South Africa urgently needs to improve the quality of engineering training and development to avoid a possible shortage of engineering skills and improve efficiency in the development value chain.
Failure to improve training and development efficiency could prompt engineers to change their profession, says Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) president Cyril Gamede.
He states that there are sufficient engineering jobs available in South Africa and, while the number of graduate engineers has increased in recent years, the experiential training and development of those graduate engineers are unsatisfactory and do not meet the needs of the sector.
“Many engineers struggle to get practical training and we can’t have that situation when we have a shortage of engineers. There is a gap between tertiary education and the further training and development of engineers.
“We need to look at various solutions. If one can incentivise companies to provide experiential training, we will see different results,” Gamede believes.
In the past, companies ran ECSA-accredited training programmes for engineers in training but, as a result of economic pressures, they have discarded these programmes as a means of saving costs, and this has led to the bottleneck, he explains.
“Another problem is that engineering graduates complete five years of training at a com- pany and try to register with ECSA, only to find that their training and development portfolio does not meet ECSA requirements because the company didn’t expose them to the right areas of experiential training,” Gamede says.
Companies should play a bigger role in reviving ECSA-accredited programmes, he states.
Further, he suggests that organisations and companies be incentivised and receive grants or stipends for taking in and training engineering students, as most of them need experiential training to obtain their degree or diploma.
He encourages companies to try to access funding from the National Skills Fund that government has set aside to encourage training and skills development.
Government’s infrastructure and industrial participation programmes, such as the Strategic Infrastructure Programme and the Industrial Policy Action Plan, can also serve as a catalyst for absorbing engineers, says Gamede.
Meanwhile, he states that government should add value to further education and training (FET) colleges by evaluating and accrediting these colleges in line with universities and universities of technology.
He points out that ECSA has committed to partnering with government to develop more engineers.
“We want to make engineering accessible to everyone. If we want more engineers, we need to engage with the historically dis- advantaged to create that skills pool and make students and teachers in rural areas aware of what a career in engineering entails.
We also need a transformational process to ensure that the potential skills pool that was overlooked in the past becomes part and parcel of the profession,” he emphasises.
Gamede warns that South Africa is likely to experience a shortfall in engineers at some point in the future if the right training and development for graduates and diplomates are not provided.
As it takes about eight years to train and develop an engineer fully, including the time spent at university, it is important that South Africa continuously invests in training to ensure an adequate supply of qualified engineers.
Further, he stresses the importance of the local engineering fraternity meeting international quality standards.
Gamede believes that ECSA needs to remain the custodian of engineering intellectual capital and ensure that international standards are met and local engineers are recognised internationally, while also continuing to pro- tect the interests of the local public.
“There is a certain level of educa- tion expected from engineers and there are expected practical training standards and professional ethics,” he notes, adding that standards need to be upheld in line with international accords.
Gamede says South Africa’s engineering sector is meeting international standards and that ECSA is periodically audited by the Washington, Dublin and Sydney Accords.