Micro and macroeconomic factors, and the unavailability of local skills in South Africa are key issues that contribute to the stifling of progress in various sectors within the instrumentation and control (I&C) industry, says the Society for Automation, Instrumentation, Measurement and Control (SAIMC).
“Such factors include the recent drought, low commodity prices, the weaker rand and increasing labour costs, which have all pushed the South African economy to the brink of a recession,” says SAIMC VP Oratile Sematle.
He adds that the recent significant drop in oil prices and low steel prices are some of the major factors that are driving economic activi- ties down.
As a result of these challenges, he tells Engineering News that South Africa has compounding problems, which include a limited number of jobs, retrenchments and reduced investment in skills and development.
Owing to this, major participants in the mining and petrochemicals sectors have responded to shrinking profit margins by adopting cost-conservative strategies – such as restricted capital budgets, and reduced growth and expansion, Sematle points out.
The lack of practical experience and skills has also affected the I&C industry. “Most organisations have reduced the intake of graduates and opted for mechanisms, such as requiring that applicants for junior positions must have a minimum of three to five years working experience,” he explains.
Sematle mentions that this has led to employee poaching and a war of attrition in the recruitment space, with businesses having to deal with a widening in the mismatch between the current skills of their workforce and the actual skills required.
Consequently, through industrial research, the SAIMC Education and Training Committee has noted a perception that South Africa seems to require less technical expertise and more sales staff, owing to raw materials being expor- ted instead of being processed into final products locally.
“One of the critical questions we need to answer is whether the issue is a lack of skills among current employees or a shortage of employees,” Sematle notes.
He points out that the Manpower Group 2015 talent shortage survey reported that skilled trade workers, sales representatives and engineers are the three top jobs employers are having difficulty in filling. In particular, the survey revealed a 31% increase in talent shortage in South Africa from 2014, he adds.
Sematle emphasises that, to mitigate these challenges, the SAIMC should start addressing the needs of the communities in which it operates. “We need government and organisations to collaborate and assist in addressing the skills shortage problem.”
For example, the University of Johannesburg has reached out to the SAIMC to assist in fine tuning the instrumentation and control syllabus through the university’s I&C Advisory Committee and address the in-demand prac- tical aspects of training. One of the requirements for the syllabus identified is the laboratory equipment to facilitate a world-class training programme in I&C.
Therefore, there is a need for organisations, such as the SAIMC, to invest in these types of initiatives, Sematle adds.
“The SAIMC facilitates continuing professional development accreditations and has collaborated with international bodies to provide training and development expertise in the I&C industry. Again, we invite organisations to partner with us in confronting the skills and development challenge,” he states.
Meanwhile, the SAIMC notes that the biggest potential in the I&C industry lies in cybersecurity technology advancements, as information technology (IT) advancements have led to businesses being vulnerable to cyberattacks.
For example, it was revealed at the 2015 Security Summit, in Johannesburg, that South Africa had become the most cyber- attacked country on the continent.
Further, businesses are beginning to opt for IT and information systems to streamline business portfolios and optimise opera- tional functions. As such, IT has become the backbone of business transformations, Sematle highlights.
He says virtual machine applications and the integration of business and process networks have revolutionised the manner in which businesses create value.
“IT continues to revolutionise the business world and this means that the cybersecurity market can only grow rapidly for years to come,” Sematle concludes.