World’s first Postgraduate Cement Plant Engineering Degree

December 2, 2014 Cristina Holmark

FLSmidth and Helwan University in Egypt launch new education programme, paving the way for a cement plant career

Operating and maintaining cement plants requires a high level of competence, and a critical shortage of skills in some local regions has made it difficult to operate plants at maximum efficiency.

One of those regions was Egypt, where FLSmidth has had difficulty employing qualified engineers with the right experience and skillset. This is a key reason behind FLSmidth’s drive for a postgraduate cement engineering diploma degree programme in Egypt. Launched in February 2014, the degree has been put together in partnership with Helwan University.

Cristina Holmark, General Manager of Global FLSmidth Institute, has led FLSmidth’s development of the degree. She explains, “The idea was to create a graduate level degree that could bridge the educational and qualification gap for engineers and prepare them adequately for a potential career in the cement industry. We also saw it as a good opportunity to play a very positive role in the local community as well as nurture loyalty among FLSmidth Group employees.”

Promotional launch of the Postgraduate Cement Engineering Diploma Degree, offered by Helwan University, Cairo, Egypt in cooperation with FLSmidth, Copenhagen, Denmark 

The degree is a combination of academic theory and practical experience, which is designed to equip cement plant engineers with the knowledge and hands-on experience required for cement plant operation and maintenance. It makes effective use of different learning styles to stimulate and motivate students.

 “Students are exposed to lectures with professors from Helwan University, group work and plant visits. The plants involved are Ramliya and Wadi el Nile where students will be exposed to our high safety standards and on-the-job challenges.” - Cristina Holmark

The Helwan Postgraduate Cement Engineering Diploma Degree 
This is a diploma degree course offered by Egypt’s Helwan University and created in partnership with FLSmidth. The degree is taught by the University’s staff and provides three semesters of academic teach and a practical project supplemented by short cement-specific courses. Sixteen students from different Egyptian cement companies are enrolled in the programme for 2014 and 2015.

Successful knowledge transfer
The diploma degree is part of an extensive education programme that started in late 2009 with the search for an academic partner. 

Cristina Holmark says, “We looked into and spoke with several universities in Egypt and the choice fell on Helwan University relatively quickly. Apart from being located close to cement plants, Helwan University showed the most interest and demonstrated high commitment. The university is a large public university with around 100,000 students and 21 faculties, so we are very pleased to be partnering with Helwan.”

Less than a year after an agreement was reached, the first phase of the programme was launched by the FLSmidth Helwan Cement Institute. This involved a pilot project of two semesters that was an essential part of developing a workable, sustainable educational programme resulting in the diploma degree.

“We wanted to create this degree according to established academic processes,” explains Cristina. “This involved extensive train-the-trainer programmes, including formal training sessions in Denmark and Egypt as well as peer-to-peer training.

During the pilot project, FLSmidth Group engineers did the student lectures, while the university’s professors observed and learned. We feel this process has equipped the professors well, so they would be able to teach the course material independently following the pilot project.”

And the pilot project was quite a success. Of its 33 graduates, 11 have been employed at three different plants operated and maintained by FLSmidth and others have found employment in related industries.

A world-first for the cement industry
Meanwhile, during the pilot project, extensive preparation was taking place for the full implementation of the cement diploma degree. This involved obtaining approval from Egypt’s Higher Counsel of Ministry of Education, a process that took one year. With the ministry’s blessing, the degree was sanctioned allowing 16 students to begin their new educational venture in February 2014.

Cristina Holmark emphasises that the programme is now owned by Helwan University, following the success of the pilot project and handover process: “FLSmidth’s role in the future is to help with marketing and promotion as well as training the professors. We will provide any necessary support, but it is the university’s programme now.”

“We are very happy that the goal we set out to achieve in 2009 has come to fruition. Helwan is now the first university in the world to offer a degree like this, so we are proud to be behind it,” she adds.

Professor Yasser Sakr, Helwan University President, sees many benefits for the university, claiming, “This degree provides an attractive value proposition for the university. Our partnership with FLSmidth has enabled us to prepare an innovative curriculum and a commercially viable offering to the private sector, and it has meant we have developed state-of-the-art facilities for our students.”

Students after a day of class room lectures outside of the training centre

Professor Sakr is also convinced that it provides significant benefits to students: “The degree will provide the students with marketable skills and almost certainly a stepping stone to employment. The international environment offered through the collaboration with FLSmidth is very valuable, in particular.”

Bonding with the local community 
The cooperation between Helwan University and FLSmidth is a public-private partnership in Egypt. It is expected to benefit the industry, the tertiary education system, local society in general, and FLSmidth’s profile in Egypt. Indeed, Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has identified this as a role-model example of CSR, and the Danish governmental aid organisation, DANIDA, has supported the project under its ‘Innovative Partnership Development’ (IPD) Programme.

Cristina Holmark is convinced the programme has strengthened FLSmidth Group’s ties to the local community by playing an active role in raising the education and skill levels of cement plant engineers: “We want the partnership to make a long-term difference for the community. It is a sign of our commitment to the country and the plants that we operate and maintain for our customers.”

“We’re not just operating a plant, we are supporting the community and working actively within it. Transferring knowledge is a fundamental part of this.”  - Cristina Holmark

Initiating and developing local programmes such as these is the FLSmidth Institute’s core business. Other similar projects currently underway internationally include an energy efficiency training programme in Vietnam and a vocational programme for unemployed youths in India.

“For FLSmidth as a whole, it’s important to realise that we’re not just operating a plant, we are supporting the community and working actively within it. Transferring knowledge is a fundamental part of this,” asserts Cristina Holmark. “I believe we have 33 graduates and 16 current students on the FLSmidth Helwan Cement Institute programme who can attest to that.”

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