High-quality education by, and integrated commitment from, all sectors are needed to radically reverse the skills shortage in the engineering sector, asserts University of the Witwatersrand School of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s Professor Emeritus Robert McCutcheon.
McCutcheon, who is also engineering consultancy Malani Padayachee & Asso- ciates (MPA) employment creation and development division head, says the skills shortage is a challenge that requires cohesive efforts from both the public and private sectors.
Previously, municipalities and State-owned companies were the main source of training and development, but this is no longer the case.
“We must resuscitate in-house training in the public sector,” McCutcheon urges.
Nevertheless, private-sector companies in South Africa are increasingly com- mitting to initiatives to mitigate the high level of skills shortages in the engineering sector.
Construction materials group AfriSam is among those companies that are con- tributing to skills development through training programmes and bursary schemes aimed at training and developing mechanical, electrical, civil and chemical engineers.
The bursary amount covers full tui- tion, accommodation and an amount equal to the cost of text books as prescribed for the study discipline. Support mecha- nisms are in place to support the bursars for the duration of their studies.
The graduates are, subject to the availability of budget and vacancies, employed by the company as engineers in training and developed to the point where they can register as professional engineers.
AfriSam learning and development manager Johan du Toit says the company is committed to increasing the skills pool of employees and engineers.
McCutcheon says MPA also offers a training programme for candidate engineers, candidate engineering technologists and technicians. “We are committed to ensuring that our graduate engineers, technologists and technicians are appropriately trained and effective in the execution of their job functions.”
MPA has signed a commitment and undertaking agreement with the Engineering Council of South Africa (Ecsa) in the civil engineering discipline. This requires that the company commit to ensuring that a candidate engineer, engineering technologist and/or technician receive training in accordance with Ecsa regis- tration requirements.
The consultancy has established relationships with schools in the area to foster an interest in engineering as a career choice. Pupils are invited to spend a day in the life of a civil engineer.
Further, MPA participates in the Sci-Bono Engineering week, where it encourages learners to choose maths and science as school subjects and consider engineering as a career. It donates maths and science equipment to underprivileged schools.
“Recently, we also formed a relationship with the Society for Women in Engineering and Technology of the University of Johannesburg. Students are invited to the company so that they [can see] what happens at a consulting engineering firm,” says McCutcheon.
“What we have learnt is that students at school and even universities are not clear about what consulting engineering entails or what exactly it is that consulting engineers do. Our programme to introduce students to this field has been described as informative, educational and fun by recipients.
“This helps to raise the interest of children in the engineering faculty and develops the desire to study towards a qualification,” says MPA education coordinator Hemlata Rampaul.
Meanwhile, McCutcheon says that even in rural communi- ties, arithmetic can be taught in primary schools and basic mathematics in secondary schools, these subjects being essential grounding for engineering.
Rampaul agrees with McCutcheon that educators are too concerned about administration and do not focus adequately on actual teaching. This affects the quality of teaching, making subjects like mathematics uninteresting to learners.