Are you interested in machines and the way they are put together? Are you practical and do you like to work with your hands? Perhaps you’ve thought of doing a type of engineering course but don’t really know what variety of trades is out there. Perhaps you should consider becoming a fitter and turner. It is one of the top trades and it allows you to work in a variety of different industries. So, what exactly does a fitter and turner do?
I had to speak to Pierre, the leading fitter and turner working in the Mechanics Department at the University of Cape Town to understand. He’s been working in the field for many years and is really passionate about this trade.
1. What does a fitter and turner do?
It’s part of the engineering field because you work with machines. If a machine breaks down in the production facility it is the job of the fitter and turner to see what is wrong with the machine. You need to identify what part of the machine has broken, take it out, possibly making a new part (which means you might need to ‘turn’ it) and then fit it back into the machine (hence ‘fitter’).
2. Why should a young person consider becoming a fitter and turner?
It is one of South Africa’s skills that are in short supply and is on the scarce skills list. It also gives you the freedom to work in environments such as shipping, food and wine, motor engineering and general engineering amongst others. I qualified after doing 3 years of apprenticeship and I’ve been all over the show.
3. How did you get started in this trade?
Things were difficult in South Africa in 1982 when I finished school. I wanted to be an accountant but I did an aptitude test which showed me what I would be good at. I went for an interview to be a fitter and turner even though I didn’t really know what it was all about but it’s been my destiny.
4. What does someone need to become a fitter and turner apprentice?
Going to a technical school is an advantage as you get an NTC3 there. At somewhere like Northlink College you can get an N1and N2 and you need at least an N2 to become an apprentice. The four main subjects you need to study are Maths, Science, Technical Drawing and Fitting and Machinery. You become an apprentice and then you continue to study for a 3-year period. Merseta (The Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority) is the governing body of fitter and turners and government spends thousands of rands on apprentices. Government neglected trades for a while but now it is throwing money at it. If you are lucky enough to get into CETA (The Construction Education and Training Authority) then you can get a job without an N1 and N2 and do these on the job.
5. Why do you think young people aren’t immediately attracted to this field (as it’s a scarce skill)?
When young people decide on what they want to do they think about money. You can’t walk into money. You have to be prepared to do the work first and then you can earn good money.
6. What do you look for when taking on new apprentices into the workshop?
All the young people who apply take a short test to see if they are technically inclined. It’s simple things. He needs to show that he can use a saw or undo a bolt and put it together. Do they know what order to put a nut and a bolt when they put it together? It’s important that they can put them together in the right order. It’s actually better to train someone right from the start – as long as they are technical – because they haven’t been taught incorrect things. The apprentices don’t need to know engineering at all. So the person needs to show that their minds can work technically and think on their feet. If they are given a technical drawing they need to look at the drawing and know where they need to start.
7. What advice would you give to a young person who goes into this trade?
Be a good listener. Think before you do anything and don’t be afraid to say what you don’t know. Ask for help.
8. What have you enjoyed most about working as a fitter and turner?
I have worked in so many different industries. Every job I’ve done – small of large – has been important and interesting. You must be able to see something that doesn’t look right. I’m now in education at UCT and it’s rewarding to help young engineers who are studying as well as helping to create jobs for others. When I worked in the marine and shipping field, I loved fixing a ship – and I got to go to Japan which is thousands of miles away. I am very passionate about this trade and would love to get more youngsters into it.
I love every day of my job and I don’t see myself doing anything else. After 10 years in this job, you think you know a lot but I’m still learning 36 years later! It’s never boring. Machines get faster, easier, bigger, smaller – they change all the time. This is an open field.
9. Can someone make a decent living from being a fitter and turner?
Of course they can. The standard hourly rate can be R40 to R50 and after some years it can even be a R100 per hour.
10. Have you got any final advice?
If you want to become an artisan, you need to keep focussed and keep working. Going to school and finishing it is also really important and parents need to support their children to do this.
It was a real pleasure to interview Pierre. His passion for both his trade and for educating young people was inspiring. As a scarce skill in South Africa, this seems as if it might be a very good career choice for you if you enjoy working with your hands and are interested in how machines work.
There are a number of places you can study to be a fitter and turner.
• Northlink College
National Certificate: Engineering Studies: Mechanical N1 – N3
Grade 10 (with Mathematics & Physical Science)
Tel: 08600 65465 / 021 591 9207
• College SA (distance learning)
National Certificate Bridging course, National Certificate: N1 – N3 Fitter and Turner
Grade 9 (with Mathematics and Physical Science)
Tel: 0861 663 663
• Anglo American Platinum Engineering Skills Training Centre
Fitter and Turner short course
Tel: 011 411 6730
• National Skills Development Management System (NSDMS)
Register on: https://nsdms.merseta.org.za/
• False Bay College
National Certificate (Vocational) Engineering & Related Design: Fitting and Turning
Grade 10 (with Mathematics & Physical Science)
Tel: 021 701 1340 / 021 700 6400
NSFAS funding is available at all TVET Colleges.
Tell us: Are you interested in this profession? Did you find this information useful?