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5.3 ICT skills and capabilities
The manufacturing ICT environment now demands skills and capabilities related to intelligent manufacturing systems, manufacturing and process execution systems and process control together with an understanding of business strategy. These skills are based in emerging engineering fields (mechatronics, for example) and business studies. Businesses consulted during this study indicated that courses and programs are required not only at the undergraduate but also at the post graduate level.
A major finding of the study is that non-ICT manufacturing companies require people with knowledge of ICT and its application in industrial contexts. As ICT use in these companies is often ‘hidden’, new employees do not necessarily come equipped with technical knowledge of how to extract, assemble and organise the vast amounts of data that are generated as a by-product of machine processing.
A number of companies consulted pointed out that ICT is rebalancing skills requirements, from those of ‘doing’ on the shop floor to the intelligence skills required to monitor and control automated processes. There is also a need for ICT personnel who have commercial acumen, sound interpersonal skills and a capacity to work as brokers matching business needs and technology.
Staff need to have a good understanding of the way in which ICT works and, importantly, an understanding of the potential for ICT adoption and application. They also need to understand how massive amounts of process data can be leveraged into knowledge about production processes and as a basis for business improvement and enhanced competitiveness.
Companies consulted for the study also identified a skills shortage resulting from rapidly changing technologies. There was a perception that graduates from academic institutions lack the skills to apply ICT solutions to business needs. Institutions are seen to be educating people with only a theoretical understanding of ICT, that is, good at knowing how to do it but not what to do with ICT in a business environment.
In the metal products area, the study identified the need for sales forces to also have skills in using ICT in their sales and marketing responsibilities. Sales staff are often employed in their own businesses by distributors who do not have an employment relationship with a manufacturer.
There is a clear message from a number of the companies profiled that potential employees could benefit from more education about ICT industrial applications whilst studying at university or TAFE. It is open for industry associations and industry training boards should take a lead role in this area.