Bridging the Gap: Education for Industry: A Case Study
Institute of Instrumentation, Control & Automation Aust Inc (IICA)
The industrial sector is undergoing rapid transformation, and there exists a significant gap between the education provided by universities and the practical skills required by industry professionals.
This case study explores the critical issue of preparing students for the challenges and realities of the industrial workforce. By analysing an interview conducted with Ben Zhang, an industry expert, and incorporating insights from Tony Gaughan from Ampcontrol and Patrick van Eybergen from Ti2, we delve into the shortcomings of current educational approaches and the need for a more industry-oriented training paradigm.
The study highlights the importance of bridging the gap between academia and industry to produce job-ready graduates and foster innovation within the sector.
The Disconnect Between Education and Industry:
Ben Zhang’s interview highlights the prevailing gap between university education and industry expectations. He emphasises that universities primarily focus on research and creative design projects, which often neglect the practical realities of industrial environments. While universities encourage creativity and theoretical knowledge, they fall short in teaching students about the processes, standards, and real-world problem-solving skills required in the industry. The result is a lack of preparation among graduates when faced with the dynamic challenges of the industrial workforce.
Germany’s Emphasis on Automation:
Patrick van Eybergen (Ti2) agrees with Ben’s views and reflects on his recent trip to Germany. Here he visited a number of Industrial Technology leaders and noticed a district difference in approaches to Industrial Automation and the associated training skillsets required. Germany is an exemplary case, where wages are not low, however cutting-edge automation in Modern Manufacturing, has allowed Germany to be competitive and even leaders on the world stage. Germany’s prowess lies in its dedication to cutting-edge concepts like Industry 4.0 and advanced automation applications. And although not official, they have even coined the phrase Automation 5.0.
Germany’s approach to industrial education revolves around concepts like virtual PLCs, simulation, digital twins, web-based code development environments, and cloud-based PLC management. Bridging the gap between OT (Operational Technology) and IT (Information Technology), Germany educates graduates in a much wider range of disciplines. Where in Australia there is a division between Electrician and Electrical Engineer, in Germany the Electrical Technician joins the two. They are able to design, install, configure, program, deploy, network, connect to the cloud, and much more. When it comes to programming, they are trained in a selection of Advanced Industrial programming languages and standards.
In Australia, a Mechtronics degree should include these same disciplines. Yet many graduates finish their studies without having touched an industrial controller or programmed in an official Automation Standard such as IEC61131-3. At most, they may have used a cheap maker board and programmed in some higher-level languages. Although cheap and great for hobby projects, these are not suitable for rugged industrial projects.
The Role of Raspberry Pi and Python in Education:
In Australian education courses, there has been a shift towards using platforms like the Raspberry Pi or Arduino and programming languages like Python, C, and Java. While these tools certainly possess their advantages, they do not translate well to the rugged requirements of today’s industrial sectors. The industry necessitates educational services that enable students to grasp the significance of industry-specific languages, standards, and software. This disparity underscores the necessity for Australia to reassess its programming education system and realign it with industry standards.
Tony Gaughan completely agrees with this. It would be good to add that this has come about by End-Users replacing hardened, robust, and safe Engineering solutions with an eternal race to the bottom on pricing. This leaves Engineering houses no choice but to upskill in tools that are not adequate for a well-engineered, robust solution. Even more concerning is that this trend has also been heavily adopted by Utilities that manage systems that provide staples like water and power.
The Role of TAFE in Addressing the Gap
TAFE, in recognition of the gap between university education and industry requirements, aims to bridge this divide by offering more practical and industry-specific training. TAFE’s approach involves repackaging unit competencies into job-ready modules known as micro-credentials. These modules focus on training students on the latest hardware and software relevant to the industry, addressing the dearth of practical experience and knowledge. By collaborating with industry experts and aligning their courses with industry standards and practises, TAFE seeks to make graduates more readily employable and productive. Using development software tools such as CODESYS, TAFE is able to teach a very wide range of industrial-specific programming, networking, visualisation, and commissioning concepts that are specifically suited for today’s Advanced Industrial Automation solutions.
Industry Perspectives on Education and Training:
During my conversation with Tony Gaughan, an industry expert from Ampcontrol, we gained valuable insights into the importance of extending work placements throughout university education. This would provide students with more extensive exposure to real-world challenges and industry processes. Tony Gaughan proposes a shift in focus towards enhancing problem-solving skills, conducting risk analysis, and fostering adherence to industrial standards. These industry perspectives emphasise the significance of aligning educational programmes with practical experiences to better prepare students for the demands of the professional world.
The interview with Patrick from Ti2 further reveals the importance of teaching students industrial programming languages using tools like CODESYS, which is widely used in the automation sector. The lack of exposure to industrial languages limits students’ ability to adapt to industry practises and hinders their readiness for employment.
The Importance of Industry Engagement:
To bridge the gap effectively, universities, TAFEs, and educational institutions need to collaborate closely with industry partners. This collaboration would enable the integration of current industry standards, practises, and real-world problem-solving into educational curricula. By engaging industry experts as instructors, educational institutions can expose students to the practical aspects of their future professions and familiarise them with the latest technologies and equipment. Industry involvement also helps identify and address the specific skill gaps that need to be filled to produce job-ready graduates.
The Way Forward:
This case study underscores the urgent requirement to revolutionise education to better cater to the evolving and dynamic industry. It stresses the significance of striking a balance between fostering creativity and theoretical knowledge and equipping students with practical skills, adherence to industry standards, and problem-solving abilities. Universities must proactively revise their curricula to incorporate more hands-on experiences and longer work placements that are structured so the graduate gets the correct amount of exposure to industrial practises and standards. Often graduates arrive at a business and the business is too busy to give them the time required to fill the requirements of their work placement. If they arrived with some requirements, then businesses could structure their placement around these requirements.
Furthermore, collaboration with industry partners, as exemplified by TAFE, can yield invaluable insights, enhance curriculum relevance, and elevate the preparedness of graduates for the demands of the professional world. By embracing these transformative measures, education can effectively bridge the gap between academia and industry, producing well-rounded, industry-ready professionals capable of driving innovation and progress in today’s ever-changing business landscape.
In conclusion, the case study on education for the industry sheds crucial light on the existing gap between university education and the evolving demands of the industrial sector. It strongly advocates for a more practical and industry-oriented approach to training future professionals, recognising the vital role played by institutions like TAFE in providing essential “gap training” in close collaboration with industry partners. This collaboration enables access to hardware and software provisions, ensuring that the next generations of engineers receive the hands-on education they require, aligned with the cutting-edge technology prevalent in the current industry.
By integrating insights from esteemed industry experts like Ben Zhang from TAFE, Tony Gaughan from Ampcontrol, and Patrick van Eybergen from Ti2, the study effectively underscores the significance of aligning educational curricula with industry standards, best practises, and real-world problem-solving skills. It highlights the crucial importance of fostering strong collaboration between educational institutions and industry partners to ensure that graduates are thoroughly equipped to meet the challenges and demands of the ever-evolving industrial workforce.
Ultimately, bridging the gap between education and industry emerges as a fundamental priority, as it not only enables the production of competent and job-ready professionals but also serves as a catalyst for fostering innovation and progress within the sector. With a concerted effort towards a more synergistic relationship between education and industry, we can pave the way for a brighter future where highly skilled professionals drive sustainable growth and advancement across diverse industrial domains.