Industry needs to take a leading role in curriculum content supply and quality standards development. We need to get the technical experts to the advisory committees to provide input about the course material and equipment the educational institutions will need to transform future graduates into experts on the latest automation technologies. Industry needs to inform the educators about its needs and assist in providing the relevant training material and facilities.
For many years, South African industry supported the local education institutions through initiatives like sponsored research, along with the creation of discipline-specific chairs and the like. So what has changed? The following, amongst others:
1. Technical development is now mostly the domain of the company’s own research and development divisions.
2. The political landscape has changed. This has resulted in a strategy shift and somewhere in the reorganisation the focus on education lost priority.
3. Non-technical managers are taking technical decisions, sometimes without proper consultation with industry experts.
In addition, the tough economic and trading conditions of the last ten years have forced many companies into survival mode, with the short- term pressure to increase market share and EBIT overshadowing everything, including responsible succession and longer term planning. Technology discussions no longer form a strategic item on the agenda at the board meetings of many local manufacturing companies. The result is a gradual erosion of global competitiveness, compounded as the companies of the developed world use the latest digital automation to open a gap to labour-intensive competitors.
Of course, there are exceptions. These are led by an enlightened group of MDs and CEOs with the vision to ensure that their boards contain the right mix of technical experts in areas like information and operations technology.
New approach needed
However, when requested by the educational institutions to join their advisory meetings, industry mostly sends its HR representatives who often lack the depth of technology understanding around the skills a graduate engineer or technician requires to ‘hit the ground running’ in a modern smart manufacturing operation.
This has caused a misalignment between industry requirements and educational syllabuses and the country is now beginning to suffer the consequences – not a problem unique to South Africa. Around the world, industry has realised that its future competitiveness is inextricably linked to technology, and therefore it can no longer afford to stand back with regards to educating and training the workforce of the future.
SAIMC meets the NTIP
For some time now, the SAIMC has been in discussion with various institutions about a possible curriculum for factory automation and the process industry – with little success it must be said.
In the search to provide industry with an education and training solution that meets its requirements, the team found that the tool, die and mould-making industry faced a similar dilemma in the past. A problem resolved over a number of years of close cooperation between industry and government (National Tooling Initiative Programme). Interestingly, the solution they developed could also provide a way out of the automation conundrum.
In April 2018, the government/industry partnership was expanded into a new programme, the Intsimbi Future Production Technologies Initiative (IFPTI) with a mandate to be the South African response to the Fourth Industrial Revolution needs for advanced manufacturing requirements and skills and enterprise competitiveness development.
The SAIMC has joined the board of directors of the governance structure of the partnership and our immediate past president, Oratile Sematle, was nominated to represent the SAIMC. The IFPTI, is a multi-stakeholder initiative that was established under the auspices of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Production Technologies Association of South Africa (PTSA), the Manufacturing Circle, the Capital Equipment Export Council and the SAIMC. The focus is presently on clarifying how companies can support this initiative through industry managed complementary funding structures while at the same time aligning with national transformation objectives
Characterising the requirements – a work in progress
The bullet points below summarise the proposed solution:
• The future qualifications and curriculum content should not depend on current outdated educational qualifications, but rather on modular, stackable competencies as required by future smart factories.
• The training must provide all students with a certificate that indicates the level of mastery that has been attained. By mastery is meant that although the graduate may not have knowledge of a specific production process, (s)he has a clear understanding of the applicable automation technologies including installation and maintenance at the lower certificate level, up to design and optimisation at the advanced level.
• Students must qualify for a certificate, diploma or degree according to the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). They should also be eligible for international certification – the aim is to make use of the qualifications available through the International Society of Automation (ISA) as well as the Automation Competency Model of the Automation Federation.
• Students are able to leave the system once they have achieved their desired level of expertise, but they are free to return and progress higher at any time.
• Although all attempts will be made to make use of the current educational institutions willing to participate in this rapidly changing environment (and we already have the support of some of the best players in automation education), this should not be seen as a limiting factor in the new programme. Various IFPTI advanced training facilities (Centres of Excellence) have already been established across South Africa and these will be expanded based on the new programme mandate to cater for the industrial maintenance and automation requirements of industry
• Where professional registration is required, the SAIMC will commit to provide the necessary guidance to those individuals wanting to register with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), as we have done in the past.
Part 3 in next month’s issue will examine possible funding models for the new automation programme.
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