‘Old iron’ and ‘young iron’: on Craftsman’s Day these paths cross


On Craftsman Day you will hear the sounds of clanging metal.

So says Sol-Tech, which celebrates Trades Day on Friday (March 15): everyone from welders and diesel mechanics to electricians, millwrights, fitters and turners, toolmakers and mechatronic technicians.

On this day the masters go into the trades, or the old ironworkers, sharing all their knowledge and experience with prospective tradesmen. Sol-Tech’s campus is the stage for the Craftsman Day event – the second one after it was presented for the first time last year.

According to Stef Pretorius, network coordinator of the Solidarity Crafts Network, the scope of Crafts Day is significantly larger this year; he expects this upward trajectory to continue unstoppably in the coming years.

“Our artisans are among those hardest hit by layoffs at the big state-owned enterprises and other employers who preferred racial scorecards over skills, or failed due to sheer incompetence or corruption.

“But despite all this, a kind of revival is now taking place in some communities. Those in the trades – literally the builders of a country – realized a long time ago that they had to join hands and are now shouldering the wheel as a network of people in the trades themselves,” says Pretorius.

He also emphasizes that state decay increases the need for well-trained tradesmen. Employers are now queuing up to employ Sol-Tech students due to a shortage of trained tradesmen following the decline of the former technical training colleges and because Sol-Tech offers world-class training.

“If you look at the future, it is only logical: There is an enormous amount of building work or reconstruction work needed in South Africa. The trades will be especially important now. It is these people who throughout history, after times of hardship, started a new dispensation with tools in hand and with zeal. They can fix what’s broken.

“The reality is that 30,000 artisans have to enter the labor market every year to meet the country’s needs. Yet last year there were only 6,000 who signed up for such study, of whom 2,800 were Sol-Tech students,” says Pretorius.

The Solidarity Trades Network already represents more than 10,000 members in the trades, and many of them will attend Trades Day to “feel the pulse of the trades” and offer voluntary mentoring for trades students. Their financial contributions also help to expand trades training by offering study help to students and setting up training institutions for tradesmen, such as Sol-Tech and Bo-Karoo Opleiding.

According to Sol-Tech, he is the ideal host for the event as a showcase of the “new craftsman and woman” who retain the work ethic of the old masters.

“The motto for this year’s Crafts Day is once again: Iron sharpens iron. The young men invite the old men a little into their world (Sol-Tech) and say ‘Uncle, come and see how it’s done now’. The old men, in turn, try to open up the young men’s worlds a little by telling them how and where they will be able to apply their skills.

“We want to bring the men who know to the little guys who want to know,” says Pretorius.

  • For inquiries about participation, send an email to ambag@solidariteit.co.za