People with disabilities are often overlooked as working in the manufacturing/engineering environment as companies presume they will not have the ability to perform at the same level as an able bodied person would. In the past we have shown that disabled employees can in fact out-perform non-disabled employees at various jobs or tasks for example, counting, queue management and archiving.

The Hearing Impaired Artisan Development Project was a pilot project aimed to investigate the possibility of a disabled persons working in the manufacturing/engineering environment as a skilled tradesperson as well insight into some of the challenges experienced by both learners and facilitators.

The workshop was conducted at PMI technical Training in Jet Park during the last week of August 2013. This facility is a state of the art accredited technical training centre that specializes in Artisan Development for the Engineering and Mining sector.

The group of learners consisted of ten hearing impaired youths between the ages 20 and 24 of which half were females and half males. All candidates had completed a business practices learnership through I Can! within the last few months. They were also accompanied by a female sign language interpreter. The learners were left in the capable hands of seasoned Boilermaker instructor Lafras Muller, a 30-year veteran trainer and ETDP (Education and Training Development Practitioner) and Electrical Instructor Patrick Weitz.

The learners were exposed to two different trades;  Plater/Welder(Boilermaking) and Electrical.  After undergoing a general safety induction the learners immediately got started. The facilitators had pulled unit standards from the full qualification and adapted them for the purposed of this intervention. Each exercise had a theoretical as well as a practical component. This was done to ensure that the learners were comfortably familiar and worked safely with the equipment.

This intervention can definitely be seen as a counseling setting in that it addresses key issues and biases which may often create a divide within the work context. It looks at the assumptions people make about each other and how we are often mistaken in our assumptions. 

Key problem areas were identified that can be used as building blocks for future interventions.   Suggestions from the facilitators to be considered:

  • When in the workplace these learners will need to be paired with mentors that can communicate in sign language, alternatively instructions will need to be given by means of writing them down.
  • Developing a qualification that is more practically based would suit these learners better.
  • With regard to Artisan learnerships for these learners, one will first have to up skill one person with a hearing impairment as a qualified trainer (minimum of 4 years) who can then facilitate training for Deaf groups.
  • Alternatively current trainers need to be taught sign language which may be much quicker than training up a hearing impaired trainer.

What was most interesting was the impact this session had on the facilitators. By the last day they had already learned different ways of communicating with the learners instead of only working through the interpreter.

This report  is very valuable to the I Can! team in order to assess the validity of this exercise as well as to determine the possibility of developing these learners in the engineering field.