|Rushden Echo & Argus, Friday, February 27, 1931, Transcribed by Roy Ackroyd
Apprenticeship in South Africa Drastic Juvenile Admission Scheme
How will it affect British Industry? Mr .J. L. Holland addresses Rushden Managers and Foremen.
The drastic conditions affecting the entry of juveniles into industry in South Africa, together with the question of the possible effect, in future years, on our own boot and shoe industry, of the superior and more intensive training of their lads, in comparison with boys in British factories, to which, he said, they were admitted haphazardly, formed the subject of an address to the Rushden Managers’ and Foremen’s Association on Wednesday, by Mr. J. L. Holland, B.A., Secretary for Education to the Northants County Council. Mr. Holland’s subject was: “The State Regulation of Apprenticeship training in South Africa.”
Mr. L. Allen presided, supported by Mr. C. S. Sears, secretary, and Mr. Owen Parker, C.B.E., J.P., C.C., was also present.
Introducing the speaker, Mr. Allen said they were always in for a treat when Mr. Holland was a visitor, and he thus especially regretted the poor attendance, probably due to some extent to the prevalence if influenza.
Comparing the country with England, Mr. Holland remarked that as far as the white population was concerned, there were only two towns, Cape-town and Johannesburg, larger than Northampton, only two more, Durban and Pretoria, larger than Kettering, and seven larger than Rushden.
Turning to the question of the trade unions in South Africa, Mr. Holland said they numbered about 107, with a total membership of something over a hundred thousand, and were divided into groups comprising the mining, engineering, and metal working, printing and bookbinding industries, state services (including nationalised railways with their staffs), teaching, certain municipal services, clerks, traders etc. Although the unions only represented about half the employees, industrial legislation in South Africa was very advanced indeed, and included the State Conciliation Act under which the Minister of Labour could designate an industry and set up an industrial council representing employers and employees, to which all questions and disputes in the industry were referred.
In the industries not so highly organised, there was something analogous to our Wages Boards and the industries were organised to a great extent under the aegis of the State.
Skilled Industry Reserved
Mr. Holland dealt interestingly with the industrial problems created by the competition of the white and black races, the former being concerned with continuing its domination, although outnumbered by the natives, who could, if they were determinedly united, drive the white people from the country. The determination of the white people to maintain their position, meant the reservation for them, of skilled industry, and that they in turn, must be skilled. Consequently the urge towards education was much stronger than in England, because of their concern with the future. In England a backward or lazy child might fall a step or two in industry, and beyond having a lower wage and condition of life, would still remain civilized and employable, but in Africa he would fall to the level of the black race labourers, who, with their superior brawn and muscle and ability to work for, and live on a tenth of the white man’s wage, would beat the white every time.
Up till the time of the War, continued Mr. Holland, South Africa obtained its manufactured articles from Europe, and largely from this country, especially its boots and shoes. But, in the war, the skilled population was gradually called up, and we had difficulty in manufacturing sufficient boots for ourselves and our allies, let alone for South Africa, in addition to which freight charges would be exceedingly high, and there was a shortage of shipping. Therefore South Africa had to manufacture her own boots and shoes, and it was a fact that since then, the country had quite doubled its turn-over in industry.
Wild Scramble for Boys
The question naturally arose “Where shall we get our labour? In the old days skilled operatives went out from England, it was not unknown for a factory to practically emigrate. On this occasion, however there came a wild scramble for juvenile labour, which resulted in the passing of the Apprenticeship Act of South Africa in 1922. It was this Act that Mr. Holland said he wished principally to deal. Under the Act, there was a schedule of industries, of which boot and shoe manufacturers was the first, and the provision stated that on representations made to the Minister of Labour by a body properly representing employers and workers in any industry, or in any locality of work in any industry, the Minister could designate that trade. If this was done, there was no more haphazard admission of juveniles- no recruiting, for except under the regulations, no one could be admitted between the ages of 16 and 21.
The Minister was empowered, under the Act, to appoint a committee representing employers and employees, equally, with an independent chairman, of which he was to be responsible, and it was for the committee to decide several questions relating to the admission of juveniles to the industry. The age of admission was usually fixed at 16 (the school leaving age); the length of apprenticeship was determined, usually five years; and the question of the educational standard of admission rested with the committee, that agreed upon being about the 6th standard of the Elementary Education Code (education being about a year behind that of this country.
Powers of the Committee
Employers who desired apprentices had to apply to the committee, and the result depended upon the suitability of their factory and opportunity for teaching the pupil, the ratio of juveniles to journeymen not being taken into account. Finally, an indenture had to be entered into between employer and pupil.
Mr. Holland gave interesting items from the agenda at a meeting of one of these committees he had attended whilst visiting South Africa, and added that they had great power being able to compel evidence on oath although not able to impose penalties under the Act, for offences under which guilty parties could be convicted in a court of law. The boot industry, he added, was divided into various departments, to any one of which the apprentice could be articled.
Concluding, Mr. Holland asked, “What is the lesson of all this?” International competition was growing, and was bound to grow. How were they recruiting for the industry today. It was being done haphazardly. Fourth standard boys were entering factories which were not attracting the best or brainiest, and were “messing about” for two or three years- it was quite that time before they found their way, often more by chance or circumstances rather than by design or ability, into a semi-skilled job.