The South African government has ambitious trillion-rand infrastructure plans for the next decade, but these plans are unlikely to be carried out owing to a lack of skills in the country.
Of the 511 564 enrolments in engineering disciplines, from 1998 to 2010, only 70 475 gradu- ated. Of these, 29 280 of the 183 529 enrolled for university engineering disciplines graduated – which is 6%, compared with the international average of 25%, notes executive search firm Landelahni CEO Sandra Burmeister.
Seventy four per cent of local construction companies are struggling to fill engineering roles, according to the 2012 Infrastructure Sector Research Survey by Landelahni Business Leaders Amrop SA, she adds.
Government’s medium-term expenditure framework has set R845-billion aside for public sector infrastructure projects and earmarked a further R3.2-trillion for 43 planned infrastructure projects under consideration to 2020.
“The reality is South Africa is not producing enough engineers, artisans and technicians to carry out these projects,” says Burmeister.
The Engineering Council of South Arica (Ecsa) reports that, according to a 2005 study, South Africa has one engineer for every 3 166 perssons in the population, well behind Brazil (227), the UK (311), Australia (455) and Chile (681), although ahead of Africancountries such as Tanzania (5 930) and Zimbabwe (6 373).
Further, the study showed that, in 2010 there were only 11 778 artisans (up, however, from 3 222 in 2006) and 14 700 professional engineers.
Government and ECSA are collaborating to address the chronic shortages through initiatives such as the National Programme for Artisan Devel- opment, which aims for an addi- tional 50 000 artisans by 2015, while Ecsa’s national initiative plan is in line with government’s plan to develop 30 000 engineers by 2014.
Burmeister says that Ecsa’s initiative is severely hampered by the low school maths and science pass rates and the low graduation rate of engineering students.
Of the 600 000 candidates who wrote school-leaving examinations in 2009, only 22% passed maths higher grade and only 7% passed physical science higher grade. In the same year, 28% of the 837 779 students in public higher education institutions were enrolled for programmes in science, engineering and technology.
In terms of government spending, only R298-million has been allocated to engineering in tertiary institutions, such as further education and training colleges, for 2012/13, compared with R316-million for engineering in universities and R538-million towards universities of technology in 2010/11.
To address these problems, Burmeister emphasises that South Africa’s educational system must be aligned to meet infrastructure requirements.
“Only in this way can we ensure that we have skills to support not just the build but also the maintenance and upgrade of infrastructure now and in the future,” she says.
However, she warns against the wasting of money for training to increase the numbers at the expense of quality. She adds: “Instead, there needs to be a focus on producing high-quality engineers who can meet market demand in specific areas, and not on lower standards to drive numbers that look good on paper.”
Burmeister suggests an increase in bursary spend for scarce core skills areas of business, as well as graduate hiring and training programmes, adding that early retirement for white professionals, applying criteria other than competence when hiring and hiring on three-year contracts at the expense of continuity need to stop.