Changing lives on the west coast
Ten years after establishing an engineering company specialised in ship repair, Mornay Kurtz was faced with a perennial problem: how to find skilled artisans capable of delivering the quality workmanship his clients expected. Mornay’s solution was to start a training and skills development academy.
In 2006, former school teacher, Mornay Kurtz started MCK Engineering with four artisans, three welding machines and a cutting torch. Mornay had worked as a project manager in the steel manufacturing business and he wanted to establish a business in the ship repair industry.
“I worked around the clock,” recalls Mornay, “I’d pack my truck and follow the vessels. I sat there waiting for them to give me some work to start with. That’s how I got into the game. I was never at home, I slept on the vessels, I was just working, working, working.”
Mornay’s breakthrough came in 2014 when, having proved himself as a reliable supplier of a range of ship repair services, Sea Harvest – a large rights holder in the hake deep-sea trawl fishery – awarded him a preferred supplier contract.
The contract with Sea Harvest enabled MCK Engineering to diversify its service offering and tackle bigger jobs. The company gained experience in specialised areas, such as the repair of ships’ tail shafts, and it began to repair and service propellers, pumps, winches and generators. As MCK Engineering grew and began to secure ever more complex contracts, so Mornay found himself with a conundrum.
“I needed skills,” he explains. “At the time, skills on the west coast and in Saldanha Bay were very scarce and there were no people who could really do the work I was doing. I had to transport artisans from Durban and East London to work with me.”
Mornay contemplated the fact that every time he employed someone from outside Saldanha Bay, he was taking opportunities away from his community, and he decided to do something about it.
“I started training people to do the work and I’m winning because people are learning and the money stays on the west coast. For example, we are working in Simon’s Town (at the Naval shipyard) but 80% of the people helping me on the vessels are from the west coast”.
What started out as ad hoc training led by experienced welders from East London, developed into a fully-fledged training academy that is today registered and accredited to provide training in boiler making, mechanical fitting and welding. Artisans earn a stipend while they train and they gain practical experience while working on ship repair projects for MCK Engineering.
“We train up to (National Qualifications Framework, NQF) Level 4 and we have a contract with another training service provider that helps the apprentices to pass their trade tests,” explains Mornay, adding that fully qualified artisans earn much better salaries than artisans that have not passed a trade test.
In addition to training artisans, MCK Skills and Training Academy offers short courses that help unskilled workers to improve their knowledge and skills and their ability to secure work.
“For every artisan that we employ, we need two semi-skilled workers, so this training makes sure that our semi-skilled workers learn and develop and are able to attract better wages,” he explains.
Now in its fifth year, the MCK Training and Skills Academy forms part of MCK Engineering Holdings, which incorporates four divisions – MCK Engineering Projects, MCK Skills and Training Academy, MCK Labour Hire and MCK Safety and Firewatch. Although Sea Harvest remains a key client, MCK Engineering Holdings counts several other companies among its customers, including SeaVuna Fishing Company, the Oceana Group, Merlus Fishing, PAM refrigeration and GEA refrigeration.
For Mornay, the opportunity to create jobs and opportunities for members of his west coast community is a pleasing reward for his vision and hard work:
“We have witnessed the drugs, gangs and violent culture that our youth are falling into in our community,” he says, “we have seen how they stare unemployment in the face after they complete Grade 12, and even after a tertiary education. Our academy gives these young people a chance to become well-trained and well-adjusted artisans.”
Stay tuned for more stories within this series.