Author : Nicole Naicker

Sundran Naicker, SAICE 2017 President, and CEO, Manglin Pillay, followed up Zululand’s Presidential visit with a 2 day tour of the SAICE Algoa region, between 23-24 May 2017. I had the priviedge of joining the delegation as the Public Relations (PR) representative, however, this proved to be a unique and impactful experience for me since I am also a Civil Engineer. The overall experience afforded me a bird’s eye view of the inner workings of academia and politics within the Civl Engineering industry. By definition “Branch visits allow SAICE’s top brass to engage and touch base with its constituencies countrywide, in efforts to better align its initiatives and mandate in service of its membership.” – this opportunity allowed me to gauge the full extent of this statement bringing mere words to reality.

The greater part of day one was spent at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). We started the day over coffee with Mr Johan van der Merwe, Head of the Department (HOD) of the Engineering Faculty and his lecture staff. His sincerity and passion for the department, his students and the industry shone through. Some of the challenges currently facing NMMU Civil Engineering Department are (a) limited professors, the staff to student ratio is approximately 1:75 which is unacceptable, (b) shortage of supervisors (c) lack of private funding such that staff can be acquired, (d) NSFAS support is not paid out timeously. The delegation promised to encourage industry in Algoa to increase funding to NMMU and to help secure willing supervisors from the SAICE database. We also met with the SAICE Student Chapter and Student Body where students were encouraged and motivated on the importance of early industry engagement and career pathing. Student Chapter Chairman, James van Eyck, is a dynamic young man who is continuously encouraging more students to commit to the Chapter.

The Presidential cocktail function was extremely enlightening as Sundran Naicker divided the attendees into groups and tasked each group with pertinent questions relating to SAICE, the industry and suggestions on improving both. The feedback was well received and dynamic – ranging from municipality participation, lack of engineers within government, the moral compass and transparency to procurement, quality and encouraging different perspectives within the engineering environment.

The second day started with an inspiring visit to the new SANRAL ‘all green’ offices in Algoa. We met with Regional Manager, Mr Pieterson and his team who were concerned about the lack of on-site project supervision by consultants, which escalates costs unnecessarily. SANRAL also agreed to look at funding for NMMU and to endorse courses relating to Occupational Health and Safety, and environmental risks. SANRAL also highlighted that a key principle they believe in, is low employee turnover. Their employees tend to remain with the company long term. They also train their engineers slowly and steadfastly by initially exposing them to low risk projects with little responsibility. The young engineers then build their competency and with time, they progress to high-risk projects with more responsibility.

Awe inspiring engineering greeted us next at the Port of Coega site visit. This port showcases beautiful engineering from both the structural and marine engineering disciplines. The new office building was quite a sight and held its ground compared to the port itself, which was breath-taking. We had the pleasure of meeting Senior Site Engineer – Tauqueer Ahmed who gave us an informative presentation of the Port structure and the vision for the future. The intention is to create a possible repair (service) option, which will encourage business through the port. The Sand Bypass system was of particular environmental importance and proved exceptionally innovative. Mr Ahmed will deliver a presentation of the system to SAICE members in the near future.

The day drew to a close with a meeting with the YMBI at Bosch Holdings – a group of dynamic, driven youngsters who are determined to see change and progression within Algoa. One of their key issues was the inability to obtain mentors within Algoa.  SAICE has rolled out a pilot initiative at National Office to pair graduates and mentors. If the outcome proves positive this could be implemented nationally and would help graduates in Algoa obtain much needed mentors.

The branch visit has left me with a true sense of the impact that SAICE makes within the civil engineering fraternity. This is not limited to what it does for its members in a practical sense – but runs deeper into what SAICE does for this country. The actions and promises as a result of the branch visit will see a ripple effect through academic institutions, parastatals, government and the public and private sector. SAICE may not be able to solve all issues at once, but certainly a little at a time is better than none at all.

Here is to a better tomorrow – and reaping of the compound effects from these types of branch visits.

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