Shop floor supervisors from Nissan Motor's South African assembly plant in Rosslyn now undergo training at the automaker's flagship Sunderland plant in the UK, and over 40 local employees have completed the course, a top executive revealed.

Training for specialised jobs like master welding is carried out at the parent in Japan, Nissan South Africa manufacturing director Joan Busquets said at the Manufacturing Indaba event at Emperor's Palace in Ekurhuleni.

Busquets, 27 years with the automaker, is credited with turning around Nissan Motor Europe's Barcelona light commercial vehicle (LCV) plant – now a top Renault-Nissan Alliance operation.

During a panel discussion on "The Best of South African Manufacturing" (against the backdrop of low economic growth and its impact on the sector), Busquets said it was important to "remain cutting-edge and globally competitive".

"We are investing in new plant infrastructure and innovative Nissan technologies at our Rosslyn plant to make sure our vehicles always meet global standards in terms of quality and cost," said Busquets.

Two years ago, he was transferred to the South African operation from Nissan Europe and the automaker said his experience and expertise was contributing to incremental gains in the SA plant's competitiveness.

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The key to success, according to Busquets, is adherence to global operating procedures, which in SA is the Alliance Production Way, a blueprint for manufacturing methods across the alliance's global plants.

Best practice is supported by a fully trained workforce and the company "is investing significantly in skills training and development to assist industry initiatives aimed at addressing the shortage of skilled engineers and operators".

As well as the overseas training, a home grown pool of engineers is going through a two year graduate programme focused on on-the-job training. By the end of the next financial year, over 100 graduates will have gone through the programme.

Comprehensive operator training for production line processes takes place on-site and at the Gauteng Automotive Learning Centre, a partnership between Nissan and the City of Tshwane, that's open to other auto manufacturers and tertiary institutions.

Growing the local supply chain, which will improve the level of localisation on vehicles, also improves global competitiveness.

"Nissan SA is introducing on-site suppliers which will also have the added benefits of reducing logistics time and cost," said Busquets. "Also in the pipeline – with the aim of achieving the same results – is an incubation centre to assist small black-owned businesses to get a foot in the door of the auto supply chain."

Busquets said all the measures outlined were in support of government's automotive production and development program (APDP), which aims to produce 900,000 vehicles per year by 2020.

"While this goal may not seem achievable for auto manufacturers in the current economic environment, we mustn't lose sight of the long term."

It's a future that envisions growth in Sub Saharan Africa and conditions that support the automaker's Africa strategy to become a leading LCV and passenger brand on the continent.