In spite of a very difficult year for the fuel industry, Astron Energy has doubled down on its commitment to building the nation’s future skills base.

The leading oil refiner, which also holds the rights for Caltex in South Africa and Botswana, has invested up to R23m in its bursary scheme this year and raised the number of its sponsored bursaries offered at tertiary institutions from 76 in 2019 to 184.

Astron Energy HR General Manager Charmaine Lemao says the bursary holders are at 17 different institutions across the country and are primarily chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering students in their third or fourth year of study. Some are studying for IT, HR, Finance, Logistics and production management qualifications.

While covid-19 inevitably presented challenges, especially in terms of taking on interns, Lemao says the company has kept all its graduate internship, in-service training, apprenticeship and learnership programmes intact: “We’re committed to ensuring that there is a pipeline of opportunity for people to gain the critical skills required to work in the industry irrespective of their financial means.”

Lemao estimates that Astron Energy will take in around 30 graduate interns next year and continue to support students through the bursary programme: “We are not only meeting our own requirements but also helping the entire industry and nation to transform and build critical and scarce skills.”

Astron Energy has also established a special programme for ten candidates with matric from the Du Noon area, close to Astron Energy’s Cape Town refinery, to gain NQF qualifications to become employable in the refining industry.

Astron Energy is South African owned and has Level 1 B-BBEE status – the only fully integrated oil company to achieve that level with the complete value chain (retail, commercial, refining and lubricants) being included in the assessment. Astron Energy also runs an Enterprise and Supplier Development Programme which has, since its inception in 2015, provided more than R100m in interest-free loans and credit lines to assist black owners in building their businesses.