by Jonathan Faurie

Skills development

Education programmes take root in a challenging industry

Siemens Power Academy is helping to bridge the skills gap in the energy industry
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With global warming becoming an increasing reality, countries are under increased pressure to adhere to the principles founded in the Kyoto Protocol while finding innovative ways to achieve maximum output. This was affirmed at the 17th Conference of the Parties climate change summit held last year in Durban.

While South African power giant, Eskom, struggles to come to terms with its own domestic inefficiencies as well as growing pressure to turn to renewable energy sources, what is the state of education and training in South Africa?

International pressure meant companies needed to go back to the drawing board to assess old technologies and increase education and training in order to remain on the cutting edge, particularly in southern Africa, which still relies heavily on fossil fuel energy generation technology. This led to the establishment of the Siemens Power Academy.

Siemens head of energy in Africa, Ute Menikheim, points out that the Power Academy is aimed at providing instrumentation and controls training focused on fossil power generation, to learners already in the energy industry working for power utilities such as Eskom.

“This establishment is significant to Siemens customers in Africa and the Middle East, as they are now receiving the control and instrumentation training in their home continent or much closer to their countries. In the past, this training was only offered in Europe and America. Siemens has two power academies on the African continent – in Nigeria and in South Africa,” says Menikheim.

The academy covers a wide range of topics, from basic knowledge, fundamentals of automation and instrumentation and control to detailed engineering, maintenance and operation skills in power and oil and gas industries. The training portfolio further comprises the process optimisation system (SPPA-P3000) and the turbine controls – an innovative solution for turbines.

“Dependent on the demand of the users, further training opportunities can include the electrical systems SPPA-E3000, the future-proven electrical solutions engineered for power plants as unit protection and synchronisation, excitation systems and static frequency converters, switchgear control and protection for all types of power plants, as well as energy management solutions (SPPA-M3000) to increase plant performance delivering reliable decision-making data at the push of a button,” Menikheim explains.

This academy in South Africa is of particular importance, as neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia and Tanzania turn to South African skills in order to keep the wheels of industry turning.

Bearing fruit

The academy is a result of a long history of educational programmes that Siemens has run in South Africa, some dating back as far as the apartheid era.

During apartheid, Siemens’ operations continued unabated, despite the fact that many other multinational companies opted to disinvest at this time. More than this, Siemens actively worked to promote a better society.

In an act of civil disobedience, at a time when the rights of black workers were not recognised, Siemens not only offered equal pay across race groups, but also continued to train black artisans.

After the country’s first democratic elections in 1994, Siemens launched a diversity management plan in an effort to address the concerns of both black and white employees.

From a skills development point of view, the company played an active role in the early steps of nation building by improving the standard of mathematics and science in schools, and providing study grants to previously disadvantaged individuals.

Government programmes

Bearing in mind that South Africa is currently the biggest and most developed economy in southern Africa, the government is cognisant of the fact that it needs to set an example in the region of how to move toward futuristic energy technologies.

This change cannot happen without relevant education and training, which is run by the Energy and Water Sector Education and Training Authority (EWSETA) which is governed by the authority’s Sector Skills Plan (SSP), which is updated annually and seeks to address current issues affecting the industry. The 2012 SSP will be available from the EWSETA from August.

EWSETA marketing and research officer Candice Moodley reports that through the SSP, the EWSETA seeks to sketch and summarise the energy and water sector within the context of the South African economy.

“It aims to report key performances, define the stakeholder segments, and identify possibilities and constraints in the effective utilisation and development of skills. By doing so, the SSP offers a profile of the scope of industrial and occupational coverage in the sector, and the various drivers of change that are active,” she explains.

“The SSP also includes macro-level factors such as the political landscape, economic and social issues, technological concerns, as well as environmental and legal issues that have an impact on the sector.”

Moodley adds that the relationship between the skills needs of the energy and water sector and the skills supply has changed significantly since the introduction of the Human Resources Development Strategy in 1998.

“Since December 2000, additional issues and arguments have been heard which have changed the development and classification of skills – inside and outside the energy and water sector – quite profoundly.

"This has partly contributed to the changes that the skills development landscape has undergone recently (as governed by the New Seta Landscape 2010),” she notes.

 

 

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