Representatives from government, organised labour and business have committed themselves to develop and grow the metals and engineering sector in South Africa.
This occurred through the signing of a Metals and Engineering Sector Summit Agreement on Monday.
The agreement was the outcome of the Presidential Jobs Summit Agreement (PJSA) and the Growth and Development Summit (GDS) that took place in October 1998 and June 2003 respectively.
"Today we are fulfilling the responsibility placed on our shoulders following the 2003 Growth and Development Summit," said Trade and Industry Minister Mandisi Mpahlwa.
"The metals and engineering sector in our economy matters a great deal, providing semi-finished goods to industry and finished goods directly to consumers.
"This sector stands at the centre of our efforts to grow the manufacturing sector in our economy," he said following the signing of the agreement.
Running parallel to the newly signed agreement is the National Industrial Policy Framework (NIPF), adopted by Cabinet in 2007.
The NIPF, the minister said was established to help diversify South Africa's economy through the industrialisation of the metals, automotive, chemical, pharmaceutical, and forestry industries, among others.
South Africa is a diverse and complex economy, but even though we are an established global manufacturer, we still have not reached the highest levels of product value addition and diversification.
The deepening of industrialisation and diversification of the economy is necessary to shield South Africa from what the minister referred to as external shocks, or global trends that are outside of South Africa's control such as food and oil prices.
"That is what we seek to do with the National Industrial Policy Framework," said Mr Mpahlwa.
South Africa is experiencing skills shortages in a number of fields including in particular engineers and artisans, and the minister highlighted that South Africa needs about 1 000 civil engineers a year with five years experience each to deal with the country's demand.
Government has tackled the skills challenge by increasing learners' access to bursaries and through the Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition that hopes to add 50 000 skilled individuals to the economy in four years.
Also, the Department of Trade and Industry will spend R50 million in the near future on the National Tooling Initiative and the National Foundry Initiative, aimed at the recapitalisation of those industries, said the minister.
Government's Medium Term Budget has also allocated a further R400 billion to be spend on a range of infrastructure programmes over the next few years, said Mr Mpahlwa.
Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa President Johan Fourie said the federation, through the agreement, will remain committed to the development, growth and advancement of the metal and engineering sector in South Africa.
National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa representative Ben Khoza highlighted the challenges facing the metals and engineering sector as well as the economy.
The challenges facing South Africa, Mr Khoza said, is an imminent global recession, rising food prices, petrol hikes, increasing interest rates, and power cuts.
"Labour is of the opinion that the success of this agreement rests on the shoulders of the stakeholders.
"We, as labour, do not have the luxury of time, so we would like to see action," said Mr Khoza.
The agreements objectives include the development of a strategic approach to achieving sustainable growth in the sector that will maximise employment, investment and output.
The agreement has made provision for the establishment of the Metals Policy Forum, which will be responsible for sectoral policy formulation, the Metals Sub-Sector Implementation groups that will implement an approved business plan strategy. - BuaNews
Compiled by the Government Communication and Information System