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.”