OTTC launches Try-a-Trade initiative

By Ilana Koegelenberg and Cherry Ellis

OTTC, in partnership with the Copper Development Association Africa (CDAA), has sponsored nine young students to take part in the Try-a-Trade (TAT) programme, to tackle the undeniable skills issue that our industry (and others) face.


The TAT programme provides young school leavers with the opportunity to try a trade and learn more about the HVAC&R industry. The aim of the project is to increase awareness about the HVAC&R industry, while equipping the students with the necessary skills that will make them premium candidates for employment and development. Finding talent and commitment can be a time-consuming activity for any company.

In keeping with tradition, the end of the TAT programme and prize-giving were celebrated with German fare at the college on 25 April 2018.

CDAA involvement

The Open Trade Training Centre (OTTC) would like to thank CDAA for their support throughout the project. A generous sponsorship of R60 000 from CDAA at the end of 2017 was doubled to provide training for school leavers.

“Instead of putting the money into the coffers of OTTC, we chose to double the sum and offer two weeks of free training to 12 school leavers wanting to follow a career in the trade of refrigeration,” explained Döbelin, director at OTTC. “With the training, the youngsters would not have to first find employment before entering the job market. Many young people today spend months and even years after leaving school before they find employment. After our two weeks of training, they would be much better equipped to find employment and encouraged to gain vocational training in refrigeration,” she said.

OTTC immediately advertised the offer of free training on their website, via Facebook, and locally at shopping centres. From the responses, they convinced nine applicants to take part and they started training in April. They were split in two groups and each group started with workplace health and safety, followed by safe use of hand tools.

Mpumelelo Mahlangu (middle) was one of the sponsorship winners at OTTC. Congratulating him is Hendrik Oberholster, lecturer at OTTC (left), and Isolde Döbelin, director at OTTC.
Image credit: Cherry EllisDerek Oberholster with the copper elephant that he made with the skills learnt at OTTC.
Image credit: Cherry EllisThe artisan sculpture was unveiled at OTTC when the first two groups of students completed their two-week introductory training for artisans.
Image credit: Cherry EllisHendrik Oberholster, lecturer at OTTC (left), congratulating Derek Oberholster, with Isolde Döbelin (director at OTTC) looking on.
Image credit: Cherry Ellis

“As is our tradition at OTTC, it is not only about the curriculum: we also try to make it interesting and so I came up with an artistic project for the past few days,” said Döbelin. “On my many visits to friends in Bayern in Germany, I had seen a piece of art done in refrigeration piping. I had taken a photo of the artwork, which I then gave to the nine learners as a project.”

The German artwork was made of steel, but the students had to do theirs in copper because of the CDAA sponsorship.

“Before they had finished the piping project, I had to leave on a business trip to Germany and on my return was very impressed at what I saw,” said Döbelin.

Training programme

During the TAT programme, OTTC assesses students’ skill levels, as well as eagerness to learn and work. With the assessment results, candidates can be reviewed and are highly recommended for employment by OTTC.

During the TAT programme, OTTC assessed students’ skill levels, as well as eagerness to learn and work.

During the two weeks of initial training, the nine students took part in various training sessions. Döbelin introduced the students to HVAC&R, as well as broadened their horizons by discussing the numerous career opportunities available in this industry.

One of OTTC’s first students, Martin Mc Eneaney Nel, who is now head lecturer at OTTC, also spoke to the candidates and shared some of his past experiences while working in refrigeration and air conditioning.

Projects and skills

Before entering the workshop, students were trained on basic health and safety and how to work with the various tools needed. After being deemed ‘workshop safe’, students were given various projects to complete.

Copper reed pipe

The reed pipe consists of smaller copper pipes that need to be swaged and then soldered together with copper tech. The finished product then resembles a reed, made up of various segments.

This simple task enables the students to understand the behaviour of the copper tech when used with oxygen and acetylene when brazing.

When their reed is completed, the students are then instructed to split the reed open with a hacksaw by cutting along the length. This allows for an inside view of the reed, revealing the actual strength and quality of their copper brazing.

This task was done repeatedly by the students until a high-quality brazing was achieved.

Star loop

During this project, students exercised the following skills:

  • Pipe bending
  • How to calculate a ¼ bend and a ½ bend
  • Measuring
  • Pipe cutting
  • Reaming (cleaning inside the copper pipe)
  • Deburring (cleaning outside the copper pipe)
  • Patiently scrubbing the pipe with steel wool for a clean finish
  • Working sparingly with materials.

Flaring, bending, and measuring manifold

This was one of the more complex tasks that students had to do. Students had to apply all their skills to complete their manifolds:

  • Copper pipe bending
  • Measuring pipes
  • Calculations for pipe bending and cutting
  • Pipe cutting
  • Brazing
  • Bending
  • Drilling
  • Using a spirit level.

Course outline

Students were instructed on the following during their course.

  • Health and safety regarding copper work and basic health and safety 
  • Workshop environment safety (OHS)
  • Safe working and handling of oxygen and acetylene 
  • Introduction to pipe-working tools
  • Complete training with copper hand tools
  • Measuring devices, drilling, and cutting of materials
  • Working and understanding of copper 
  • How to use copper 
  • Gas welding of copper and different alloys 
  • Pipe bending to correct dimensions using various calculations.
 Week2 Students were given a project to complete during the second week. Each student had to build their own artisan sculpture, making use of the copper piping and components available.
Each student was encouraged to put their own stamp of individuality on their sculpture.
Students used all the skills learnt in the previous week’s training to complete their individual projects.
 Week3 Due to the magnitude of the final project, students were invited to attend and assist in completing the final project for the third week. 

Programme results

Various criteria were used to assess the TAT candidates throughout their training.

A theoretical component included health and safety aspects, different types of copper piping, and porta pack (oxygen and acetylene) maintenance and use. A large part of every project included calculation of the copper piping needed, angles, and bends.

The winners of the sponsorships at OTTC, Mpumelelo Mahlangu (left) and Derek Oberholster, with Isolde Döbelin in the middle.
Image credit: Cherry EllisThe students, together with OTTC staff, proudly displaying their artisan sculpture.
Image credit: Cherry EllisPhotographed on the day, from left: Peter Hoetmer (Metraclark), Isolde Döbelin (OTTC), and Martin Mc Eneaney Nel (OTTC principal).
Image credit: Cherry EllisMpumelelo Mahlangu used his skills to make a little plumber man out of copper. This formed part of the artisan sculpture completed by the students.
Image credit: Cherry Ellis

Intangible aspects were also assessed, such as work ethic, willingness to learn, group working skills, and general interest in refrigeration and air conditioning.

The students’ final project was to create a sculpture from copper piping and sheeting. The project required them to make use of all the skills they had learnt. All the artisan projects were then mounted and proudly placed on a four-metre-long copper sculpture that will always be part of OTTC history.

The two highest achieving candidates in all the above categories were awarded sponsorships from OTTC to attend the OTTC Beginners Programme, which consists of 14 weeks’ training valued at R6 900 per week.

The remaining seven candidates were also sponsored with four weeks of additional training of their choice.

OTTC would like to see that all the candidates are placed into partnerships with companies where they can greatly contribute and grow over time.

OTTC will continuously be developing the candidates over the next few weeks, building an artisan report for each student, which will be available to companies seeking young talent.

“We look forward to continuing the candidates’ training and seeing their growth as they are launched into the market,” said Döbelin. “We wish them all the best for the future and have no doubt that they are on their way to great things!”


Celebrations were the order of the day when the students completed their first two weeks of training (they voluntarily stayed on for an extra week to complete a combined copper artisan project, which was unveiled on the day). Family and friends gathered at OTTC and a hearty welcome was extended to all by Döbelin.

“I am very proud of these two groups; they showed a wealth of potential. To see what they achieved in two weeks is amazing. Choosing a winner for each group was very difficult; hence, I decided that, apart from the sponsorship winners, OTTC is granting each learner an extra four weeks training at no cost,” says Döbelin. Her announcement was met with huge cheers from the attendees.

“At OTTC, we not only want to empower our learners: we strive to change lives, and wherever I can assist and build relationships with companies, I will try and place them with these companies.

“There is a tremendous gap in skills when you look at tradesmen. Youngsters are no longer exposed to the opportunities that different trades offer. These learners have been given a start to be a tradesman; it is a small step, but it is a beginning. I know we are on the right track,” says Döbelin.

OTTC would like to see that all the candidates are placed into partnerships with companies where they can greatly contribute and grow over time.

In celebration of their completion of the first two weeks of training, Hendrik Engelbrecht, a lecturer at OTTC, assisted by Döbelin, handed each student an OTTC T-shirt and a folder containing the details of their training.

Two sponsorships were awarded on the day. This went to the highest achieving candidate of each group. The recipients, Mpumelelo Mahlangu from Katlehong and Derek Oberholster from Springs, were elated. The sponsorship consists of an extra 14 weeks of training, with an estimated value of R96 600.

“I am over the moon; this is fantastic. My dreams of becoming a refrigeration technician is being realised,” says Oberholster. After he matriculated, Oberholster tried to enter the job market but found that the opportunities for youngsters were scarce.

“We heard about OTTC and immediately investigated. I was granted the opportunity to complete my first two weeks of training and I learnt so much. Winning the sponsorship is a huge help, not only from a financial point of view, but it gives me the opportunity to get a head start in a trade, which otherwise I would not have been able to do,” says Oberholster.

Try-a-Trade artisans hard at work in the OTTC workshop.
Image credit: Ilana KoegelenbergA work in progress – the new artisans each had to make their own sculpture. Here is a ship and diver (left) in progress.
Image credit: Ilana KoegelenbergMartin Mc Eneaney Nel, sharing past experiences with the students.
Image credit: OTTCSiphiwe Sibeko proudly holding his star evaporator.
Image credit: OTTC

“I am very excited. This means a lot to me,” says Mahlangu, who could not stop smiling with jubilation. “The extra training will enable me to improve my knowledge and I can have a basic introduction into the refrigeration world, which will open further doors for me as an apprentice.

“OTTC has been very good to us. They arranged accommodation and meals — all we had to do was to concentrate in class and learn as much as possible. I can’t wait for the new classes to begin.”

After all the students were congratulated on completing their course and the winners were announced, friends and family then gathered outside while the students fetched their artisan project.

The huge copper project displayed the techniques that every student had been exposed to during their introductory course. “It’s awesome,” and, “Wow! This is amazing,” were some of the comments made when the project was unveiled.

Guests were then treated to lunch and parents made use of the opportunity to discuss further studies with Döbelin and staff at OTTC.

Click here to read the June 2018 issue of Cold Link Africa


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