Thursday, January 24, 2008

Oman Manufacturing Group: New Season Begins

Monday night (28 January) sees the first Oman Manufacturing Group seminar of the 2008 season and the topic is: Education, Training & Manufacturing: Going Global. On the panel is Abeer Abdullah (pictured), Head of Professional Qualifications, Knowledge Horizon, a Muscat-based training provider. We took five minutes from Abeer’s busy schedule and this is what she had to say on the topic.

Why should manufacturers work with education?
An industry is only as good, or as bad, as the people who work in it. More people with better skills who understand the manufacturing sector will mean a stronger industry – one that’s more competitive and able to compete in the global economy. There are more subtle reasons though. The manufacturing sector is a complicated creature, stretching out from research and development, marketing, sales, logistics, product design, packaging, finance and international trade – it’s a fiercely competitive commercial sector. Traditionally, manufacturing hasn't had a particularly strong dialogue with education. There has been, and there remains, quite a large gap between what people learn in school, college and university about manufacturing and what they then hope to go and do in the industry. Unless manufacturers help education to understand it better as a place for young people to work in, and also take time itself to understand education better, then we're not going to give young people the relevant skills to enable them to work and fulfil their professional ambitions in the sector.

You often here management say: 'What if we train our staff and they leave?' What are your thoughts on this?
For me, the simple answer is what if you don't train them and they stay? Manufacturers, indeed, most businesses, fear investing in employees in case they leave, and take the benefit of that investment with them. Surely a far larger threat comes from growing a manufacturing workforce which doesn’t learn, develop or deliver the quality required to ensure the future prosperity of Oman’s manufacturing base? How are our manufacturers expected to go global without the properly trained personnel?

Indeed, Oman's manufacturing sector is at significant turnin point. Rapidly growing economies around the world are generating considerably more qualified manufacturing specialists than we are – for example, chemical and mechanical engineers. We need to be encouraging younger people to study maths, engineering and science at university. The numbers of those studying these subjects are low and that’s something we need to remedy. I firmly believe we have an obligation to improve the training and education landscape for Omani manufacturing and address the issue before it's too late.

Do manufacturers know enough about the domestic training market – what’s available?
I doubt it. We need to address the 'hit and miss' skills landscape manufacturers have to navigate. There are some excellent examples of professional training programmes out there today — and there are manufacturers that are implementing world-class skills, and training providers are delivering outstanding content through quality assessors/trainers. But they are islands of excellence. There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad out there and separating the two can be daunting for the uninitiated.

I also feel there’s a lack of clear communication about the wider business benefits that better skills and learning can provide. The result is that manufacturers are keen to implement training but often only plan for a short-term change rather than using skills strategically to improve the long-term future of their business.Finally, and probably most importantly, we must ensure training products and services are driven by manufacturers. Too many existing training products and services have not been developed with industry's needs in mind. This makes it even more difficult for manufacturers to find courses and services that fit their needs. The problem isn’t that manufacturers don't want to improve through education, but they are simply confused by what confronts them when they look for high quality training.