WorldSkills Expert Focus

The third installment of our series brings us to the “Mother City” of South Africa, Cape Town, to meet a keen, committed and community-focused Plumbing and Heating Expert carrying creative new ideas forward into the WorldSkills arena. Pleased to meet you ...



I’ve been involved in WorldSkills since 2014. At that time, I was working at Boland College in Cape Town and was known for having had a very diverse background in plumbing, so I was nominated to be an Expert. Since then I have managed our regional competitions and national competitions in South Africa. I am still living in Cape Town – which we know as the “Mother City” – and am currently the Program Manager within the Building & Civil Department at Northlink College, focusing on the facilitation of occupational skills training programs and trade-testing.

The WorldSkills South Africa team takes to the stage at the Opening Ceremony of WorldSkills São Paulo 2015.

WorldSkills South Africa is now a program within the South African Department of Education (DHET) … up until about two years ago it was overseen by SETA: the vocational Sector Education and Training Authority. The current Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training was responsible for launching “the decade of the artisan” in South Africa in 2014, which eventually lead to DHET taking over the management of WorldSkills South Africa from the previous administration.

Ryan Marsh (far right) at a WorldSkills South Africa presentation evening in Johannesburg, June 2016. He is accompanied by (left to right) Lucien Paulsen, national Expert for Software Solutions for Business; Mduduzi Manana, Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training; Sam Dubazana, Director of The Plumbing Academy, Soweto; Louis Carelse, national Expert for CNC Turning.

The common national building codes that we use in South Africa are known as “SANS” – South African National Standards. Examples of specific codes connected to plumbing would include SANS 10252 Part 1, which relates to water supply to buildings, and SANS 10252 Part 2, which relates to drainage from buildings. SANS 10254, relating to installation of hot water cylinders, is also commonly used. We must also adhere to provincial bylaws alongside national standards, so in my case I work under the bylaws of the Western Cape, where I live. These standards are detailed to the demographics of each province … so, for example, water consumption restrictions are currently active due to drought in the Western Cape, meaning directives such as this are in place:

36. Water restrictions

(1) The Director may, by public notice, whenever there is scarcity of water available to it for distribution and supply to consumers, or for any other good cause —

(a) prohibit or restrict the consumption of water in the whole or part of the City —
(i)  in general or for specified purposes;
(ii) during specified hours of the day or on specified days;

The biggest challenge the South African plumbing industry faces today is enforcing regulations and ensuring that plumbers work according to existing national standards. We have problems with fly-by-night guys who give the industry a bad name. Influx of cheap, unapproved products is another issue: somebody will always be selling it, to make a profit … but then it comes down to the education of the plumber: are they going to use something that is not proven or to appropriate standard?

IOPSA (the Institute of Plumbing, South Africa) and PIRB (the Plumbing Industry Registration Board) are key membership associations that provide training, raise awareness, and enforce licensing, standards and registration across our industry.

Ryan (far right) with Team India and WASSUP Diepsloot during CPC2016.

I have been heavily involved with the Community Plumbing Challenge program, presented in South Africa throughout 2016-2017. Along with two of my students from Cape Town, I supported the very first CPC2016 preparatory project in the township of Diepsloot last March, and was a Team Leader with Team South Africa for the main event last July. The whole thing has been an amazing experience, and has made me determined to continue on this path. In Diepsloot I remember a lady crying because we had provided her with a proper toilet. People don’t realize the poverty others live in, not just in Africa, but all over the world. I was back in Diepsloot in March, to support a follow-up “Legacy” training project with Sticky Situations and WASSUP (Water Amenities and Sanitation Services Upgrade Program). WASSUP is a community collective that repairs and maintains communal toilet facilities in this township, and hosted CPC2016.

Training with Siyabonga Makhatini (right) in preparation for WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017.

The Plumbing and Heating competitor from South Africa for WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 is a young man called Siyabonga Makhatini. He is originally from Kazerin, Camadale, which is an informal township ... his mum is a single parent and he has a twin sister who is a plumber too. He works together with his sister, and they are newly registered as company: both are doing the hands-on work, neither takes a back seat! He is a very dedicated youngster. He is 20 years old now and has always excelled in his academic studies along with the practical side: he did an engineering certificate program for two years as well. He has a good head on him, lots of knowledge: plumbing and building civil technology, quantity surveying and structural/building administration. I’m really excited to see how he fares on the international stage this year.

(Left to right) With Grant Stewart, International Project Manager for IAPMO and Technical Delegate Assistant with WorldSkills Australia, and meeting representatives of the Australian High Commission in South Africa alongside members of WASSUP Diepsloot during CPC2016 Legacy project, March 2017.

It’s a busy few months ahead, for sure! I was awarded a 2017 World Plumbing Council Scholarship and will be spending three weeks in Australia in August to study initiatives that function within impoverished rural communities and deal with water and sanitation in general … Australian projects where water conservation, treatment and utilization of alternative water resources are practiced. I am particularly keen to transfer this learning back to the teaching and training I am involved with at home in South Africa. PICAC and Healthabitat are two of the Australian organizations that will be hosting me, and they are both currently providing great facilitation for the visit. I can’t wait to get over there!

Ryan (center, in ground) helping members of Team USA install their improved communal toilet design solution during CPC2016.

Based on all this experience and learning, I am very interested in the concept of real-world Test Project modules in our skills competitions … challenging competitors to come up with solutions to local problems whether they relate to sanitation, water scarcity or renewable energy. Marking criteria could be: is it cost effective, is it sustainable, is it safe? I don’t think our current standard competition time frame of four days would be sufficient for somebody to come up with those types of solutions, because you need to spend hours researching … but, perhaps a scenario could be sent out — three months or so before an event — and then the competitor would submit a solution to that module when they arrive at the competition. The last day of the competition could be collaborative, with the best solution implemented into the local community … this would be a game changer for the greater goal of WorldSkills, in my opinion! It would be real, and it would have so much more value for a competitor to come up with a solution that someone else can benefit from, because that person’s life would be changed. 

Working on Test Project assessment with other Plumbing and Heating Experts during WorldSkills São Paulo 2015.

© 2017 International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.

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