A lack of sustainable project work in South Africa is forcing civil engineering companies to release a number of their engineers back onto the market, leaving some to explore international job opportunities and others to look into alternative work options, says SAICE CEO Manglin Pillay.
He says some companies with better management and administrative skills had the foresight to plan for the current lean times and are able to retain their workforce despite the lack of work. However, it was uncertain whether they will be able to do so much longer. Another problem was that small and medium-sized businesses have insufficient economic depth to allow for similar retention within their structures.

Newly trained engineers appear to be facing the same problems than that of their older counterparts. Pillay says the heads of civil engineering departments from four local universities of technology all say their students are unable to secure sustainable work for in-service training, as well as post-graduation employment. He says there are a number of reasons for the current employment struggle among civil engineers and not all of them relate to the bleak economic climate.

“What confuses me is why we have unemployed engineers when it is very evident that there is a genuine need for engineering capacity to pursue the national demands of social and economic development,” says Pillay. “And why is there inadequate project roll-out from the biggest civil engineering client – government – when the development goals have already been announced from the highest points of administration in the country, to the tune of some R800-billion over the next three years? “It appears the weakness is a lack of knowledge on how to identify projects and how to spend the allocated money. This is evident in the lack of structures, processes and systems in government to manage infrastructure spend. Then there is the cauldron of unsuitably qualified individuals, ineffectually occupying technical engineering posts, nervously managing engineering projects, and second-guessing the allocation of funds.”

Pillay also questions “government’s audacity to bring engineers – together with other professionals – from Cuba en masse, with full and comprehensive packages, to work in South Africa on South African government-funded projects”. The solution to overcome the current infrastructure development challenges is for national government to apply the same approach adopted for the 2010 Soccer World Cup, staged successfully in South Africa, says Pillay. “The current challenges are certainly not due to insufficient funding or deficient engineering resources. It is a matter of political will and the re-capacitating of the technical echelons within all three government structures.”


  1. Excellent article – the infrastructure market is cyclical. It will pick up in the next 3-5 years.

  2. Private sectors are doing much to help swell the ranks of registered professionals, but sometimes civil society mistakes Pr’s for simply “profit mungers” and avoid and then the real mistakes happen. According to the confirmed independently observed statistics there is a lopsided pie-chart of public and private employers of engineering professionals.
    Government, and especially Local Government, which includes growing towns & all growing cities needs to get serious about employing experienced Pr’s and Candidates in municipal engineering type work positions directly so that the country can settle down into a steady beat of sustainable development. If necessary borrow the money needed to get the right people. It’s the right thing to do.
    From the dawn of civilisation the town or city was always the place of blessing, such that barriers to entry needed to be negotiated before the benefits of community living could be enjoyed by outsiders. The term “engineers” according to an Oxford Dictionary edition was a military support term, but has become an instrument of peace following the industrial revolution of the 19th Century resulting in a knowledge-based learned society and willingness to work ethic being the only remaining barrier-of-entry for the landless poor.
    Since the transition to full democracy in South Africa in 1994 blocks of learned, black engineers, technicians & technologists (disciplines) are emerging. Some of these talented registered professionals are candidates for employment as Town or City Engineers or if one prefers Chief Municipal Engineers in some 284(?) enlarged back-to-back-municipalities, in terms of the Constitution. More experienced white engineers also desire to be involved both as employees and as roving(?) mentors. Mycity aims to befriend both black & white groups in cyberspace.

  3. No it is not equivalent. When you go to a ttaairiondl university you get a bachelor of science in Civil Engineering. An associate degree is not as respected as a bachelors degree. Plus you will not be earning a degree in civil engineering but you will be earning one in civil engineering technology which is not the same. With an associate degree in civil engineering technology your degree will never be as respected as those with a bachelors and that will make it really difficult to find a job.

  4. It’s sad to say that the ANC Government would rather bring in questionably qualified Engineers from Cuba, than admit that they require to employ WHITE and INDIAN Engineers who are qualified to the World standards. The SA Government have taken a stance that can only lead to complete ruin and SA to become another wrecked economy similar to Zimbabwe. I am a White Registered/Chartered Professional Engineer age 77 years and retired. In the current situation in SA if i was younger I would leave, I might still leave since the very economic fabric of South Africa is deteriorating daily and the Government does nothing.

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