Honeywell advances STEM awareness amid engineer shortage in S Africa

10th October 2019 By: Marleny Arnoldi - Creamer Media Online Writer

Commercial products, aerospace systems and engineering services provider Honeywell has noted a decline in the number of engineers across multiple fields in South Africa, mostly owing to a lack of interest in pursuing these careers at school level.

The company, in partnership with the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has, therefore, collaborated on various initiatives and programmes in underserviced schools to drum up greater interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects among learners.

“Learners have a misconception about the sciences and, as a result, the industry lacks necessary engineering skills,” Honeywell’s Africa president Sean Smith said on Wednesday.

He told Engineering News Online that learners often did not take these subjects seriously or believed the subjects were too hard.

Smith added that, unfortunately, this was also often the belief of teachers in schools that the GDE and Honeywell were involved with.

“Maths and science is a theoretical activity and making it come to life is often difficult. It is only when you start designing things when these subjects come into material life,” he explained.

However, if South Africa wants to excel in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, then STEM subjects at a basic education level are key.

Smith noted that Honeywell required chemical, electrical, software and electronic engineers, at a time when the South African engineering skills shortage worsened every year.

Honeywell decided to help stimulate the capability in teachers more than ten years ago. The company partnered with petrochemicals company Sasol to create a teacher training programme. 

This entailed the company sponsoring a training programme to enable qualified engineers to become teachers in the rural areas they came from. “If we train a teacher to better promote and teach STEM subjects, we could end up having them training 500 students, instead of us training five students,” Smith highlighted.

Honeywell has also sponsored underprivileged university students to help them finish their engineering degrees. The company currently sponsors 17 students by paying for their accommodation, meals, tuition and providing a stipend.

In an ‘out of this world’ experience, over the past two years the company has sent 20 learners from South Africa, and more than 600 others from around the globe, to the US Space and Rocket Center, in Alabama, to learn about the application of maths and science in aeronautics and space.

It has also partnered with the GDE to bring the principles taught at Space Camp to even more students in South Africa. Honeywell and GDE launched the Adventures in Aviation programme a few years ago, which has helped to expose more than 400 learners and teachers to maths and science in a practical way.

The GDE has modified schools’ curriculum in Gauteng, as part of Adventures in Aviation. The programme provides educators at the participating schools with tools to enable fun, collaborative experiences that encourage creative thinking, personal inquiry and team work.

Additionally, the GDE and Honeywell launched an educational initiative focused on software programming at two schools. As part of the initiative, Honeywell partnered with the Melisizwe Computer Lab Project to provide students from these underprivileged schools with courses focused specifically on computer application technology and other information technology-related topics.

“By partnering with courses such as the Melisizwe Computer Lab Project, we’re ensuring that young people in South Africa have the best possible start to their future technology careers so that they too can go on to help shape the way the world works through innovation.

“Through the Honeywell Adventures in Aviation programme, we are inspiring tomorrow’s generation of engineers, scientists, programmers and technologists to reach their potential, and build careers that make a positive impact on the world we live in,” said Smith.