Saturday, August 29, 2009

Training is Key to Oman's Manufacturing Sector

A major skills survey of manufacturing companies has highlighted the clear link between productivity, profitability and training. There is widespread acceptance of the link between a more highly skilled workforce and improved performance, with two thirds of companies saying improving productivity was the main reason for increasing training. Manufacturers also cited the global recession and the need for higher levels of innovation as a reason for increased interest in training issues.

Held under the patronage of HE Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, Minister of Commerce and Industry, and led by world-renowned British manufacturing expert, Professor Steve J. Culley, Head of Design, Department of Mechanical Engineering at Bath University, the importance of skills and training to manufacturing will come under the microscope at this November’s Smart Manufacturing Conference, organized by the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (PEIE).

According to Dr. Abdullah Al Zakwani of the newly-launched Industrial Innovation Centre based on PEIE’s Rusayl Industrial Estate and conference panelist: “High-level skills are needed to maintain, strengthen and sustain Oman’s manufacturing position. Unless employers and training providers work together to address this need the sultanate’s competitive advantage could be lost.”

Smart Manufacturing’s Upskilling Manufacturing: 21st Century Style panel includes: Mark Hobbs, Shaleem Petroleum; Abeer Al Jasim, Knowledge Horizon (pictured); Dr. Mohammed Al Mugheiry, The Research Council; Jody Chatterjee, Ososim; and Mark Eaton, Annis.

According to conference panellist Al Jasim: “An industry is only as good, or as bad, as the people who work in it. More people with better skills who understand manufacturing will mean a stronger industry – one that’s more competitive and able to compete in the global economy.”

The Knowledge Horizon GM went on to add: “Traditionally, manufacturing hasn't had a particularly strong dialogue with education. There has been, and there remains, a gap between what people learn in school 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 this economically important sector.”

There is sound evidence to suggest that manufacturers who invest in staff training and development enjoy lower employee turnover, higher productivity and improved staff morale. “All of these elements affect a company's financial performance and can make the difference between business success and failure. However, I do question whether local manufacturers are aware of what’s on offer in the local training market,” says Salwa Al Shukaili, PEIE’s Head of Training.

Al Jasim doubts whether they do. “We need to address the hit and miss skills landscape Omani 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 and trainers. But they’re 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.”

According to Shatha Abbas, Director of luxury candle and soap manufacturer, The Nejd: “Training products and services have to be driven by local manufacturers. Too many existing training programmes haven’t been developed with Oman’s industry needs in mind. This makes it even more difficult for companies to find courses and services that fit their needs. The problem isn’t that manufacturers don't want to improve through education, but they’re simply confused by what confronts them when they look for high quality training.”

PEIE’s Ibtisam Al Faruji says the fact that the conference will attract over 200 delegates is a reflection of how many manufacturers have a serious interest in skills and training. “Part of PEIE’s role is to raise awareness of manufacturing, promote Oman as a centre of industrial excellence and help its tenants achieve their commercial goals and excel in the market. In my view, PEIE’s annual Smart Manufacturing conference goes a long way towards achieving these objectives.”

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