BONOLO Moremedi is one of 40 people chosen from among 1000 applicants for a training course offered by Kumba Iron Ore's Sishen mine in carpentry, plumbing and masonry.

Ms Moremedi, from a small village 30km to the northwest of Kuruman, looks far younger than her 20 years, and her small frame makes it difficult to lift the heavy items she is required to use in her carpentry course.

"I'm enjoying it, but it's not easy. There are things like that door over there that are a challenge. It's very difficult for me to lift it," she said, pointing at a door lying flat on trestles and covered in shavings.

She started training in November and is one of the few women on the courses, which are aimed to give unemployed youth national qualifications in one of those three disciplines, preparing them for trade tests that should make them far more eligible for the job market.

"The main reason for me being here is to train to be a carpenter. When I'm done here I'll get a trade certificate that will open many doors for me," Ms Moremedi says.

Also on the course is W/O Franklin Julius of Kimberley, who is securing a trade certificate for a new career in the army's newly reconstituted works unit after 18 years in uniform. "I was in the air defence unit in Kimberley before I joined the works regiment. Hopefully I'll be advanced in rank."

The courses are run at the Tshipi facility, near the Sishen mine, and are fully funded by Kumba Iron Ore. Applicants must have maths and science at matric level and there are about a thousand applicants each time a course starts. "We have to keep the gates closed to keep people out," said Gavin Ohlson, the head of skills training at the Tshipi Skills Training Centre.

Not only is the qualification highly sought after but the allowances of R2000-R2500 a month that participants are given, as well as subsidised accommodation and food, make the courses popular.

There is a parallel course for those without matric, which trains 60 people a year, divided equally among welding, plumbing, carpentry and masonry. People do not receive the allowance but Tshipi tries to line up agreements with contractors to place candidates on the mine so that after five years they can write trade tests.

More than 6000 people have passed through Tshipi's courses, going on to work either at Sishen, other companies in the region, or starting their own businesses. One of the graduates started his own company, which is now doing renovation work at the immaculately maintained facility, says Mr Ohlson.

Nearby, in the small but thriving town of Kathu, is an artisan training centre, where candidates are taught to be electricians, diesel mechanics, fitters and turners, plate welders and millwrights.

seccombea@bdfm.co.za