SCHOOL leavers wanting to enter the motor industry as engineers are obtaining world class education in the Eastern Cape.

This is thanks to a partnership between General Motors South Africa (GMSA) and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).

GMSA helped fund the establishment of the GMSA Chair of Mechatronics in 2009, and continues to support the faculty.

“We approached the university after finding that one could never source or recruit qualified and registered engineers in the Eastern Cape. Anyone who wanted to become an automotive engineer had to go to outside of the province at great expense,” says Wayne Osborne, manager training and organisational development at GMSA.

It was agreed to establish a mechatronics chair because the relatively new field is better suited to the needs of the motor industry than traditional mechanical or electrical engineering qualifications.

“Mechatronics is a combination of the electrical, mechanical, robotics and programming disciplines. With the modern trend towards increasing use of robotics and automation on the production line we need multi-skilled engineers,” says Osborne.

According to Prof Igor Gorlach, head of the GMSA Chair of Mechatronics, it is supporting both GMSA and other local companies in the automotive industry.

Students have completed over 30 projects since 2010, he says.

“The beauty of the faculty is that it provides theory combined with good practical hands-on experience.

“When the students arrive at GMSA for their practical experience they have already been in a workshop and have dirtied their hands. Theory combined with good hands-on experience is an unstoppable combination,” says Osborne.

A further strength of the faculty, he says, is the mix of students.

They have been incredibly successful in attracting women to the profession, and also have a good racial mix representative of the population.

“That was one of our requirements when we helped set up the chair – and the university is delivering,” he says.

What is helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed is a maths mentor programme whereby final year students are paid a stipend to mentor first-year students.

“It works like a dream,” says Osborne.