Following a successful programme of training undereducated young people in the Southern Cape, the MTO Forestry Group is now rolling out its training programmes for the unemployed youth to different geographical regions and associated industries.

MTO’s involvement in training unemployed youth started three years ago in the Southern Cape, where the company manages 50 000 hectares of forest plantations and which is also home to the MTO Training Academy Concordia in Knysna.
The academy is a highly accredited facility where thousands of MTO employees are trained annually.

“Employment prospects are bleak for undereducated, unskilled and inexperienced youth in South Africa’s economic environment. “So, we decided to expand our training to those young people, with the goal of providing them with skills that will allow them to compete in the job market. “Our only real requirement is that they are motivated to work hard and be committed,” says Yvonne van Romburgh, the academy’s business manager.

The programmes are completely free for the trainees, with MTO absorbing all costs. Learners also receive a stipend each month, protective clothing and equipment and, like the rest of MTO employees, a nutritional breakfast cereal each morning.

Mabuthi Dasi, who grew up near Knysna, was one of the first recruits in 2015. “I got lucky when MTO brought out the programme of training,” he says.

“But I was scared they wouldn’t take me. I had no skills and only completed Grade 8.” 

Dasi was one of 27 students to complete the first skills programme for the unemployed, which focused on general forestry skills, in 2015/16.

Trainee Funeka Mhayi-Mhayi is grateful for the opportunity to learn. Photos: Supplied

All 27 students received certificates for completing their course. “Coming from an accredited training institution, these are valuable.   “When they finished the training, graduates were also assisted in compiling a proper application package, including a CV, and were supported in their job search,” says Van Romburgh.

On the heels of the first year’s success, MTO expanded the programme to focus on different geographical regions and associated industries.

Last year it launched a harvesting skills programme, recruiting from communities in and around the plantations surrounding George.  Each programme runs for three months, with learners gaining both theoretical knowledge in the classroom and practical experience from the mill.

The specific training courses vary, based on the industry being targeted. 

The current 2017 cohort of learners is midway through their training in sawmill skills at the George Sawmill under the watchful eye of facilitator Gabriel Lategan from the training academy.  “They are learning everything they need to get an entry-level job at a sawmill. I have high expectations, but also high hopes for them. My aim is 100% employment for them,” he says.

MTO skills programme trainees at the George Sawmill. They share a commitment and motivation to change their circumstances.

According to Van Romburgh, the company’s current budget includes one skills programme annually, but MTO considers running two or more.  “At this point it is unclear where the next programme will be located, but we are considering MTO’s White River plantations in Mpumalanga.”

While MTO hopes to be able to offer jobs to all graduates, the goal is to provide training that allows them to get jobs elsewhere in the industry, or in related fields.  “What we really want for our graduates is employment.  We hope that they apply for jobs within MTO, but we understand it isn’t always feasible.

“Even a job at a competitor is considered a victory by MTO,” Van Romburgh says.

Info: Yvonne van Romburgh 044 375 0072 /

* The MTO Training Academy Concordia facility is a flagship training centre in the forestry industry, with primary accreditation by the Fibre, Processing and Manufacturing Sector Education and Training Authority (FP&M Seta) and secondary accreditation with the Transport, Education and Training Authority (Teta).  The FP&M Seta has approved the presentation of four full qualifications consisting of 150-unit standards.   It provided 10 300 certifications in 2016 alone, and is on track to provide 11 000 in 2017.

November 2017