Skills development a top priority for Omnigo

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A highly skilled and experienced workforce is a crucial element for the success of electronic contract manufacturing company Omnigo, which employs nearly 170 permanent staff at its Pretoria facility.

“Human resources are the core of our business,” said Pieter de Nysschen, Managing Director at Omnigo. “We have machines but they don’t run themselves. You can invest millions of rands into this facility but without people we wouldn’t be able to run this factory.” De Nysschen said Omnigo identified this crucial success factor early on and has gone to great pains to develop a broad staff base, especially when production needs to be ramped up. Consequently, Omnigo invests heavily in skills and training, and unintentionally became known as the ‘University of Omnigo’.

Teevesh Chitanand, Business Development Executive at Omnigo, said the company is passionate about skills development, and one of its initiatives is with the University of Pretoria and its Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering that falls under the auspices of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and IT. Every year, the Department hosts a Robot Car Race Day, which sees Microcontroller-based Autonomous Robotic Vehicles (MARVs) built by teams of third-year students race against each other. Omnigo supplies electronic components and kits to the students as a contribution to the pipeline of future engineers.

De Nysschen explained that on a yearly basis Omnigo also takes in unemployed learners to learn basic hand skills like soldering, and a few are then taken into full-time employment. “We train about ten people at a time and that yields two to three people with the necessary fine motor skills.” As women are naturally better at this sort of work, Omnigo’s workforce is 60-70% female. In addition, cultivating engineering skills is especially important in light of the challenges within the engineering and defence Industries. “We have seen a large exodus of highly skilled engineers and technicians emigrating abroad to mainly the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, that is shrinking the local talent pool. This includes Omnigo, which has seen reduced business because of fewer defence contracts in our two main markets, i.e. the local South African market and the Middle East. It’s not good for South Africa to have lost a lot of capability,” de Nysschen said. As a result, many skills have to be freshly cultivated.

Omnigo started out as a Grintek facility that made radios for military vehicles. Grintek then entered into a joint venture with Factum Electronics to create Omnigo in 1999. In 2015, Omnigo was acquired by Reutech as a wholly owned subsidiary and became part of the Reunert Group, falling under its Applied Electronics segment.

Today Omnigo manufactures printed circuit board (PCB) assemblies for a wide variety of markets, including defence, agriculture, security, mining, industrial and the Internet of Things (IoT). It also offers conformal coating, inspection, testing, looms, wiring and engineering design services.