civilengineerIn 2014 government released its National Scarce Skills List, with engineers topping the list. But two years down the track, engineers are still in short supply.

The Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande gazetted the National Scarce Skills List: Top 100 Occupations in Demand just over two years ago.

The country’s Human Resource Development Strategy for 2010 to 2030 emphasises the need for a national scarce skills list which is aligned to the country’s social and economic priority goals.

Information about scarce skills is therefore of vital importance as it informs human resource planning and development; resource allocation and prioritisation; the development of relevant qualifications, programme and curricula; and international recruitment strategies. It also enables institutions of higher learning and other training providers to plan and channel resources towards programme offerings that are in demand.

Electrical engineers came in first on the list, followed by civil engineers and mechanical engineers. In fact, engineering professions and their respective clusters account for 16 of the top 20 scarce skills in South Africa.

According to the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE), 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, South Africa’s engineering skills shortage is far worse than in many other countries. 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.

Late last year government announced its plans to address the engineering skills shortage in South Africa aiming to have at least 24 000 competent artisans by 2020.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa reported that a Joint Engineering Education Working Group between the Department of Higher Education and Training and the Engineering Council had been established to ensure that engineering skills needs are addressed.

The government aims to produce 24 000 competent artisans by 2020, as part of the effort to achieving the National Development Plan target of producing 30 000 artisans annually by 2030.

Despite this move by government, there is a larger concern that could potentially be undermining these efforts.


In demand but unemployed

It seems odd that there are unemployed engineers while there is a genuine need for engineering capacity to fulfil the needs of South Africa as expressed in the National Development Plan.

However SAICE previously reported that it regularly receives requests from civil engineering professionals for assistance in finding jobs, despite the fact that civil engineering is a priority scarce skill. In addition to this there are concerns that engineering students are unable to secure sustainable work for in-service training, as well as post-graduation employment.

This is largely due to a lack of sustainable project work which results in companies having to release engineers back into the market. According to SAICE there is inadequate project roll-out from the biggest civil engineering client, government, for the realisation of their development goals.

Says Manglin Pillay, CEO of SAICE: “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.“

The loss of competent engineering professionals is hurting South Africa, whether through a lack of project roll-out, economic downturn, greener pastures within and outside the country or personal frustration with inadequately qualified government officials in charge of procurement procedures, reports SAICE.

Ultimately, there needs to be a concerted effort to avoid further loss of these valuable scarce skills in South Africa.