The Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) is embarking on a programme to make the registration of engineering graduates as practising engineers compulsory, says Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) CEO Graham Pirie.
He explains that this is to combat the number of unqualified, self-proclaimed consulting engineers who secure work and then contract it out to qualified engineers.
“There are many people out there pretending to be engineers or consulting engineers.
“Having unqualified people signing off on drawings and plans for bridges and other infrastructure is a big public safety risk. We need to marginalise them and ensure that unqualified individuals are not, in future, able to slip through the cracks,” states Pirie.
He stresses the importance of registering engineering graduates to avoid having to question their capabilities and experience.
“The public can use proof of registration with ECSA as a guarantee that the engineers hired are qualified and experienced to undertake the required projects. The registration process ensures that engineers can design and [that they] have [hands-on] practical experience in the various engineering fields,” says Pirie.
Once a student graduates as an engineer, it takes an average of four years to register as a practising engineer with ECSA, which requires experience in disciplines such as managing a construction site.
To get more engineers to register through the registration process, Cesa has partnered with the South African Institution of Civil Engineering and ECSA to set up a Candidate Academy, which runs a two-day course that educates engineering graduates on the ECSA registration process and requirements.
The Candidate Academy also coaches graduates on how to become mentors and encourages young learners to join the sector. The programme has been running for four years.
In addition, Cesa set up a business admini- stration programme entitled Business of Consulting Engineering, which requires participating members to be professionally registered after the candidacy phase and practise as either engineers or technologists.
This programme equips individuals with the necessary skills and knowledge to run a business successfully. The course started in March and currently has 18 participants.
“It is a rigorous one-year course that focuses on consulting engineering as a business and, once completed, young professionals will take their first step in being able to manage a firm,” explains Pirie.
From 2014, Cesa plans to offer senior engineers a course to enable them to deal with high-level business issues in a consult- ing firm. The course will also focus on the management aspect of consulting engineering.
Education System Failing to Produce Engineers
Meanwhile, Pirie highlights that a signifi- cant concern in the engineering industry is the quality of maths and science at school level, and the failure of South Africa’s education system to produce capable matriculants for entry into the sector.
“Learners have to do maths and science at a certain level for them to be equipped with the necessary skills to enter professions such as engineering,” says Pirie, stressing that maths literacy is not sufficient.
According to statistics released by Umalusi, which sets and monitors the standards for general and further education and training in South Africa, the pass rate of full-time matric candidates in 2011 was 70.2%, of which 24.3% achieved university exemption.
Only 46.3% of matriculants passed maths, down from 47.4% in 2010; however, 53.4% passed science, an improvement on the 47.8% in 2010.
Cesa states that the poor quality of maths and science education is exacerbated by the fact that many school teachers of these subjects do not have the required knowledge to teach at the level required to prepare learners as engineering candidates.
To create awareness about the engineering sector and empower learners to take control of their own futures, Cesa has created a young professionals platform to promote engineering as a career of choice.
“Many of our firms also offer learners who may want to pursue engineering as a career free maths and science lessons,” says Pirie.
Further, Cesa is currently conducting a survey of corporate social investment initiatives by its members to measure the impact made.
Pirie reports that Cesa’s yearly job shadow month has been extended to a two-month event that focuses on highlighting and encouraging its members to allow learners to experience a day in the life of a consulting engineer.
After the two months, members submit reports on their job shadow initiatives to Cesa, which assesses the work according to certain criteria. The top-performing company is recognised at Cesa’s yearly awards ceremony.
Infrastructure Growth Needed
Pirie states there has been a decline in infrastructure projects this year, not owing to a lack of funding, but rather to the public sector’s lack of capacity to ensure the effective delivery and maintenance of infrastructure.
“This is a big concern, which has to be resolved soon, as the challenge in Africa is to alleviate poverty and create employment,” he says.
These issues are noted in the National Planning Commission’s National Devel- opment Plan (NDP) vision for 2030 and re-emphasised in the Department of Econo- mic Development’s New Growth Path (NGP).
“The NDP’s proposed solutions are the cornerstone of future growth and economic development in the country and have reignited interest in engineering as [an attractive] career path,” Pirie adds.
The NGP identifies investments in five key physical and social infrastructure areas – energy, transport, communication, water and housing. Sustaining high levels of public investment in these areas would create jobs in the construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure.
Pirie stresses that, despite South Africa’s low engineer-to-population ratio, the supply of projects is essential in creating employment for engineers.
The driver of engineering industry growth and development is infrastructure delivery, he states.