of Technology, UNISA, and the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges of Ekurhuleni in Springs and Umfolozi in Mandeni, PAMSA aims to give students the power to change their circumstances through the pulp and paper related courses offered at these institutions. The theory aspect is enhanced through experiential training at PAMSA’s member mills.

Funded by PAMSA and the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Seta, the initiative has placed 222 learners over the past five years, with around 50-70% securing employment within our member companies, and in broader pulp, paper and similar processing sectors.

“This placement programme put me on the path I am today and gave me the ability to help myself and my family achieve financial stability,” says Zincume.

“This programme changes lives. Students participate in workplace experience for either six or 12 months, with around 70% of them finding employment with our member companies,” says Tharif Hanif, manager of the Pulp and Paper Centre of Excellence, a partnership initiative between PAMSA, the FP&M Seta and Umfolozi TVET College in KwaZulu-Natal.

Paper industry ever more relevant

Despite the emergence of digital media, paper remains an integral part of our lives and this programme is a gateway for people into a dynamic industry that not only makes boxes and books, but also innovative biochemicals, nanocellulose and lignosulphonate.

“The demand of climate-friendly products remains strong especially with the growth of online shopping and the need for greener materials,” says Hanif, adding these products require artisans, process engineers and machine operators to ensure production stays on track.

“The pulp and paper sector is a complex business that requires a diverse range of skills and talents. Careers in the forest and forest products sector can range from engineering, chemistry, forestry, and operations, to sales, marketing, and research and development.”

Bridging the gap

“Many students often struggle with maths, science, and chemistry-related subjects, so PAMSA runs tutoring programmes for pulp and paper students as well as employees who wish to study further,” says Hanif.

PAMSA also visits  schools near its member operations so that young people are made aware of the study and career opportunities the sector offers.

To find out more about PAMSA’s education and training initiatives, click here.

Relevant Agribook pages include “Wood, pulp and paper” and “Careers and employment in agriculture

Photos supplied by Tribeca PR