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Engineer calls for urgent investment in youth

An image of Erudite electrical engineer Dr Mpho Sam Nkambule.

MPHO SAM NKAMBULE Yyouth unemployment in South Africa is a complex issue with several contributing factors. One significant barrier is the financial cost of job-seeking

14th June 2024

     

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Youth unemployment is a pressing issue in South Africa, with Statistics South Africa reporting that, in the first quarter of 2024, of the 10.3-million young people aged 15 to 24, a staggering 35.5% were not in education, employment, or training. This highlights the urgency for companies to invest in youth development, notes prominent engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) company Erudite electrical engineer Dr Mpho Sam Nkambule.

He emphasises that youth unemployment in South Africa is a complex issue with several contributing factors. One significant barrier is the financial cost of job-seeking. Nkambule cites the Siyakha Youth Assets for Employability Study by the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg, which reveals that young South Africans spend an average of R938 each month on job search expenses.

“These costs cover transport, internet data, printing, certification, and various application fees, making it challenging for many to pursue employment opportunities,” especially given the pervasive levels of inequality and poverty in South Africa.

Moreover, barriers such as lack of experience, limited professional networks, and socioeconomic constraints also hinder job search efforts. Inclusive hiring practices and entry-level opportunities are vital for career development.

However, Nkambule points out that companies can play a significant role in boosting youth employment and training numbers by providing internships, mentorships, and skill development programmes, as these programmes “equip young people with the necessary skills to compete in today’s job market”.

“To attract top talent, companies need effective recruitment strategies that target the right audience. Additionally, clearly defined career paths are essential to retaining young talent. Young people are ambitious and want to see opportunities for growth within a company,” he avers.

He adds that, companies that embrace a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion can help to fosters creativity and innovation in the workplace. Citing a recent study by nonprofit organisation Society for Human Resources Management, Nkambule reveals that over seven in ten consumers prefer businesses that hire or create opportunities for youth, which further emphasises the value of a diverse workforce.

Award-Winning Engineer

Meanwhile, Nkambule was recognised by the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE) at its awards ceremony at Melrose Arch, in Gauteng, alongside other electrical engineers in the electrical and electronic engineering sectors.

As a member of Erudite’s engineering team, which has numerous operations across Africa, he was nominated by his friend, colleague and Erudite’s head electrical control and instrumentation department Hercu Smit – a past recipient of the SAIEE’s Young Achievers Award for the best electrical engineer under the age of 35.

“I’m deeply honoured to have received this award, and I’m truly grateful to the SAIEE, as well as to Erudite and [Smit] for supporting me, and for their confidence in my work. It’s a real privilege to have been selected, and to be able to continue promoting and developing renewable energy technology,” Nkambule said at the time.

Advancing Renewable Energy

Nkambule is particularly interested in the use of hybrid machine learning and artificial intelligence-powered solutions to enhance PV energy and battery energy storage system (BESS) performance.

Several of his studies on renewable-energy projects, maximum power point tracking (MPPT) of solar PV plants and BESS energy management systems to enhance the system’s efficiency and efficacy, have been published in various high impact factor international journals and conference papers.

He notes that inconsistency remains a particularly significant challenge in the renewable-energy space, making advancements in battery storage technology critical.

“Solar panels and wind turbines rely on optimal weather conditions, and solar is further affected by the amount of available daylight hours, as well as potential partial shading conditions – factors that could lead to an intermittent power supply with no performance guarantee. As a result, there’s a significant need for improved energy monitoring and management systems, as well as better battery storage solutions.”

“The global shift towards clean, reliable, and sustainable energy is rapidly under way, so it’s imperative that we promptly address the emerging challenges accompanying this transition.”

In response to these challenges, as part of his research for his PhD in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Johannesburg, he delved into the performance and techno-economic analysis of optimal hybrid renewable energy systems through dynamic system modelling and simulations.

“I looked at the integration of various battery energy storage technologies with embedded renewable-energy sources. This involved implementing an intelligent energy management system to facilitate energy resource management, reduce costs, and align with sustainability objectives.

“These efforts resonate with Erudite’s strategic focus on pursuing battery commodities such as lithium, cobalt, and graphite, emphasising the pivotal role of storage solutions in driving forward renewable energy integration and sustainability endeavours. The team at Erudite is well versed in battery manufacturing technologies and have been involved in studies for battery anode facilities including graphite spheroidization and coating,” he explains.

In conclusion, Nkambule has one final message for young South Africans: “If there is one thing I can say to the younger generations, it’s that the industry, and the country, urgently need your minds.

“The electrical engineering field is vast, and the opportunities are plenty. You cannot go wrong choosing to study in this field and pursuing your dreams of innovating within the electrical industry as well.”

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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