Despite the good prospects for the country’s only vocational higher institute of learning in the field of palm oil, now a major earner and contributor to people’s welfare in Indonesia, the Citra Widya Edukasi (CWE) Palm Oil Polytechnics are continuously adapting its education system to the rapidly evolving demands of the industry.

Sitting on a vast tract of land in Bekasi just east of Jakarta, the CWE palm oil polytechnics currently has some 600 students from all over the country studying for a diploma 3 degree, the vocational equivalent of a bachelor degree, in three distinct programs — Plantation Cultivation, Plantation Product Processing Technology and Management of Logistics.

“I see the opportunities for us as being very good,” the polytechnics’ director Stefanus Nugroho Kristono told The Palm Scribe in a recent interview. Palm oil production is important to the economy of Indonesia, currently the world’s top producer and consumer of the commodity, providing about half of the world’s supply. Palm oil contributed $21.25 billion in export foreign exchange in 2017.

He said that the Diploma three (D3) degree holders that his polytechnics produced were ready to work at the supervisory level in plantations, a level that usually involves responsibility for supervising about 250 hectares of palm oil plantation.

Considering some 14.6 million hectares of plantations in the country, a simple calculation would already yield a need for almost 60,000 supervisors, he said, The need for regeneration as well as the increasing realization among smallholders of the need of good management, are only boosting the need for plantation supervisors further.

“There is a very high demand for vocational manpower in this growing industry,” Kristono said, adding that some 90 percent of the polytechnics’ almost 1,000 graduates so far have been absorbed by the palm oil industry. The rest includes those who return to develop new palm oil plantation in their home regions or decide to further their education.

But the institute is not basking in its good prospect. It is already thinking of shifting its education system to gear it towards also producing a higher level of graduates that is increasingly sought by the industry. Kristono referred to the Diploma 4 (D4) degree, the vocational equivalent of a university graduate and often known as “applied technology graduates.”

“There is a lot of need for technical workers who can think, and therefore our focus is now to move to develop the D4 level. Our new study program will be focused on D4,” Kristono said. He added that because of the rapid development in science and technology, including in the palm oil sector, there was an increasing demand for the D4 graduates with the required analytic abilities to deal with this.

He said that the adjustment needed to proceed rapidly in order to be able to meet the demand of the industry and the development in the information technology sector. He said that his institution was now only awaiting the approval from the education authorities to begin the D4 program.

Citra Widya Edukasi Director Stefanus Nugroho Kristono

Kristono also said that despite the palm oil indicative in the name of the polytechnics, the D4 program will also be prepared so as to include a wider orientation in crops, and not be only limited to palm oil.

“Palm oil will remain our focus, but we will also introduce other crops in our programs, such as coffee, rubber, etc,” he said.

He said that experience has shown that some of the graduates of the polytechnics were recruited by non-palm oil agriculture companies, such as in sugar cane. “They say that agriculture has the same basis for all crops and there was only a small adjustment needed,” he said.

“We can already read the roadmap. Developing the downstream sector; Sustainability, this is becoming obligatory, whether we want it or not; and the need to empower the smallholders,” Kristono said.

One of the programs planned for the D4 diploma is a program for plantation product technology, aimed for the downstream palm oil industry.

To support its education premise of 60 percent practice and 40 percent theory, the polytechnics not only boast an eight-story building that includes industry-class laboratories, an extensive library, and a workshop, but also has  a supporting two-hectare plantation nearby for field practice and a company plantation in West Java for the final on-hand field experience required.

it is also currently building a multi-story dormitory for students in an adjacent land.

Kristono said that the majority of the students came from main palm oil producing regions. “The palm oil environment is close to them, and it is hoped that once they graduate, they will return to the region, to the palm oil industry,” he said.

Applications are made online and candidates go through a selection process in their province of origin conducted by the polytechnics.

Ninety of these students, all sons, and daughters of palm oil farmers with less than four hectares of plantation, are studying under a scholarship from the Palm Oil Plantation Fund Management Agency (BPDPKS). Some 40 students are sent in by district authorities in Tulang Bawang Barat, Lampung province to study palm oil at the education facility while many others are sent by palm oil companies to study there.

“What I notice is that there is a militancy among youths in the region, youth who really care about palm oil,” Kristono said referring to the high level of enthusiasm in the region for studying at the polytechnics.

“We are always proud when our graduates return to their regions or go to other regions,” Kristono said.

Technical laboratory class

The polytechnics that was initially established in 2003 to prepare manpower for the Widya palm oil group but which was later opened to the public in 2006, also has a one-year Diploma 1 (D1) program that currently has 100 students.

“Besides the diploma certification, graduates will also have a professional certification issued by an independent professional certification institution,” Kristono said of the D1 graduates.

Wrapping up the interview, Kristono said that much remained to do in developing the palm oil sector in Indonesia, including its manpower.

“There is still a lot of homework to do in the palm oil sector, but we must work on together between the industry, the government, the people, the farmers and the institutions of higher learning,” Kristono concluded.

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