As the digitisation of the production and maintenance industry as well as the (offshore) wind sector continues apace, the knowledge and skills required by engineers continues to grow. In response, the IJmond region has become the first in the Netherlands to enrich its courses with a Smart Maintenance programme.

The companies and colleges working together in the Techport network have composed a joint plan to innovate education. This will be realised by the ROC Nova College, which is set to receive nearly €1.6 million from the Dutch government’s Regional Investment Fund for intermediate vocational education 2019-2022. In addition, Nova College has been granted a subsidy of €250,000 from the Province of North Holland for the project. The participating companies are contributing their time, knowledge and expertise.

Continuing shortages in tech sector
Despite the rise in unemployment caused by COVID-19, plenty of vacancies remain in professions such as machine engineering. This is despite the fact that the Dutch Employee Insurance Agency (UWV) has never seen such a large drop in available jobs per job seeker over the past five years. An NOS analysis of the labour market examined the ratio between supply and demand and identified the professions seeing major shortages. Although demand for staff has been reduced due to the pandemic, there is still a major shortfall among certain professions in the technical sector.

Company-driven demands
Part of the plan devised by the companies is intermediate vocational (MBO) training in Smart Maintenance. This will facilitate a broadening and deepening of various courses such as Process Technology, MyTec, Mechanical Engineering, Electrotechnology, Installation Technology and General Operational Technology at levels 3 and 4. Students on these courses will soon be learning how to become Smart Maintenance experts.

Edward Straus, Smart Maintenance-MBO programme manager at Nova College and Techport, explains: “Smart Maintenance-MBO is an answer to the demand from companies in the process and production industry in the IJmond region to train professionals – quantitatively and qualitatively – in the smart and sustainable maintenance of technical processes. Smart Maintenance is part of the fourth industrial revolution’s real-time collection and analysis of data related to machinery and processes. This facilitates faster, more flexible and more efficient processes to produce goods at a better quality for lower costs. It has far-reaching consequences for production relations between suppliers, producers and clients, and for the human/machine ratio. Increasing the efficiency of processes and companies enables the establishment of new sectors and business models, and has an impact on the competitive position of companies and regions.”

Recent research by production companies shows that Smart Maintenance is on the rise, and the Netherlands aims to be a European frontrunner in this field. “This means we need a new employee profile in the industry for smart maintenance experts,” Straus continues. “It will make technical training more attractive to students not previously interested in ‘pure technology’. They are introduced to the latest Smart Maintenance insights and technologies within their own field allowing them to function in all parts of the maintenance cycle, from detection, analysis and planning to execution and feedback.”

More Smart Maintenance training
“We are proud of this new partnership,” says Techport programme manager Henno van Horssen. “Schools and companies are joining forces to train for the innovative, clean and smart production industry of the future. It is important for the IJmond region and, by granting the subsidy, the government has confirmed that this is a good and relevant plan.”

An additional training course in Smart Maintenance for maintenance engineers is due to start soon, and an Associate Degree (abridged higher vocational training) in Smart Maintenance is in development ready to start in September 2021. All courses will be utilising the test plant of the Smart Maintenance Field Lab at Techport.

ROC Nova College is realising the Techport project in partnership with Tata Steel, MyTec-Bedrijven, Facta, Microtechniek, GWOC, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Inholland University of Applied Sciences, Technical College Velsen, Kennemer College and the Province of North Holland.