South Africa is severely short of engineers. According to the latest Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) results, South Africa only has a total of 15,000 engineers and has one engineer that services approximately 2,666 people whereas internationally one engineer services 40 people.
While these results show the shortage of qualified engineers in South Africa, there is also a diminishing number of draughtsmen and artisans, both of which are specialist skills in their own right. Dr. Willem Sprong, technical executive at GIBB, says, “48% of engineers work in Gauteng, whilst areas such as KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape have only 10% and 4% of engineers. These figures show a vast skills shortage in other areas. Of great concern is the percentage of craftsmen compared to engineers as 40% of engineers work as consultants, ideally this percentage should be around 15% and the rest should be working for the client.”
The lack of skilled and experienced employees in the industry is brought to the fore in the Transnet Multi Product Pipeline Project which is a multi-product pipeline to be built to transport refined products from Durban to Johannesburg. “More than 400 specialists welders were sourced for this project, only four were from South Africa. This clearly shows a shortage of skills in South Africa which can be addressed by developing and retaining staff.”
Sprong says that by 2030 the African economy will be larger than India and China, and it is vital to train and develop people now to accommodate this economic growth. “We have the people and opportunities at our doorstep. It is vital for any firm to develop skilled engineers through mentorship programmes to ensure staff retention. At GIBB, we have started a new programme called Engineers Without Borders. The programme aims to develop young engineers by assisting them with community work experience such as water, waste management and electricity.”
Sprong adds that young engineers should also work for the client, such as parastatals, national and local government, after they graduate to gain work experience and knowledge instead of joining consultants which will help steer them in the right direction.