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merSETA Plastics Chamber Research 2018_19

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merSETAPlastics Chamber Research 2018/19
Research Focus, Design & Methodology
Research FocusIn light of the shortage of technicians and the lack of preparedness of graduate engineers entering the workplace, the study focused on education and training provision for the plastics sector at University and University of Technology level (NQF levels 6–10) in order to understand:What diploma, degree and post graduate courses are in place?Do meet the specialised skills required by the plastics industry and,If there a shortfall or lack of education provision, what needs to be done to address the problem?The study also focused on thecurrent status of industryandacademic collaborationand concludes withrecommendationsfrom all respondents on how to strengthen the supply of Engineers and Technicians in the plastics industry.Research Design & MethodologyIn view of the research topic amixed methods approachutilising both quantitative and qualitative methods was decided on.Data collectioninvolvedthree distinct phases:
Research Focus, Design & Methodology(–cntd.)
Quantitative dataAnalysis of themerSETAWorkplace Skills Plan and Annual Training Report data for the last 5 yearsDesktop research into education and training offerings at NQF levels 6-10 - alignedtotheplastics sector.Qualitative dataSemi-structured (face-to-face) interviews were conducted across four categories of respondents:(i) Engineering Department / School Heads and Learning Programme Convenors at HE institutions(ii) HR and Plant/Production Managers representative of the various sub-sectors of the industry;(iii) Newly-employed Graduates in the plastics industry; and(iv) Representatives of Industry AssociationsAll interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim and a thematic approach adopted in regard todata analysisThe coding process consisted of two cycles of manual coding (pre-set and emergent codes or categories).
Research Focus, Design & Methodology(–cntd.)
The studysamplewas made up as follows:The targeting ofCompanieswas informed by an initial informal interview with the editor of an industry magazine, based on a recommendation from Plastics SA. In the end, 7 out of a targeted 10 companies participated in the research and a total of 18 interviews were conducted. The shortfall of 3 companies was compensated for by drawing on 2016 research data (Garisch, 2016).Provincial distribution: Gauteng: 4, Western Cape: 3, Kwazulu-Natal: 2 Eastern Cape: 1.The selection ofIndustry Associationswas based on a recommended initial list provided by Plastics SA. 3 out of the targeted 5 associations participated in the research and a total of 3 interviews were conducted.From desktop research into provision byHE institutions, 6 institutions were selected based on their direct offering of plastics-related learning programmes or affiliated degrees. All targeted institutions participate, comprising 5 universities and 1 university of technology, which translated into 8respondents being interviewed.(1representative submitted written inputs via email as the scheduled interview had to be cancelled at the last moment.)
SPECIFIC Findings (Respondent Views)
Respondent views on the STATUS of INDUSTRY STRENGTHIndustry not globally competitiveIndustry lackinginnovation cultureProhibitivecosts of imported materials and machinerya barrier to uptake by small companiesInefficienciescosting the industryIndustry lags rest of world in terms ofR&D investmentand innovation-promoting outputsThe implementation ofLEAN manufacturingprinciples inhibit specialisation and innovation“Bad” structural dynamics and business approachesundermine company effectiveness and competitiveness
SPECIFIC Findings(–cntd.)
Ignorance about the (plastics) polymer industryLack ofknowledge of the industryhas implications for growthImpact of the demise of erstwhile ‘strong technician training programmes’The loss of theNational Diplomain Polymer Technology has created a skills gapII. Respondent views on EMPLOYMENT OF ENGINEERS AND TECHNICIANSCurrent employment status, trends & issuesEngineers’ current employment status is limitedDeclining work opportunities for graduatePolymer ScientistsDifficulty recruiting suitably qualified and experienced personnel acrossall categories
SPECIFIC Findings(–cntd.)
Respondent views onKNOWLEDGE, SKILL & ATTRIBUTE SHORTFALL (graduates)Problem-solving(abstract) skills significantly lacking among engineering graduatesManagementskillsInterpersonal and communication skillswhich undermines collaboration and team work capabilityAdministrativeskills‘Right’attitudes
SPECIFIC Findings(–cntd.)
IV. (HE-level) EDUCATION & TRAINING of Engineers & TechniciansViews of HIGHER EDUCATION RespondentsCore purposeand focus of higher level [HE] education and training is aboutprincipled learningand impartinghigh level analytical skillsValue-adding“generic attributes”of graduates (Masters and Doctoral graduates in particular) are mis-understood and thereforenot sufficiently appreciated by industryIdeal plastics industry engineer(qualification and knowledge mix) = aprocess engineer with a post-graduate qualification(either Honours degree or Post-Graduate Diploma)in (plastics) polymer science’.
SPECIFIC Findings(–cntd.)
Views of INDUSTRY RespondentsLinkbetweenscienceand themechanicalsidemissing“Expensive” degree if graduate has no relevantplastics industry exposureGraduates lack of awareness of thebusiness environmentUnrealisticattitudesandexpectations“Ideal” qualification / knowledge blendfor graduates in the plastics conversion industry:Combination ofmechanical engineeringandpolymer sciencedue to the plastics converting industry having a strong engineering function dominated by machinery.“Turnkey” (polymer) scientists,i.e. fully work-ready (plastics) polymer scientists familiar with machinery and equipment
SPECIFIC Findings(–cntd.)
V. Status of Industry–Higher Education COLLABORATIONViews of INDUSTRY RespondentsLittle / lack of collaborationon the part of Higher EducationFormal channelsfor engaging with Higher Education institutionslackingIntellectual property rightsissues regarding collaborative research outputsIndustry-specific training and researchinstitutesarelargely lackingin South AfricaViews of HIGHER EDUCATION respondentsIndustrial Advisory Boards(department-based) as primary formal structure for engagement with industryClosehistorical relationshipsby virtue of having been “born off’ industryAd hoctroubleshooting serviceas basis for engagementStrong advocacyamongst stakeholders regarding collaboration BUTno substantive actionaccompanies engagementPartnerships develop and are sustained on basis oftrust relationshipsbetween key individuals
OVERALL Findings
I. (Graduate) engineers and technicians in the plastics industryOVERALL Finding 1: Uptake of graduate engineers and polymer scientists in IndustryGraduate engineers and post-graduate polymer/materials scientistsare by-and-largenot perceived by industry to be essential for plant function and performance. But there is an appreciation of the analytical capabilities of engineers and an awareness of the engineer-technician differentiation with respect to job functions and where they can add value.OVERALL Finding 2: Areas of knowledge & competence shortcomings of graduatesApart from sub sector-specific shortcomings with regard topractical knowledge and expertise(on-course practical exposure to current industry machinery), areas of knowledge and skill/competence and attribute shortfall among job entry-level graduate engineers (and polymer scientists) arehigh level analysis and advanced problem solving; contextual process/project management, and interpersonal and communication skills, which undermine teamwork capability. Interestingly, shortcomings with regard to disciplinary knowledge were not highlighted.
OVERALL Findings(–cntd.)
HE-level education andtrainingprovision & research supportOverall Finding 3: Current scope and relevance of current qualificationsWith the exception of Stellenbosch University,undergraduatequalifications/ programmes are limited to a BEng orBScEngdegree in chemical engineeringas the generic entry level programmes but they do not have any significant level of exposure to plastics materials science and processing.Specialisationin polymers/materials science and materials engineering only happens atpost-graduate level(studies and research projects). However, a mechanical engineering dimension (conversion process-focus) is not addressed.Overall Finding 4:An ‘ideal’ plastics industry (conversion) engineering qualificationIndustry respondents:A combination of polymer science and mechanical engineering disciplinary knowledge fields together with grounding in conversion sub sector-specific process knowledge .HE respondents: Aqualification comprising a polymer/ materials science–process (chemical) engineering disciplinary blend focused on providing students with a solid grounding in knowledge of ‘plastics-specific’ science and processing.
OVERALL Findings(–cntd.)
Overall Finding 5: Funding shortfall as critical cross-cutting theme impacting on education and training provision, uptake and research outputIncreasing ‘critical’ shortfalls in funding for universities in recent years severely inhibit the capacity of academic departments and research institutes to deliver on all aspects of provision. Such adrying up of fundingis widely bemoaned and in particular regard to:bursary fundingfor both undergraduate and post-graduate students has become increasingly difficult in recent years – that is, not just for covering tuition fees but also living and travel expensesResearch fundingin respect of post-graduate student enrolment and research projects (no institutional funding for research, including staff and equipment)Funding forinternshipsfor graduatesIndustry demand/ support forshort course provisionhas declined dramatically in recent years
OVERALL Findings(–cntd.)
III. HE–Industry partnerships and collaboration – shortcomingsOVERALL Finding 6:In general there is a‘disconnect’between industry and HE which results in misunderstanding of their respective offerings and collaborative opportunities. Variousstrategies and interventionshave beentriedbut theylack sustainability,leaving informal networking as the chief mode of engagement. The lack of collaboration is seen as having a negative impact even though both industry and HE appreciate their mutual interdependencies. They cannot seem to establish a long-termsustainable collaborative frameworkto address relevant research, materials science development, industrialisation of research output, testing facilities and the support needed for standardisation of processes and products.OVERALL Finding 7:A general lack of a trust-based ‘working relationship’between industry and HE inhibits the collaborative commercialisation of innovative research.Industryappear, by and large, to be thereluctant partner– with approaches to HE being essentially limited to request for materials characterisation and development, and/or product testing and analysis-based trouble shooting.
Suggestions to strengthen industry – the supply of engineers & technicians in particular
Views of INDUSTRY ENTERPRISES:Industry-wide and specifictrainingdesperately neededAdopt theGerman ModelReinstate aplastics technology diplomaCombine initial Higher Education andInternship-based trainingWorkplace exposurefor studentsinstead of full internshipHigher Educationcurriculum development and alignmentin consultation with industry and informed by researchEstablishing a highly-visible, multi-sectoral and multi-levelskills planning and development pipelineinvolving all stakeholders and role playersHigher Educationinstitutions to acquiremachinery
Suggestions to strengthen industry – the supply of engineers & technicians in particular(–cntd.)
ThroughPlastics Chamber–HE collaboration develop a broad spectrum and pool of skillscatering for the multiple skills needed by all the plastics industry sub-sectorsPlastics SA Training– PSA the ‘obvious’ training partner to industryProvincialspecialist training centresrequiredIndustry as a whole shouldsupport TVET collegesmore proactively on an interactive partnership basisAs the major raw materials supplier,SASOL should be funding internships.Advocacyfor careers in plastics industryPlastics Chamber—Higher EducationcollaborationOptimising monitoring and developmentresearchfocus
Suggestions to strengthen industry – the supply of engineers & technicians in particular(–cntd.)
Collaborativeresearcharound key plastics engineering problems/challengesProviding aforum, on a regular basis, where universities and students can inform industry about their research focus areas and potential benefits to be derived by industry is viewed as beneficial.‘Good’ practicespromoting company well-beingViews of INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION respondents:Therelationship between industry and higher educationis not a simple one and in some instances it is viewed as ‘adversarial’.Manufacturing exposurefor studentsImportance ofstandards and testingas a key focus area for consideration – to implement and uphold standards in the industry.Usefulapplied researchby HE institutions
Suggestions to strengthen industry – the supply of engineers & technicians in particular(–cntd.)
Views of HIGHER EDUCATION respondentsTwo-stream modelfor post-graduate provision – a Masters and Doctoral stream but also allowing for exit at Honours LevelThree-tiered approachto education and training for plastics industry-focused graduatesLEVEL 1: Focus on producingTechnicians and Technologists(BTech)LEVEL 2:Honour’s levelfocus targeting ‘people knowing chemistry or chemical engineering, but who don’t know plastics’.LEVEL 3: Focused atMasters and PhD levelswhere students conceptualise projects and test for workability in the laboratory, after which they are employed by industry to develop these projects and processes (up-scale) for eventual commercialisation.Internships– as representing “the only” vehicle for facilitating industry-readiness of (post- graduates) ‘at no cost to company’ (however, lack of interest from companies is bemoaned)Establish plastics industryResearch Chair– as most effective and cost-effective model for stimulating / driving effective and cost-effective innovation research in the plastics (polymer) industry
OVERALL Recommendations
Stimulating the uptake of engineers in the plastics industryOverall Recommendation 1:The current low uptake of qualified engineers and technicians could be mitigated throughadvocacyby industry bodies, with particular reference to advocacy/ awareness-raising:In SCHOOLSconcerningcareer opportunities in the plastics industryand corresponding education and training opportunities at relevant HE institutionsInINDUSTRYabout the potentialvalue-addto company performanceby qualified personnel(graduates and post-graduates) in relation to key attributes and competences like principled, disciplinary knowledge, socio-economic understanding of the impact of engineering, high level analytical capability and the capacity for critical and innovative thinking.
OVERALL Recommendations (–cntd.)
Enhancing the scope and relevance of HE provision with regard to the education and training (re conversion sub-sectors in particular); as well as research support to industryOVERALL Recommendation 2:ThePlastics Chamber and Plastics SAshouldassume strong leadership and facilitating rolesto effect changes to current provision as suggested by industry and HE constituencies in pursuit ofaligning the current HE qualifications and programmesto ensure the supply of dedicated plastics industry engineers, scientists and technicians.Ofparticular focusshould be the amending the current ‘stock and trade’ qualifications comprising a polymer/ materials science—process/ materials engineering disciplinary mix to also include amechanical engineering dimensionwhilst alsoreducing the scope of the polymer science componentto an exclusive‘plastics knowledge’ focusin consultation with ECSA.Such an undertaking should take the form of ajoint venturebetween the relevant HE institutions and industry stakeholders, with funding, as may be required, provided by industry.
OVERALL Recommendations (–cntd.)
Overall recommendation 3:Industry bodies are implored, as a critical priority, to find creative and substantial ways toalleviate the increasing funding crisis burdening HE institutions in partnership with industrywith particular reference to:bursary supportfor post-graduate students to address the decline in uptake of higher-level studies and corresponding opportunities for specialisationresearchfunding (dedicated staff and equipment)equippingpractical trainingfacilities to enhance world-of work readiness of graduatesfunding ofinternshipsfor graduatesstimulating uptake by industry ofshort courseofferings
Overall Recommendations(–cntd.)
Strengthening Industry-HE relations and collaborationOverall Recommendation 4:Against the background of thedisconnectthat currently characterises Industry–HE relations and collaboration, by and large, and unsuccessful attempts in the past to bridge this divide in any sustainable or lasting ways;Industry Associations, the Plastics Chamber and Plastics SAshoulddevise effective ways to promote engagement and trust relationships-building between HE and industryto collaborate around mutual areas of concern, needs and aspirations – with the ultimate goal of high-level human capital development interventions that will nurture an innovative and competitive plastics industry.
Conclusions
Current SituationConflation of Artisan, Technician and Engineer by industryDiffering views from HE and IndustryGeneric education provisiononlySpecialisationat post graduate level onlyHistorical HE polar position: Engineering and ScienceATR data limited (dichotomous findings)
SolutionCombine Science and EngineeringProcess “know how” addressedEngage on electivesMachinery3 tier qualification approach…
3 TIER APPROACH
1. Develop a Plastics National Technical Diploma
2. Develop an “ideal” graduate qualificationIndustry: Polymer Science and Mechanical Engineering with “conversion” sub-sectorspecificprocessknowledge in consultation with ECSA.HE: Materials Science-Process (chemical) Engineering blend with knowledge of plastic specific science andprocessing.An Honours Exit option will support industry.
3. Masters and PhD studies leading to industry commercialisation and strong research support grounded in industry needs.
Qualification Alignment
Long-term sustainable collaborative framework to support:
Relevant research and possibly a Research Chair at HEMaterials Science developmentIndustrialisation of research outputsTesting facilitiesSupport for standardisation of processes and productsSupporting innovation (Garisch, 2016)HE and industry ForumTHREE STUDY RECOMMENDATIONS: STIMULATE, ENHANCE AND STRENGTHEN
Formal joint venture between industry and HE
Skills Planning and Development Pipeline and Skills PoolHuman Capital development plan that nurtures innovation and competitivenessHIGH VISIBILITYMULTI-SECTORALMULTI-LEVELPlastics Chamber, Plastics SA and Industry Associations criticalAll stakeholders androleplayersMOVE BEYOND INFORMAL INDIVIDUAL TRUST RELATIONSHIPSMOVE BEYOND THE DISCONNECT AND RELUCTANT PARTNERSHIPS
HOW?
COMMITMENTHigher EducationIndustryIndustry AssociationsPlastics ChamberA CREDIBLE FUNDED LONG-TERM INTERVENTION GLOBALLY-RECOGNISEDFUNDINGBursariesPost graduate researchPractical TrainingInterns (SASOL?)Equipment and MachineryShort course development and uptake
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merSETA Plastics Chamber Research 2018_19