Interview: Timber Construction Skills & Training

The Institute for Timber Construction South Africa (ITC-SA) interviews Clifford Crosson, Manager of Coastal KZN TVET College Truss Plant and Occupational Skills Training & Trade Test Centre, and Shannon Govender, Truss Designer at Coastal KZN TVET College about skills and training in the timber construction industry and the current state of the sector.

Q: What is the current state of skills in the timber construction industry? Do workers know what they are doing on site in terms of working with timber?

A: Workers on site don’t always understand the precision that goes into the design and fabrication of timber roof structures and in most cases, they have little to no understanding of site drawings and layout. This results in inadequate bracing or incorrect installation of bracing to the roof structures, which renders the roof structure legally non-compliant and the structure unsafe for occupation.

Q: What training options are available for contractors and sub-contractors working with timber on site? How do they compare?

A: Regular up-skilling and ongoing training in compliance and regulation are critical. Roofing is considered an avenue of specialisation in the construction sector, which makes proper training in this profession all the more important; even so, in the current climate, too little time is spent on formal training in this sector. We are of the opinion that Institute for Timber Construction South Africa (ITC-SA)-accredited contractors tend to be more knowledgeable due to the support material, exposure and training made available by and through the Institute. This training is invaluable and should be made mandatory for ITC-SA members.

Courses relevant to roofing on offer through Coastal KZN TVET College are as follows:

Core Read and interpret construction drawings and specifications Level 3 10 credits
Elective Clad roof structures Level 3 16 credits
Elective Erect roof trusses Level 3 16 credits

Q: How can things be improved and what should be taught before anyone starts working with timber? What basic skills should contractors have?

A: First and foremost, all contractors should fully understand site drawings. Secondly, they should be exposed to a roof manufacturing plant for training on how roof structures are manufactured, which will go a long way in ensuring contractors know how to handle trusses correctly and more efficiently. The importance of adequate bracing cannot be overstated and is critical in timber roof truss installation. Sufficient knowledge of timber is critical here, as are adequate training and skills transfer.

Q: What are the risks associated with poor training and inadequate skills?

A: Poor training affects the entire timber construction industry, with the consumer having to pay the price for the consequences of hiring unaccredited and inexperienced contractors. Contractors with poor training and inadequate skills often end up with what we call ‘spare parts’, which are key elements left out of a timber roof structure because the contractor does not know what to do with them. The consumer is then left with a structure that is of an inferior quality and not built to standard – and with no legal recourse to rectify the situation or recover monies spent.

Q: Whose responsibility is training?

A: The responsibility of training should fall in the owners of timber roof truss erection companies to ensure their employees’ training is kept current and up to date with any industry changes. Doing so will help to elevate the quality and grade of work done by the erection company and will encourage other players in the sector to improve on their standards through regular and adequate training.

Q: When it comes with working with timber in general, even with regards to designing, how do we compare to the rest of the world in terms of skills?  

A: When it comes to timber and designing South Africa is at a satisfactory level of competence, but further education and training are in dire need to uplift the industry. It should be mandatory for all timber roof truss erection companies to have a certain percentage of staff attend and successfully complete training each year. As a specialisation in the sector, timber roof truss erectors should be tested for competence on a regular basis.

About Coastal KZN TVET College:

This college is a merger of the former Durban Technical College, Swinton Road Technical College and Umlazi Technical College. It includes former Umbumbulu and Appelsbosch Colleges of Education. It is the largest College in KwaZulu-Natal, currently averaging about 15 000 full time equivalents and about 800 staff members.

Coastal KZN TVET College catchment area is from Ozwathini to South of Durban and continues for a strip of about 80km towards the South Coast. It includes Maphumulo, Stanger, Ndwedwe, the Bluff area, Chatsworth, Lamontville, Umlazi, KwaMakhutha, Isipingo, Amanzimtoti, Illovo right down to Scottburgh, but due to the residence facilities we have students from all over the country.

The Central Administration Office of the College is at KwaMakhutha, which is a semi-rural setting.

This College is well known for catering for adult learners, unemployed and employed by local industry, out of school youth, project linked trainees ranging from learners with a low academic background to those who have had opportunities to enhance their educational level.

The college is positioning itself to be able to take leadership in addressing socio-economic needs of the broader community, through innovation and delivery of responsive programmes.

About the Institute for Timber Construction (ITC-SA):

The ITC-SA was established more than 40 years ago to regulate the engineered timber roof structure industry and to provide design, manufacturing, erection, inspection and certification for compliance with inter alia SANS 10400 and SANS 10082, where engineering rational designs are applicable.

The ITC-SA is a South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) accredited professional body with a professional membership and therefore has to comply with the requirements as set out in the National Qualifications Framework Act (NQF Act 67 of 2008 – as amended). The ITC-SA is also a Recognised Voluntary Association in terms of the Engineering Profession Act, 2000 (Act 46 of 2000).

In 2014, the Institute for Timber Frame Builders (ITFB) was incorporated into the ITC-SA to ensure a better and more uniform representation of the timber engineered practitioners in the built environment.

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