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Aug 03, 2012

Consulting engineering has become unattractive – industry body

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Engineering|Expertise|Africa|Consulting|Consulting Engineers South Africa|PROJECT|Roads|Water|Africa|South Africa|Maintenance|Service|Services|Consulting Engineers|Graham Pirie|Infrastructure|Naren Bhojaram|Neil Macleod|Water
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Asurvey of recruitment problems in the consulting engineering sector has revealed low numbers of black professionals in the engineering, technician and technologist professions, Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) president Naren Bhojaram highlighted.

Speaking at a Cesa Gauteng presidential visit on June 6, he said that only 12% of professional engineers in South Africa are previously disadvantaged groups.

“I am afraid that is the reality of the situa- tion. Companies can try to transform to correct the situation but it will end up being artificial, as [there just are not that many] black engineers in South Africa,” he stated.

Bhojaram added that it was not easy to attract students from these groupings to the sector, which widened the gap between white and black practising engineers.

He pointed out that, in general, there was a lack of interest in the consulting engineering field among all people. “It is not about black and white. The engineering profession is unattractive to people of all races.”

This is mainly because consulting engineering services are being treated as a commodity and being procured on price alone, with no reference to qualifications and experience. The assessment of quality or functionality needs to be reintroduced into the procurement evalua- tion process, says Cesa CEO Graham Pirie.

Public-Sector Shortages

Further, young qualified professionals prefer to work in the private sector, rather than the public sector. “Young engineers are aware of the fact that practising engineers in government institutions are [controlled] by politicians and rather choose to work in the private sector,” said Bhojaram.

This has prompted many engineers to emigrate or leave the industry – for example, the national Department of Public Works is left with only two professional engineers.

South Africa needs to attract more engineers back to the government sector and that level of experience needs to be recaptured, he stressed.

“South Africa has a long-term shortage of consulting engineers and practising engineers are [working in the private sector or emigrating],” Bhojaram stressed.

eThekwini Water & Sanitation department head Neil Macleod told Engineering News in 2011 that a lack of qualified and experienced civil engineers in the municipal sector had led to the deterioration of existing infrastructure, as well as a decline in several significant new public developments.

“The number of qualified civil engineers in the public sector has decreased considerably over the past few years, which is reflected in municipalities not using their entire budgets for infrastructure maintenance and expansion. This has, in turn, led to a decline in the condition of assets, such as roads and water infrastructure, and led to more service delivery protests,” he said.

Recruitment Problems

The limited number of engineers is also impacting on Cesa’s members.

The Biannual Economic and Capacity Survey conducted by the organisation in June last year revealed that 62% of its members were struggling to recruit engineers, while 83% were struggling to find engineers who were previously disadvantaged individuals (PDIs).”

Cesa attributed the inability to attract young students to the industry to a lack of understanding of the role of a professional consulting engineer.

A professional should provide a service, have relevant experience, adhere to a code of conduct and have a legitimate record, with past references that should be verified by clients, he explained.

“Irrespective of what a client pays a consulting engineer, the engineer must abide by a code of conduct. If a client wants to hire an engineer to build a bridge that lasts only two years with the intention of providing a short-term low-cost infrastructure solution, it would be unethi- cal and against the engineer’s code of conduct to accept such a project,” he added.

Meanwhile, Bhojaram also pointed out that the country’s engineers were in demand locally and internationally.

“International companies are recruiting South African engineers and their expertise [leaves the country]. Our engineers are in demand owing to a high level of competence.”

Edited by: Chanel de Bruyn
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