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Sunday April 21, 2024

Fix the workplace

By Mian Salimuddin
April 17, 2019

This article has been inspired by the headlines of a leading English newspaper. We have been lamenting for years about the dwindling exports, but apart from seeking government ‘packages’ to support efforts to boost exports, the industry has done little else.

The industry has to come out of this mindset and instead turn their attention to the workplace. After all it is there that goods are manufactured for which a foreign customer may be willing to pay.

When we turn to the workplace, three things immediately strike an observer. First is the operation of the plant. Very few management structures are aware of the plant machinery availability for production. No data is available on how often and for how long machines are down and not available for production. Next is the performance of the machines. Are the machines producing at the rate at which they are designed to produce? In most instances, the management is unaware of this aspect. When persuaded to have a check, it transpired that most of the machines were producing at almost half the design speed. As a consequence, to meet large orders extra machinery has to be purchased, adding to capital and production costs. Finally, are the machines producing defect free products? Any queries on this aspect generally draw a blank.

The product of these three elements – plant machinery availability, performance and quality – create an index called Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). The higher the index, the more productive the plant and the lower the production costs.

Unfortunately, except for a few multinationals operating in Pakistan, the industry is not even aware of OEE, which is a part of an engineering course, Asset Operations Optimization, taught the world over. In Bangladesh, for example, engineering universities are not only teaching the subject, but also undertaking research to enhance the productivity of industrial plants through OEE augmentation.

In Pakistan, the industry’s needle in stuck on energy costs. All their arguments begin with energy costs and end up with rebates, duty concessions, soft loans and so on. There is no effort to enhance productivity, reduce capital costs and improve quality to offset high energy and production costs.

The second factor that inhibits healthy exports is the failure of universities and the industry to develop market-driven courses to prepare managers to run modern industrial plants.

This scribe has tried unsuccessfully for years to budge the HEC to introduce engineering courses which link the academia to the workplace. As a consequence, we have failed to produce competent managers to take charge of the industrial plants. With ill-educated managers, nothing much can be expected from the industry. They will continue to produce low-quality, high-cost items which no foreign buyer would be willing to pay for. The easy way out is to blame everything on high energy costs.

The third factor affecting exports is the absence of skilled manpower required to efficiently operate the industrial plants and machinery. Foreign investors have in the past repeatedly pointed out the low skills of the workforce in Pakistan. The existing skill development institutes have not delivered and are not expected to do so in the future. The industry instead of acting as a pressure group seeking government concessions, should create sector-wise National Manufacturing Skill Standards. Dormant organizations like PITAC, NPO, TEVTA, NAVTTC and various skill development councils should be immediately restructured and brought under one head. These restructured organizations should then be tasked to meet the industry’s requirements of skilled human resource by providing training against the national skill standards.

There are thus enough tools, techniques and academic programmes available to enhance productivity and make Pakistani goods more competitive in international markets. However, this is possible only if the industry stops wailing about high energy costs and focuses on improving the workplace.

As things stand today, with management clueless about the efficiency and effectiveness of their industrial plants, ill-educated managers unable to introduce efficient methods of production and low-skilled work force devoid of competence to handle modern machinery, there is little chance to arrest the declining exports.

Email: miansalimuddin@gmail.com