In my work at SAICE my energies are generally given to position civil engineering as the ‘go to’ profession for any work that requires accuracy, diligence, trust, ethical values, professionalism, reliability and integrity – so that where the task summons for the services of men and women of honour, the plea would be, “…find me a Civil Engineer.” It’s an audacious vision.
In relation to Civil Engineering, our universities churn out some 500 engineers, 850 technologists and 1 200 technicians annually. Considering SAICE’s membership under the age of 36 (inclusive), we have about 8 500 members. Excluding students, we have about 5 000 members. We discovered that only 800 are corporate members. This is to say that only 800 out of 5 000 practicing civil engineering graduates are registered professionals.
Having formally researched the factors affecting the development of graduate Civil Engineering practitioners, we found that most graduates are disillusioned by the Civil Engineering profession. Their hopes were premised on working on interesting projects, taking on responsibility, given opportunities to grow and ultimately to serve people by developing infrastructure. This being their expected ideal, their realities are somewhat different. Many felt projects and responsibilities were allocated based on skin colour, language and ethnicity rather than content of character or capacity to be productive. They also felt ‘…put out’ of the profession – destitute and desolate orphans in a desert of Civil Engineering.
In retrospect they simply sought to eventually become registered professionals and competent in their own right. The graduates I interviewed said to me, “I didn’t know this at the beginning when I started work.” I was not surprised – most graduates are not exposed to a manifested career in Civil Engineering until their first jobs, where they are shocked into Civil Engineering culture.
Before we wax lyrical on how graduates should stop feeling entitled and should handle their own careers and so on, lets take a few steps back please. I think that often those making decisions on our behalf have not walked in our shoes to appreciate the social, economical or professional challenges we endured to get here. This is not a inciting revolution but an appeal for understanding. My brother was the pioneer in my family to go to university. He studied civil engineering at the then University of Natal. At some stage later, he read for his Master’s degree in Traffic & Transportation Management & Planning at Texas A&M University in the USA. I was lucky – he was my exposure to Civil Engineering. My brother has always been my role model, so I modelled him and went on to study Civil Engineering at Wits.
In the pursuit of an audacious vision, have you ever modelled after somebody you’ve never seen?
In my research – I found graduates are disillusioned because of the absence of empathetic mentoring, coaching and supervising. My appeal to every senior, registered, corporate member of SAICE is to take one graduate under your wing. They’re usually cheap, so take two. Give us your time, attention, friendship and wisdom. Most of us never had professionals in our community let alone a Civil Engineer in our home to imitate.
Civil Engineering needs a Father.
Happy Father’s Day.