The South African Council for Project and Construction Management Professions (SACPCMP) on Friday launched a private initiative, dubbed the ‘Student Chapter', that would link students from tertiary institutions with registered professionals in the council and other companies in the built environment sector.
Speaking at the launch of the initiative, SACPCMP's Dr Wellington Thwala said that the council had identified a challenge faced by the built environment in recruiting candidates for the project management and construction management professions.
He added that often graduates also found it difficult to enter the industry and to gain the relevant experience.
This ‘Student Chapter' initiative is a practical step to address this gap in the industry, also taking into account that while some qualified people were finding it difficult to find employment, South Africa had to import a lot of skills to build the infrastructure for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Speaking to Engineering News Online at the event, Public Works Minister Geoff Doidge said that the government welcomed this initiative and would be more than willing to take on the students in relevant public projects that were currently being rolled out.
The Minister noted that the public sector was also struggling to gain and retain skilled project managers to run all its different projects.
The South African government is the third-largest, per capita, investor in infrastructure development in the world, only behind China and the US.
In fact, government has committed to spending R847-billion on infrastructure development between 2010 and 2013. Further, Doidge noted that the Department of Energy announced on Thursday that the country planned to build six new nuclear power stations by 2023, which would see additional spend of well over a trillion rand.
"This would see a significant rise in demand for project managers and other skilled professionals in the industry, which means that we need to do what we can to get these young people to enter and develop within the market."
However, some concerns were being raised by the construction industry about big government projects not coming through. Doidge said that the lull was mainly attributable to budget allocation and planning that was still in process.
"For instance, around 40% to 50% of the infrastructure development budget had been allocated to State-owned power utility Eskom, that needed a lot of planning to go ahead with its respective projects. However, Public Works is busy with a number of projects that generally have a faster turnover."
Nevertheless, he emphasised that the money had been allocated and that the construction and built industry should prepare for a second construction boom.
Meanwhile, Thwala noted that while the number of professionals being registered at the council were slowly ticking up, it was not really an equal geological spread, with Gauteng province being the highest at 1 123 registered people, and North West province being the lowest with only 46 people registered.
He also said that the numbers did not reflect the true demographics of South Africa. In total, 2 196 white people were registered at the council, followed by 623 blacks, 136 Indians and 111 coloureds.
The Minister agreed, saying that the statistics were still "shockingly" skewed and said that government was working on initiatives to assist transformation. However, he encouraged students of all races to continue their studies in the construction and built industry, especially in the advanced field of project management.