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Chieta CEO calls for unity on hydrogen approach

The head of one of South Africa’s leading Sector Education and Training Authorities has urged the government and businesses to unite to unlock the untold opportunities of the green hydrogen economy.

Yershen Pillay, the Chief Executive Officer of the Chemical Industries Education and Training Authority (CHIETA), lamented the “silo” approach currently evident, calling for leadership to combine their efforts for the greater good of South Africa – and the Continent.

Making this call to applause from delegates, Mr Pillay revealed that CHIETA would also be launching an inspiring, game-changing initiative for young people in the digital space. At this R3.5 million hi-tech centre, young people would be given free training courses in digital skills, such as coding, programming, data sciences etc. They would also receive career training in fields considered scarce skills, such as welding.

“If one considers, from a government perspective, we have five sectors: agriculture, energy, chemicals, mining, transport all pulling in different directions instead of collaborating in a coordinated manner,” Mr Pillay said.

He added that South Africa has ambitions of becoming a key player in the global hydrogen economy but stressed that there was a need for leadership to pull in the same direction to harness the benefits.

And there are numerous benefits, according to Mr Pillay, outlining the main three: financial gain, environmental rewards, and energy security, which in the context of the ongoing power struggles of the Utility, Eskom, is critical.

But far from being bogged down in the negativity over the energy struggles, Mr Pillay said investing in the hydrogen research economy and successful workforce planning for a hydrogen-ready South Africa is imperative.

His organisation, the CHIETA, has embarked on an 18-month research project: A comprehensive study of hydrogen power in SA, which will support the Hydrogen Economy.

Describing the Hydrogen Economy as a potential “game changer” not just for South Africa but for the world at large; Mr Pillay said that South Africa is well-positioned to capitalise on the rapidly developing global hydrogen economy, reindustrialise the country and become an exporter of cost-effective green hydrogen to the world.

Looking at how to inspire young people to get ready for green economy careers, Mr Pillay said access to information was crucial. Young people in some parts of the country could not afford the taxi fare to travel to post office outlets for digital services.

To this end, in what he described as an inspiring example of a partnership approach, CHIETA will be unveiling later in October a digital centre using Virtual Reality technology for training and information of young people on the West Coast in Saldanha Bay. Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, will open the centre, which Mr Pillay said would be a game-changer.

The centre will enable young people to access information on science, technology, engineering, and maths and explore future career opportunities in hydrogen as a systems engineer or hydrogen systems designer. Using VR technology, students would be taught welding skills and, through a partnership with the University of Johannesburg, be given access to a free course on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, ensuring that young people are not left behind.

“We can’t have three million young people sitting at home doing nothing. And if this is going to create access to opportunities and information, we’re determined to partner with stakeholders across the board to be the change,” Mr Pillay said.

Reflecting on the opportunities after the Hydrogen Africa Conference and Expo, which took place in Sandton on 28 and 29 September, Pillay said the CHIETA study, which is already underway, is being conducted in partnership with research groups and is aimed at not only skills development targets but also government and companies of all sizes within the chemical industries.

“We anticipate that the research would assist in identifying growth areas for skills and economic development,” Mr Pillay adding that the chemical sector was primed to play a vital role in harnessing the benefits of the hydrogen economy.

“Green, if harnessed smartly, could indeed become the new gold, provided it is premised on a better life for all as part of a cleaner, greener future in South Africa – and on the African continent,” Mr Pillay concluded.

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