Universities Role in Developing Human Capital in the Printing Industry

Academic literature documents many initiatives between higher education institutions and industry which attempt to bridge the gap between what industry requires in terms of the pool of competent employees, and what is available in market place either as school leavers, graduates or existing employees. Industrial advisory boards are constituted in order for academic institutions to ensure that their curricula remain current and maintain the appropriate quality levels. However, cynics feel that the value of such partnerships are limited, as what is advocated by such advisory boards is rarely practiced effectively. Michael Porter, Bishop of William Lawrence University, Professor at The Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, based at the Harvard Business School, however, is of the opinion that companies, or indeed industries will benefit by working closely with local institutions in developing curricula, sponsoring short learning programmes, sponsoring research and in recruiting graduates. There has been a paradigm shift of late in that industries are being forced to understand the benefits of working with higher education institutions to create tailor made programmes that, whilst containing academic principles, are customised to meet the requirements of the industry. These programmes are a result of dialogue between industry and academia and is resulting in the identification of constructive and important issues about the relationships and how they can assist industry to accelerate the levels of competence in their sectors for those employees that have not been fortunate enough to be exposed to higher education. In order to operationalise this concept, a hybrid model where educational institutions and industry collaborate, building on each other’s strengths and relying on one another for support in areas where they are found to be lacking. This principle may be aligned to the practice of industries who find competitive advantages in forming strategic alliances along their supply chains. Industry and academia can create similar supply chain relationships to address the problem of developing the pool of competent human capital in a region, cluster or industry sector. This process also speeds up the acquisition of skills required by individuals that are technically qualified but lack exposure to management, and vice versa, where tailor-made short learning programmes can be developed based on gaps identified in a company or industry. These partnership models have clear benefits for all parties involved and include: •the availability of educational resources to support human resource development initiatives; •a platform to ensure a supply of suitably qualified employees with industry-specific knowledge; •a wider student market for the educational institution; •a potential opportunity for industry-based specialists to participate as teaching staff on specific modules and through this process honing their own skills through the research necessary to deliver their module; •opportunities for practical, industry-related projects, that not only enhance employee knowledge, but may enhance processes or resolve workplace problems in the delegate’s companies; •an environment where educational material can be jointly developed and refined and is relevant to industry requirements; •the potential for academics to consult with industry, thus gaining exposure to those specific industries. To illustrate the advantages, imagine a typical university and industry partnership. A manager in the industry recognises that a group of employees need to expand their skills in a particular area due to the changing operating environment. The manager seeks out a suitable generic programme at the organisation’s university partner. The programme results in useful discussion with academics and industry experts and leads to the customisation of the programme to meet the needs of the industry through integration of case studies, relevant assignments as well as, the introduction of best practice through research conducted in preparation of course delivery. During the intervention, however, the application of theory in the industry is identified by an academic and a senior employee and this leads to a joint research proposal being formulated for a research initiative between the institution and industry partner, funding is approved and the joint project proceeds. Following the successful completion of the project, the employee is identified as an expert in their particular field and develops the necessary credentials to lecture the subject of expertise and is used to deliver a module in the following programme. Similarly, a programme delegate identifies challenges in their work area as part of an assignment and, based on the course content, identifies a solution to the problem and implements it in the workplace resulting in process improvements and subsequent cost savings. The results of this dynamic relationship are as follows: •The organisation keeps its employees up-to-date as well as, developing a source of qualified employees; •The programme delegates are able to work on work-relevant projects and create relationships with individuals active in a similar field; •Programme delegates are empowered to identify solutions to real workplace problems and implement changes resulting in process improvement and possible cost savings; •The senior employee enhances his or her career through research experience and participation in discussions with fellow professionals; •The employee hired to lecture expands his or her professional knowledge by lecturing a university course; •The university has access to qualified lecturers, research support and the benefit of a continuing, constructive partnership with local industry. As can be seen from the above, there are potential benefits from strategic alliances between educational institutions and industry. This has commenced with the conclusion of the Wits Enterprise/Print SA partnership where delegates have successfully completed the Wits University Business Management Programme at NQF level 5 customised for the Printing and Packaging industry. This relationship has grown and has resulted in a more advanced Management Development Programme and a Development Programme for Senior Management being developed and is currently calling for applications from prospective delegates.