The committee of the South African Institute of Materials Handling (SAIMH) aims to reverse the trend of constantly declining institute membership by actively running training workshops and lectures to educate members and people who are new to the industry about the industry.
According to SAIMH chairperson Adi Frittella, the institute had about 500 individual members and about 50 corporate members in the early 2000s, when it encompassed all disciplines within the sphere of ‘materials handling’, compared with 66 individual memberships and 11 corporate members currently.
An initial slump in membership resulted from the division of the institute into Unit Handling and Bulk Handling with the Unit Handling disciplines forming part of the Logistics unit, while Bulk Handling members were retained in the SAIMH. The loss of membership has continued since then, he says.
SAIMH treasurer and tutor Bruce Watts adds that another cause of the decline in membership is that people are now using the Internet as an alternative to individual interaction to get technical information.
Hence, the attraction of regular meetings of like-minded individuals sharing technical information has dwindled. Even nontechnical topics of a general nature such as the effects of HIV/Aids in the workplace, the implementation of projects in African and South American markets, and the legal aspects of contracts and conveyor safety fail to attract a decently sized audience.
In attempting to stimulate increased attendance, the institute in collaboration with the South African Conveyor Manufacturer’s Association (CMA) have altered the format of the regular late afternoon talk to a series of quarterly afternoon lectures covering three or four technical subjects.
“Three of these have been completed during the past year and all were successful. We will continue to run these lectures as an addition to the very successful biannual series of world- renowned Beltcon conferences, the twentienth edition of which is coming up in 2019.”
Frittella mentions that, in previous years, the institute was at the forefront of education in all aspects of materials handling, with correspondence courses in warehouse management, inventory management and a postgraduate course in bulk materials handling, which were discontinued.
The committee believes that an ingress of new, young personnel to the industry is imperative to ensure progress. To this end, they have embarked on spreading the message of the importance of materials handling in many aspects of everyday life to current and prospective engineering students.
Watts gave an example of such an interaction at the University of the Witwatersrand which has resulted in the formation of a student chapter by the SAIMH that has been well accepted by engineering students.
A direct result of this interaction has been the assistance it has given in the placing of students for practical training in the industry.
Watts relays that mentoring and on-site practical training are critical aspects of a young engineer’s career path, and that the institute aims, through its contacts in the industry, to find suitable positions for young practitioners through vacation work and apprenticeships that could result in permanent employment.
Watts explained what he found through interaction with the students was that they did not have a clear understanding of where their qualification would take them in the future.
He believes that having showed them the possible avenues of design, project management, construction, commissioning and sales, as well as operating in different industries such as the food industry, mining, cement and agriculture, as just a few options, the students will have a clearer view on what engineering and specifically materials handling can offer as a career.
The institute will continue spreading the word to institutions of higher learning as well as schools with a view to increasing the amount of new practitioners entering the materials handling industry.
Watts also confirmed that the institute will participate in the presentation of courses to tertiary education institutions.
He notes that these seminars will provide ample time for interaction between the presenter and the students. Students will be taught about specific technical aspects of materials handling, such as elements of belt-conveying elements, with the details being dependent on the individual’s level of education and training.
According to Frittella, the institute would eventually like these courses to be accredited.