A shortage of engineers in South Africa would only come into play when government’s planned infrastructure investment plan materialised, Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) CEO Graham Pirie said on Tuesday, adding that an engineering skills scarcity was not yet apparent at the current volumes of work.
“There is not a shortage of engineers, the main reason for this is that 60% of our work comes from the public sector, which is not firing on all cylinders,” he told Engineering News Online.
But Pirie said that action would be needed to step up skills development to deliver on South Africa’s planned infrastructure investments of R3.2-trillion by 2020.
While South Africa was losing fewer engineers to other countries as developed economies slowed down, he stated that the country would have to deal with supply-side issues and policy instability to ensure it had enough qualified people to deliver the new build projects going forward.
In South Africa, there is currently one engineer for every 3 100 people, compared to one engineer for every 200 people in Germany and one for every 310 persons in the UK, the US and Japan.
“This must change,” Pirie noted.
The head of Cesa attributed the slow start of public sector projects in South Africa to long project lead times and the government’s shortage of technical capacity.
“The public sector is faced with severe capacity constraints…they do not have sufficient qualified people with experience to handle the infrastructure delivery process and this is particularly problematic at local authority level.”
Cesa’s latest biannual economic and capacity analysis, for January to June 2012 period, showed that the local construction industry was running below capacity and that only about 80% of the country’s consulting engineers were used on projects.
The survey found that confidence in the consulting engineering sector generally lagged business sentiment, which deteriorated again in the second quarter after improving in the first quarter of 2012. This was mainly owing to growing concerns over the global economy and the widespread downward revision of South Africa’s growth outlook.
Project postponements and delays also affected confidence in the contracting fraternity, with civil contractors’ confidence remaining well below levels experienced between 2005 and 2008.
Pirie stated that public–private partnerships were central to delivering on projects, as the private sector operated below capacity, while the public sector lacked sufficient capacity.
He commended the National Planning Commission and the National Development Plan 2030. “We are very good at planning in this place, but we are not good at delivery.”
Pirie also warned that the slow implementation of projects was warding off foreign companies.
“Our members are frustrated, their businesses are not doing so well in South Africa post 2010 and they are looking north of our border, saying it is easier to work in the rest of Africa,” Pirie indicated.