Training and development have long been a priority of the South African wine industry, because of its ability to improve labour efficiencies, transform lives and boost industry competitiveness.

For a more strategic approach to training and skills development, the industry in 2017 launched a learning and development strategy. “The strategy aims to create systems that monitor and promote continuous growth opportunities and in effect allows the industry to better align training with industry needs and prioritise and allocate funding,” says Kachné Ross, Winetech Learning and Development manager.

Kachné Ross, Winetech Learning and Development manager

The Learner Management System (LSM) derived from the establishment of a learning and development desk at Winetech in 2017. This online software application allows the industry to capture training and development data in one central point, making it easier for leaners and producers to identify service providers, analyse training trends and identify skills required for specific career paths. Learners can also create online profiles, where all their training certificates can be accessed, according to Kachné.

The Vinpro vineyard training courses, Wine Training South Africa’s SKOP courses and Winetech study groups and workshops are three of the many technical training programmes listed on the LMS.  

Vineyard training

Vinpro has been hosting an annual series of vineyard training courses since 2012, with topics ranging from vineyard establishment to pruning, fertilisation, irrigation, soil science to the harvesting of grapes. Last year alone, close to 1 500 people were trained in 68 sessions. The Vinpro Foundation, an independent non-profit company which invests in socio-economic development, skills development and enterprise development covers half the cost of this training.  

Ampie Dirkse, farm manager at Brookdale Estate in the Klein Drakenstein area, attended the whole course along with nine other workers last year. “The training is phenomenal, starting with presentations and video clips to illustrate information, followed by sessions in the vineyards where workers have the opportunity to practically apply and further discuss the information.”

Ampie Dirkse, farm manager at Brookdale Estate in the Klein Drakenstein

Ampie takes his training notes wherever he goes on the farm, familiarising himself with the notes before starting any new tasks. And when somebody struggles, he refers them back to the notes and gets someone to illustrate the right way of performing the task.

For Brookdale Estate, the training has resulted in greater efficiencies and fewer mistakes being made in the vineyards, which translates into lower production costs and better wine quality. But the ultimate benefit for Ampie is the combined effect that more efficient cellars have on the South African and especially rural economies. “In a country with an unemployment rate of almost 30%, a more competitive wine industry is equal to more and better work opportunities in rural areas.”

According to the industry body Sawis (South African Wine Industry Statistics), the industry annually contributes around R36.1 billion to the GDP and offers over 290 000 jobs throughout the value-chain.

Wine Training South Africa

Wine training South Africa (WTSA) evolved in 2005 from an older cellar assistants training programme that started in 1987. It is best known for its SKOP courses (short for Senior Kelderassistent Ontwikkelingsprogram in Afrikaans), which are structured to allow senior cellar assistants to progressively work their way up from SKOP 1 to SKOP 3.

The Vinpro Foundation in 2018 partially sponsored 93 cellar assistants to complete SKOP 3 and three of them enrolled for an accredited Learnership during 2018. A total of 8 602 people have participated in WTSA courses since 2006, with 675 learners attending 292 training days last year.

The training has helped Mario Damon fulfil his livelong dream of becoming a winemaker. Mario was unable to study after school due to financial reasons, so ended up working as a general worker at DGB’s bottling plant. The company enrolled him into a SKOP course in 2001, where he “graduated” top of his class even though he had never been exposed to winemaking before.

Mario Damon, facility winemaker in South Africa for the American company, Jackson Family Wines

His eagerness to learn and further himself, opened numerous new opportunities. Besides doing additional courses at WTSA, he was selected as one of ten cellar assistants to go on the Burgundy Exchange in 2001, 2004 and 2006 and participated in various other exchange programmes. 

He gradually worked his way up the ranks at DGB Bottling to become assistant winemaker at Bellingham, a position that allowed him to travel the world to promote their wines. After almost 20 years of service at DGB Bottling, he was recruited as the facility winemaker in South Africa for the American company, Jackson Family Wines.

He also represents wine cellar assistants on South Africa’s Wine Training Board. “Doing well in the WTSA courses has opened exciting doors for me, which proves my motto that people will see and reward you with more responsibility and good opportunities if you work hard and always do your best,” he says.

Winetech study groups and workshops

Over the past five years, the industry had spent close to R2 million via statutory levies on the transfer of knowledge to cellar assistants through the highly popular Winetech study groups and workshops.

Gerrie Grootboom, senior cellar assistant at Roodezandt Winery in Robertson, has been attending the Winetech study groups since 2009. “The study groups have empowered me with knowledge and skills that allowed me to win what used to be known as the SA Cellar Worker title in 2014 and paved the way to a better future,” he says.

Gerrie Grootboom, a senior cellar assistant at Roodezandt Winery in Robertson

After leaving school, Gerrie started out working at Roodezandt as a temporary cellar assistant and from there worked his way up to lab assistant and now winemaker’s assistant. The cellar annually receives about 30 000 tons of wine from which 24 million litres of wine and juice are made.

Gerrie encourages all cellar assistants to participate in the Winetech study groups and workshops. “The Winetech projects empower participants with knowledge so they understand why and how specific tasks should be performed and in effect improve cellar efficiencies, while also building participants’ self-confidence. Workers, nevertheless, still have to combine these studies with hard work to make it to the top of their game,” Gerrie says. 

- Glenneis Kriel