The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (Saice) has called for urgent intervention by government to attract engineers who have been emigrating at an alarming rate back to South Africa.
Statistics from the Department of Home Affairs in 2017 showed that eight South African professionals left for every skilled foreigner who entered the country. That year saw 120 000 people with professional qualifications leave – about 7% of the total number of professionals employed in South Africa at the time.
Saice says this trend is felt most acutely in the infrastructure sector.
Saice, being one of the biggest professional voluntary associations in the country with 12 000 members, has lost 1.73% of its members to emigration over the last three years.
The association notes that the majority of its members who have left the country were between 30 and 60 years old and cited seeking greener pastures and opportunities.
“The serious shortage of technically qualified managers in all three spheres of government is of great concern. It appears the weakness in government structures is the lack of knowledge on how to identify projects and how to effectively spend the allocated money.
“This is evident from the lack of structures, processes, systems as well as suitably qualified and experienced individuals in government to manage infrastructure spend. It is necessary to urgently re-install appropriately qualified and professionally registered technical people back into the system to plan, identify, procure and manage large-spend engineering projects to unlock the economy,” Saice points out.
The institute conducted a survey among 1 367 of its members, in which 932, or 68%, of the surveyed engineering professionals indicated a willingness to work in the public sector.
However, Saice says there are specific issues that prevent engineering professionals from joining the public sector.
These include an over-politicisation of infrastructure departments; the diminished decision-making roles of technocrats; the lack of systems, processes and structures for efficient administration; a lack of training, development and career paths; and unwarranted interference of human resources and finance divisions in the work of infrastructure engineering professionals.
“While government continually speaks of its commitment to the National Development Plan, the professionalisation of the public sector and placing emphasis on job creation and infrastructure development, there has been virtually no positive outcome of this commitment.
“The infrastructure sector remains in a slump, with consulting firms retrenching technical staff and even shutting down due to a lack of work, forcing qualified professionals into unemployment and seeking employment in foreign [countries], taking their skills with them,” the association highlights.
Saice acting CEO Steven Kaplan says the brain drain happening in industry is devastating.
“It costs the country a lot of money and resources to produce world-class engineers, to lose them because they cannot find work, in a country where they are needed the most, is a travesty.”
Saice has been raising these concerns on behalf of its members for years and continues to offer assistance to government to alleviate these and many more technical capacity related challenges.