Wed | Oct 4, 2023

UTech transforming to meet future work demands

Published:Thursday | May 18, 2023 | 12:53 AMSashana Small/Staff Reporter

THE UNIVERSITY of Technology's (UTech) Faculty of Engineering and Computing Technology says it is implementing the transformation needed to prepare students for the future of work, which will be dominated by advancements in augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI).

Dr Damian Graham, programme director and lecturer in the faculty's Industrial and Mechanical Engineering Department and head of its digital transformation unit, told The Gleaner that the faculty has made adjustments to its curriculum and has started training its lecturers in the operation of the AI tools in lesson planning, and on how to use AR in content delivery.

The faculty, he says, has also been deliberate in facilitating projects that will allow students to apply knowledge that is learnt.

“What we're doing is making sure that the programmes we're putting students into and we are influencing them to go into, they are mapping to the current and future demands,” he said.

In April, the university's mechanical and industrial engineering laboratory received a donation of 30 new reconditioned computers from New York-based foundation Black Butterfly. This enabled increased processing capabilities for AR simulations, digital additive manufacturing, structural engineering modelling, and large-scale mathematical modelling simulations.

Additionally, capabilities at the industry 4.0 lab have also been boosted with the acquisition 30 software licences sponsored through Prokon, a South African company.

Disclosing that the integration of AR and AI in its courses started in 2019, the programme director said this also involved the implementation of a common curriculum between the School of Engineering and Computing and Information Technology.

“So, for example, students will commonly learn linear programming and be able to comfortably code in these different languages through AR and AI. So whether they are pursuing a degree in website development or information security, or they're doing an engineering discipline, they all have that common framework of being able to do the coding, and do visualisation and basic engineering, which would help them to be a cut above the rest when they get out into industry in terms of application,” he explained.

200 scholarships

In furthering its transformative mandate, Graham shared that the faculty will be offering 200 scholarships over the next five years, which, he said, is being funded through a $2.4-billion grant from the Government, that also endowed the university with an additional billion dollars in change cost.

Currently, approximately 4,000 students are enrolled in the faculty, with about 400 graduating each year. However, he said that the goal is to double the number of graduates yearly.

Graham also shared that the faculty is in the process of signing contingency agreements with some industry partners, who have a preference for graduates with AI and AR training.

“We're talking about gaming, using rendering software - things like doing product fly through or when you do a design. For example, you have a backyard project or even a housing project, instead of having persons come and physically tour, we can have our students write a code for you that can show a walk through the space with or without using a virtual reality helmet,” he explained.

Graham contends that this training is also essential to meet the imminent “shift in the human capacity requirement” in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. Experts have predicted massive job losses in the sector over the next few years.

“BPO workers need to be upskilled to be knowledge workers who will now be able to build the chat bot, maintain the chat bot, and validate that they are working correctly. The place for that worker in the BPO has now moved into the knowledge process outsourcing (KPO),” he said. “Our goal over the next 10 years is to provide for the industry, these 27,000 or so higher-order-trained knowledge workers, who will have a high degree of functionality as STEM professionals covering all of the related jobs in the industry.”

Meanwhile, Professor Sean Thorpe, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, said that as the university celebrates its 65th year of transitioning from what was once known as the College of Arts, Science, and Technology (CAST) to UTech, it is now recognising new opportunities.

“UTech is well poised to provide these new outcomes tied to the STEM KPO initiatives and agenda that we have developed in the faculty,” he said. “We have been consistent in carrying out that charter, and that charter guides how we operate.”