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According to the latest PPS survey conducted among almost 600 engineering professionals, 80% of the respondents indicated that they do not think that the Government will allocate sufficient funds towards projects aimed at addressing the country’s electricity and water crises.
Manglin Pillay, (PrEng) and Chief Executive Officer of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE), comments on the results, saying that the institution has been advocating urgent measures from Government’s side to roll out projects for a number of years now. “With regards to solving the current water and energy challenges, infrastructure departments at various government departments have to be re-professionalised. Engineering firms in the public sector have made increased efforts to attract qualified, senior and registered civil engineering professionals into their ranks, in order to make the public sector an employer of choice for engineers.”
He says the number of qualified engineering practitioners in infrastructure ministry departments such as transport and water and sanitation, has dwindled substantially and employees without suitable technical training have replaced qualified engineering employees, to the great frustration of the infrastructure engineering economy of South Africa.
Pillay believes that the Government should aim to employ local, registered, experienced senior engineers to avoid any further deterioration of service delivery and insufficient energy and water reserves. “South Africa just cannot afford water restrictions on top of load shedding.”
Macy Seperepere, Manager: Professional Associations at PPS, states that the survey also revealed a confidence level of only 35% among the engineers when they were asked whether they are confident that Government is effectively delivering on its promises on infrastructure spend. “The respondents’ confidence level for this specific question has been deteriorating over the past three years from the first confidence level of 48% recorded in 2011.”
Pillay points to the President’s 2014 State of the Nation address where President Zuma said that over the next years (the Government) will spend R847 billion on the infrastructure and several projects are to be started or completed. “It is clear that what has been done over the past few years is far from the R847 billion that was allocated towards infrastructure, even since as early as 2011.”
In the 2016 Budget Speech Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan allocated a collective R870 billion to infrastructure projects in accordance with the National Development Plan. According to Pillay, the engineering industry would like to see more projects rolled out in terms of actual spend on service delivery projects in the form of both social and economic infrastructure, which will have a direct impact on the lives of all citizens.”
This issue probably lies at the heart of the engineers’ low confidence in the government to spend sufficient funds on infrastructure development, says Pillay. “Many civil engineering and construction companies had to lay off experienced engineers due to the lack of project roll-out, with the government being the biggest client of all engineering companies in the country. This presents an opportunity for municipalities, provincial and national government to attract these skills back to the Government, where they are desperately needed.”
He states that this lack of project funding could lead to many engineers leaving the country to find employment elsewhere. According to the PPS survey, a 67% confidence level was recorded when the survey respondents were asked whether they will remain in the country for the foreseeable future. While this result is still at a positive level, 61% of the respondents said that there were not enough opportunities for young engineers in the profession.
“When young engineers do find employment it soon transpires that senior engineers lack the time to properly mentor these youngsters. It is only through appropriate mentorship and supervision that young graduate engineers will be able to register as professionals with the Engineering Council of South Africa, and ironically this also inhibits transformation in this sector,” says Pillay.
“While there are clearly various issues that are of serious concern for South African engineers it was positive to note that the survey still revealed a 75% confidence level in the future of engineering profession over the next five years, and 69% of the respondents indicated that they will encourage their kids to enter their profession,” concludes Seperepere.