Dr Vathiswa Papu-Zamxaka, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Engagement.
Global representatives, private sector collaborators, government leaders and academia came in numbers to participate in the interchanges in the workshop moderated by Prof Khumbulani Mpofu, the IFoW’s Technology Task Team member. He is also the DSI NRF SARChI in Future Transport Manufacturing Technologies, Gibela Research Chair in Manufacturing and Skills Development and the Senior Expert in the EU funded initiative.
In her welcoming address, Dr Vathiswa Papu-Zamxaka, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Engagement said The transport sector is a key enabler of economic, social and environmental activities globally. In South Africa the connectedness of communities is even more critical given the historic planning that perpetrated disconnectedness.
“At TUT this eminent need has been converted into an opportunity to establish a research, innovation and commercialization environment to both derive socio-economic value as well as generate knowledge through the establishment of the NRF SARChI in Future Manufacturing Technologies and a manufacturing incubator. As the leading university in Engineering and Information Communication Technologies according to the Times Higher Education rankings, TUT has established the iFOW to create a hub where, among other areas of expertise the university has been endowed with, it can contribute to the connectedness through a dedicated focus on the future of work.”
“Among the various ‘futures of work’ that are being explored globally, one such ‘future’ is that of producing our own modes of transport to solve the problem of connectedness while at the same time creating economic activities for our citizens. The partnership with other players from the European Union cannot be taken for granted and as such this dialogue is arranged in close connection with the EU as a key player in the transport manufacturing sector in SA”, said Dr Papu-Zamxaka.
The panellists, including Prof Pekka Hautala from Finland, Dr Vusi Malele from the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Ms Nwabisa Ntiyane, a board member serving at Gibela with vast experience in the automotive sector and Ms Helen Brown from merSETA, presented insights into ways in which partnerships could drive success in ensuring that future skills are available for the transport manufacturing sector.
Key issues and challenges expressed by the panellist included the following:
- Technological illiteracy is prevalent even among those having access to advanced technology (e.g. most people with iPhones use them only as receivers)
- Infrastructure scarcity in rural communities leads to a loss of innovation potential from these communities, with implications for the greater economy
- Late involvement in the technological development pipeline results in companies becoming adapters of technology rather than innovators
- The contraction by almost 50% in the contribution of manufacturing to the GDP has significantly reduced opportunities for young technology graduates
- There is lack of application of knowledge and practical content in current training and education approaches
- State procurement focuses on the final product or service rather than on the involvement or contribution of domestic services and product inputs
Possible interventions and solutions presented by participants included:
- Bringing together various public and private partners to solve national transport challenges e.g. a centre of excellence focused on transport manufacturing, similar to work done on cable manufacturing
- Creating linkages between knowledge generation and commercialisation as exemplified in the Gibela Research Chair and the existing Incubator ecosystem, that seek to plug research into the market directly
- National strategies such as moving from road to rail need to be supported by clear research innovation and commercialisation ecosystems that support the strategy from the cradle to the grave
- Knowledge acquisition and technology capability building needs to be incorporated into school and university curricula, along the lines of the dual study programme at the University of the Western Cape
- Explore and master models of knowledge and innovation capability creation for the localisation for new products, such as the medical devices manufacturing sector, as well as the jigs and fixture project for localisation of train component manufacturing
- Approaches to curriculum development need to shift from the traditional library/reading approach of seeking knowledge to a more video driven, interactive driven learning approach
In his concluding remarks, Roberto Cecutti, Head of Trade and Economics at the EU Delegation to South Africa, concurred that it is critical that technology is integrated into our education systems at an early stage. Though the EU is also struggling with skills and unemployment issues of its own, they are eager to work with South Africa and collaborate with partners such as the Tshwane University of Technology, to explore interventions that are mutually beneficial and will address the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment in South Africa.
Prof Mpofu, added that two further workshops would take place over the next two months, addressing other issues related to skills development and technology transfer in the advanced manufacturing sector, before the finalisation of the study report in June.