Two decades ago, Morocco initiated a long-term strategy to transform itself into a competitive platform for high-tech added-value industries like automotive and aircraft manufacturing through, among other things, investing heavily in providing its young population with the engineering skills needed in those sectors.
By following its vision consistently, today, Morocco is the largest car producer in Africa, every Boeing and Airbus aircraft contains a part made in the kingdom and its world-class engineering workforce has proved itself capable of taking on complex challenges in, for example, Morocco’s aerospace, automotive, agri-food, pharmaceutical, information technology and textile industries, as well as in the construction of the country’s outstanding infrastructure.
“In the 20 years that we’ve been working with Morocco, we’ve seen great continuity in terms of the country’s industrial mission and business environment. We’ve also seen strong availability of talented workers, which is important: you can’t expand as a company unless you have access to well-educated, enthusiastic and available workers,” confirms Gideon Jewel, president of global just-in-time operations at U.S.-based Lear Corporation, one of the world’s leading innovators in automotive seating and electrical power management systems, which operates 15 plants and employs 17,000 people in Morocco.
Thanks to its development of high-end engineering skills, Morocco has moved beyond added-value manufacturing and into engineering research and development (R&D), while the government has also established five dedicated outsourcing zones for a booming engineering services sector.
Lear, the automotive giant Stellantis and the frontrunning industrial technology group Capgemini Engineering illustrate how businesses are capitalizing on Morocco’s strengths in engineering by setting up innovation hubs in the kingdom that service their global networks and clients.
Lear has established a center of excellence that focuses on electrification and software architecture for electronic control units in vehicles, which operates from initial design through to the start of new product manufacturing. It is the only engineering center in Africa certified to the third level of the renowned Automotive Software Performance Improvement and Capability Determination standard and, of the 1,000 engineers working there, 20 percent are in R&D.
“Morocco has massive long-term growth potential for Lear and, therefore, investing in R&D was very important to us. We were able to get ahead of the trend here in automotive software and, of course, you can only do that when you have talented staff. Morocco is globally competitive in terms of intellectual property, it’s absolutely comparable with Germany, Spain, anywhere in the world,” states Jewel.
Active in the country since 2007, Capgemini’s global engineering center in Morocco is targeted at the automotive, aerospace, railway and life-science industries. This technology hub hosts in excess of 2,100 engineers and technicians, and services original equipment manufacturing clients in more than 12 countries. Like most industrial investors in Morocco, Capgemini works closely with local education institutions to exchange know-how, build capabilities in the future skills industries require and collaborate on research projects. In Capgemini’s case, it has signed cooperation agreements with the technical departments of Hassan 1er University, Mohammed V University and the Moroccan School of Engineering Sciences.
Stellantis’ R&D hub—the African Technical Center (ATC) in Casablanca—is even bigger. When the ATC launched in 2015, the initial plan was for it to house 1,500 engineers by 2023, but it already provides employment for over 4,000. Among other feats of engineering, the ATC was responsible for designing and developing two Stellantis electric cars, the Citroën Ami and the Opel Rocks-e, and its staff have been credited with design innovations that helped Stellantis to minimize vehicle production costs.
According to Christian Chapelle, vice president in charge of monozukuri operations at Stellantis: “A key reason for making the decision [to open a technical center] is the attractiveness of Morocco in terms of the skills and talent that we have here. The engineering schools in Morocco are very good—they don’t have to be shy about being compared to those in Europe or the U.S.—and the engineers leaving Moroccan schools today are best in class.”
There are a lot of them: every year, 24,000 young engineers and technicians graduate from Morocco’s 189 technology-focused universities, institutes and schools. 42 percent of them are women, putting Morocco near the top of the pile for gender equality in engineering, according to a United Nations’ study—far ahead of the U.S. at 20 percent, Germany at 21 percent and France at 26 percent.
But, as a result of Morocco’s growing reputation in engineering, 24,000 new graduates a year is no longer enough. Taking the automotive industry as an example, Mohcine Jazouli, Minister Delegate for Investment, Convergence and the Evaluation of Public Policies, reveals: “The kingdom is one of the most popular destinations for investors in that sector because of the quality and availability of its engineers. The demand for engineers continues to grow strongly and operators in the sector expect to create more than 15,000 new positions over the next three years. To remain competitive, Morocco has to train more engineers.” The government has acted quickly to do just that: this July, it announced an agreement with higher education institutions to train 100,000 additional engineers for industry and innovation.