The South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) receives requests from civil engineering professionals for assistance in finding jobs on a regular basis – this in a country where civil engineering is a priority scarce skill.

South African engineers are experiencing unemployment. Despite living in South Africa where “job creation” and “unemployment” appear in everyday conversation, it is uncommon to hear the words “engineer” and “unemployment” in the same sentence.

Some companies with excellent management and administrative skills had the foresight or opportunity to plan for lean times, and are able to sustain their people despite the lack of work. How long they will be able to maintain this situation is uncertain. Small and medium-sized businesses, however, have insufficient economic depth to apply the same liberalities as their larger and more established counterparts.

For lack of sustainable project work, firms are forced to release engineers back into the market. Some are exploring international pastures and others are reluctantly looking into alternative work options. The heads of civil engineering departments from four of the leading universities of technology in the country are very concerned that their students are unable to secure sustainable work for in-service training, as well as post-graduation employment.

What is confusing is the fact that there are unemployed engineers while it is clear that there is a genuine need for engineering capacity to fulfil the needs expressed in the National Development Plan, Minister Pravin Gordhan’s interim budget speech and the other plans and announcements on the national demands of social and economic development. And, then there is inadequate project roll-out from the biggest civil engineering client, government, for the realisation of their development goals. Budget to the tune of R800 billion for the projects that would make this possible, has been announced repeatedly for the past two years, even from the highest points of administration in the country, but that was it!

Manglin Pillay, CEO of SAICE, says “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.“ In his presidential address in February this year Dr Martin van Veelen, the SAICE president, said, “In the Department of Water Affairs, where bulk water infrastructure planning occurs, only seven out of a senior management structure of 48 people are engineers.”  There should be concerns if there is a possibility that technical expertise or solution-finding has to bow to non-technical influences.

It is acknowledged that the shortage of civil engineering professionals is a global phenomenon and that engineers with expertise will work across the globe to apply their knowledge. However, we should realise that South Africa, compared to other countries, lack engineering professionals. In China they have one qualified engineer for every 130 people, the US one for 389, the UK one for 311 people, Germany one for 217 and South Africa one for 3 166 people.

It is clear that South Africa needs civil engineering professionals. If one takes the current student numbers in civil engineering it is obvious that not too many more will qualify within ten years. The current first-years will, in the shortest time possible, only qualify within four to five years – without then being ‘experienced’. This while there is a big gap in the industry for civil engineering professionals with ten years or more experience.

South Africa’s civil engineering professionals have proved that they can rise to a challenge. The 2010 FIFA World Cup stadiums, roads and other infrastructure projects come to mind. Within two years they did the almost impossible. But there was political will behind the decisions of what needed to be done. Should government take that approach again, providing adequate procurement processes, capable officials to deal with tenders, etc., it is distinctly possible for the current civil engineering professionals to make it work. But then projects need to be rolled out sooner rather than later to avoid South Africa losing more valuable engineers, who, by the way, is absolutely sought-after in the world.

If this was possible for a sporting event, why can’t South Africa do the same for reaching South Africa’s development goals (and the Millennium Development Goals), including healthcare, education, water and sanitation, housing and electricity for alleviating poverty promised during a number of election campaigns. The lack of service delivery is now resulting in violent demonstrations, which terrify South Africans and foreign investors alike.

The solution to overcome the current infrastructure development backlog is for national government to apply the same approach adopted for the World Cup. 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.

Allyson Lawless

At a recent conference, “The Engineering Skills Summit”, Allyson Lawless, past president of SAICE and director of the SAICE Section 21 Company, gave an overview of the current situation, including the skills shortage. On developing skills and filling posts, she explained that there should be long-term (2012 to 2022), medium-term (2012 to 2017) and short-term (2012 t0 2014) interventions. She proposed, “Harness the private sector, retired engineers, overseas capacity, etc. as we did in the case of the Soccer World Cup to get the major projects off the ground, and set training conditions to all projects to ensure current graduates are adequately trained. Harness retired engineers in public sector structures to get tender documents drawn up and awarded and set up skills planning and training programmes.”

Ageing, pale males

Dr Van Veelen pointed out, “South Africa is blessed with a highly competent and experienced corps of engineering practitioners. However, the centre of gravity of the accumulated wisdom lies in an ageing, predominantly white and male group of professionals. This is certainly not politically correct, but it is a fact. The country cannot afford to disregard this boon if the objectives of the NDP are to be achieved. These people are professionals who are willing and able to make a contribution.”

Together we can make it work!

21 Comments

  1. Good day,
    I am a qualified Civil Engineer who recently retired in August last year. I bought a property in Port Alfred and felt the time was near to set up home in the Eastern Cape.
    I am still very healthy and fit and feel I can still put some knowledge back into the construction industry as long as it is not too far away from home. My target areas are between East London and Port Elizabeth and the surrounding areas within that radius.
    I would like to join a Consulting firm as a Resident Engineer / Clerk of Works acting on their behalf on sites or a Construction Company doing the actual constructing. I am in general in favor of to be hands on at the work face doing day to day planning, organizing and to drive the progress. Can also assist in training and guiding younger Engineers.
    My strengths are planning, organizing, reading drawings in depth and to drive progress.
    Should you wish to have a personal interview, I am quite willing to meet with you at any suitable time.
    In the meantime, should any vacancies do come up, you can contact me either on my cell phone ( 0824983886 ) or via e- mail.
    Hoping to hear from you soon.
    Regards,
    Sakkie Fourie.

  2. I am a student at DUT,studying towards a National Diploma in Civil Engineering doing S3.I would like to know how i can apply for in-service training.

  3. I am an undergraduate civil engineering student at the Tshwane University of Technology urrently doing my last 3 subjects (First Semester 2014 only) then I will be finished with all theoretical subjects in S4 and as from June 2014 I seek an opportunity to do my In-Service Training at your institution.

    I am available to grasp such opportunities anywhere in the country and will do the best to be recognised and make your company thrive towards success.

    Yours Faithfully
    Nhlapho ME (076 390 5255)

  4. I am currently doing my second year in N Dip in Civil Engineering at the University of Johannesburg. I would like the SAICE to provide me with an opportunity to do in-service training so that I can get a better understanding of the mathematical and theoretical activities that I am learning on my daily basis. Yours faithfully Kwena Desmond.

  5. i am a lebanese civil engineerwith two years experience in construction field ,interested to work in south africa .

  6. Goodday, I graduated in 2002 with a Diploma in Civil Engineering. I was wondering if I can get some guidance regarding my skills development, I had struggled over years to get a properly structured on the job training and I must say that filling up my log book was very challenging for me but eventually it came alright.

    My in-service training was not up to scratch as I was working for a construction company that kept me on site always just to supervise and to update daily diaries ,which I find it of very little or no use at all throughout my career hence the struggle I facing today.

    I am with a consulting firm currently after jumping from one job to another, I guess if I had a planned execution or proper guidance for my career I would be far by now already in terms of skills development. I am now 38 years and has unfortunately never been successful in my career, it would be nice to know if SAICE could refer an institution that has a way of helping students like myself to rehash on their Diploma curriculum to be prepared for advancing to the new BEngTech (Hons) which is alleged to be introduced soon and further advance to BTech and get registered as a professional technologist and carry on up to obtaining a DTech in Civil Engineering.

    I am actually not sure what to do now as I remember very little or nothing at all of what I have learnt at the Mangosuthu Technikon because I have never use it anywhere or maybe I couldn’t apply my knowledge. I sometimes wish I had a mentor, maybe things would be different.

    After all these years I am still interested in Civil Engineering and nothing else that is winning away my interest from it, PLEASE HELP!

    I trust you will find above in order.

    Kind Regards
    D. Sithole

  7. Goodday once more, I must say that my job terrifies me everyday. I am always in tension, scared for the fact that I am not sure how to do my work. Companies that I have worked for or the one I am currently working for do not have programmes to identify depth of knowledge an employee has because I believe it would help to identify the knowledge depth as shortcomings could surface in the process and assistance could be afforded, than to later encounter that the person was not competent. Most of the time CV’s are tools to look for employment as we all have families to support, I mean you can have the right qualification but lack accredited experiential training.SAICE in my opinion should use the data that they have to track especially students as they grow in their careers just to have record where is everybody and how they are doing and if they still active but struggling in the career,help could afforded for them but not if they inactive and untraceable. I mean I was student member with SAICE until my membership was cancelled and I felt I was entitled to some sort of support from SAICE as I was really struggling with my career and had also written to SAICE back then asking for assistance but to no avail and this was back in 1999 to 2000 can’t remember very well but my point is SAICE as an institution I like to believe that they should have the power to run south African civil engineers life in terms of the profession just to make sure all is in order and I stand to be corrected.SAICE please help engineers because many are struggling and hiding at the same time. Regards,Dick

  8. Hi, im a Civil engineering student at CUT and I’m currently doing S3 . I’ll like to know how can I apply for In-Service training.

  9. Good day,

    I am in possession of National Diploma in Civil Engineering and working towards B-Tech in Civil Engineering (Water). I am looking for employment, I have worked in a consulting firm as a Technician for three years and at a roofing company as a project manager. Currently not employed and can start immediately. Please email me on mogaisi.t123@gmail.com if you have an opportunity for me

  10. I recently completed my last semester in civil engineering at vaal university of technology and I am currently looking for in service training. your help will be highly appreciated.

  11. I am a civil Engineering student, seeking for integrated working space for 12 months, i completed my S3 in Mangosuthu University of Technology,it been a year now seeking for inservice training i could not get it, what can i do?

  12. im a DUT civil engineering student living in Durban, im currently looking for in-service training, I’ve done my S3 nd im also a SAICE member. I really need this opportunity I may be reached at jaliayanda@yahoo.com

  13. I have just recently finished my N6 in civil engineering, and looking for work placement to do my practicals so I can qualify to get my diploma

  14. I hold a National Diploma in Civil Engineering from UNISA coupled with 2 years and 6 months in road and concrete works. I am currently studying B-tech Structural engineering at University of Johannesburg, I am in need of placement, I have tried many avenues to get placement please assist. My contact are 0722329977,cedric@mailbox.co.za .

  15. I want on the job training for 2017 I am doing my second year at Central University of Technology in the free state my cell number is 0726420648

  16. Hi there,I check your new stuff named “Civil Engineering Solutions: How To Choose the Right Mortar For Patch Repairs?” on a regular basis.Your humoristic style is witty, keep it up! And you can look our website about civil engineering

  17. I am a student at Tshwane University of Technology studying national diploma in civil engineering, I’m currently done with my S4 subjects looking for in-service training to complete my national diploma.my email is mixo339@yahoo.com.

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