As the Gearhouse Kentse Mpahlwa Academy’s (GKMA) students for 2015 have settled into this year’s popular technical internship, it is becoming evident that the initiative, now in its 13th year of operation is a truly effective contributor to raising the skills standards within the South African Live Events Industry.

This free-of -charge one year internship run by leading technical services provider, Gearhouse Group South Africa, covers the areas of AV, Lighting, Structures, Rigging and Power, along with the auxiliary Working at Height, Fire Fighting, First Aid and Safety standards training that the company believes is the foundation for a well-rounded entry-level technician. The programme runs countrywide for 10 months of the year and students have the option of a follow-up second year specialisation program as well.

The Gearhouse Academy’s journey - from the establishment of a pilot course in 2005 at the Johannesburg branch - to its current form has seen significant changes as the team devised ways to improve and adapt both the course material and the learning process.

The last couple of years have seen the Academy initiative maturing into a self-perpetuating cycle. For Training Manager, Josef van Schalkwyk, this is the realisation of a long term goal for the Academy. “We are finally seeing the results of our team effort to establish and run the Training Facilities, to create industry-specific SAQA-accredited course materials, to provide learners with a nominal ‘salary’ so that they can study full time and equipping 45 junior technicians to enter the Technical Production Services sector each year” explains Josef. “There are success stories across the board, particularly in the percentage of black (87%) and female (12%) technicians last year but our Cape Town Branch has been the benchmark in terms of the number of students remaining within the industry and the Cape Town branch and carrying out training of newcomers themselves”.

When you met the pint-sized Cape Town GKMA Training Facilitator, Lisa Smit, you are left in no doubt that a good part of that success is due to her palpable enthusiasm for her role. The retention rate of graduates in the early stages of the Cape Town training facility in 2007 was not what they had hoped for, she explains, and in 2012 to fast-track skills development, the facility started bringing back learners from previous years to join a second year specialisation program. 

Suddenly the number of graduates making their careers in the Live Event Industry increased dramatically as students started graduating with a higher level qualification, with a better earning potential and, as a result, a much improved rate of employment within the industry. 47 of the Cape Town Training Centre’s 62 graduates since that time have remained within the Live Events Industry and 40 of those have stayed on to work at Gearhouse itself.

Subsequent on-the-job training within the Gearhouse Group’s various companies has resulted in many of those graduates now fulfilling senior roles within the organisation. “The camaraderie between current and ex-students has built a whole new level of teamwork and skills transfer here,” says Lisa. “”Our students have had to overcome personal battles, cultural and personal differences to work together effectively and in doing so have learnt to respect themselves and each other. In an industry governed by stringent deadlines and extreme conditions, an integrated team is imperative to the success of the event.”

“On any one event site we work on in Cape Town now, around 95% of the build crew are Learnership graduates” says Lisa. “Those who are not, are generally Designers or Management,” she explains, but is adamant that this situation too, is in the process of changing... “We have some highly talented up and coming designers and Project Managers on their way. Two of our graduates are already designing small events. We are headed for 100% saturation point.”

Lisa’s passion lies in assisting young people to find direction in their lives, watching them make something of themselves and develop a sense of self-worth in the process. Often, the youngsters she teaches come from less-than-ideal home situations, are on the brink of making the wrong life choices and then turn around and become valuable contributors to the industry and their communities.

“One of our learners had struggled for a long time to find employment and had absolutely no knowledge of our industry when he arrived at the Academy. The year that he graduated, I felt so privileged to have witnessed this young man take the opportunity and make something of it, that I literally wept with joy. Today he manages the Lighting team on-site and works alongside the LX Designers during set-up. This is the kind of experience that keeps me going. My job satisfaction comes from seeing their pride in what they have achieved.”

Lisa facilitates the Technical Production Services course in Cape Town with the help of the branch’s Stores, Maintenance Security Supervisor, Irafaan Brock, whose in-depth Health and Safety knowledge - coupled with a natural flair for developing young people - makes him the perfect candidate to partner with on this project.

Courses are run by Training Facilitators, Neermala Rajagopal in Durban, Lisa Smit in Cape Town and National Training Manager, Josef van Schalkwyk in Johannesburg producing around 35 graduates respectively per year.

For more on the Gearhouse Kentse Mpahlwa Academy visit or contact robyn.d’

Story Robyn D’Alessandro, Photos courtesy Gearhouse Cape Town

May 28, 2015

The Gearhouse Group of Companies