Critical Skills Shortage in South Africa
Johannesburg, 1 February 2010
African Academy’s New Chairman, Adrian Young, speaks of the severe lack of skilled engineers and technicians in South Africa. In his speech at the launch of the new Piping course held in December 2009, Adrian Young, the new Chairman of the African Academy spoke about how severely the Engineering Industry is impacted by the shortage of skilled professionals, to the extent that Industry has to import expatriate professionals including Draughts persons and Technicians.
Adrian Young, Executive Director of Hatch Africa and Director and new Chairman of the African Academy board is a registered Professional Engineer with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) and a Professional Project Construction Manager (Pr. CPM) with the South African Council for the Project and Construction Management Professions(SACPCMP).
As part of his responsibilities at Hatch Africa, Adrian is responsible for the recruiting of engineers, technologists, designers and technicians. This has allowed him to witness, firsthand, the limited availability of suitably skilled and experienced individuals to fit these jobs descriptions. In addition, Adrian claims that what he found was that the average age of available candidates was between 45 and 50 years of age. This reality triggered Adrian’s research into the issue, where he found that, after comparing international data to that of South Africa, that South Africa is facing a fundamental and critical skills shortage. According to Adrian’s research, the 2008 global recession has resulted in many companies’ cutting back on the employment and training of the next generation of designers and engineers in order to achieve short term cost savings. Unfortunately training budgets are always the first to be cut when finances get tight which impacts South Africa’s skills shortage all the more.
In coming across an article by Sven Lunsche published in issue 18 of the 2009, Wits Business Journal, titled “Skills Crisis a moot point”, Adrian found that overall, the total number of registered professionals in engineering, technologist, certified and technician categories has increased by only 3.45% between 2006 and 2008 and this was before the
recession even hit in late 2008. The same recession that left South Africa with over 1 million job losses as recorded by Nedbank Economics Research Group, backed by COSATU and Government statistics.
Adrian also mentioned that Michael Hoskins CE of the International Society for Professional Engineers, reports that up to 5 engineers are leaving South Africa each day. More statistics that Adrian came across were that in 2008, 600 000 students sat their Grade 12 examinations and less than 2% of these obtained the minimum admission requirements for engineering and other science related subjects. The Department of Labour compiled a Scarce Skills List in which the number of skilled professionals that South Africa will require between 2008 and 2010 is stated. In short, this list states that over 34000 additional engineers, technologists, draughts persons and technicians are required. Looking back to Sven Lunsche’s article, to reach this requirement and produce this amount of skilled individuals in South Africa will take about 100 years. With expatriation as the only alternative to address this skills shortage, it will cost companies between R2 million and R4 million annually per expatriate professional. These statistics don’t even touch on the fact that there needs to be a balance between the number of engineers, technologists and technicians required. For every engineer, there needs to be 3 technologists and for every technologist, 3 technicians, i.e. 9 technicians for each engineer. This equates to a requirement of +/‐ 50,000‐60,000, technologists and 150,000 to 180,000 technicians. The National Science Foundation reports that South Africa produces a mere 0.5 students in engineering and the natural sciences for every 100 000, with immigration dropping this to 0.4 or less, compared to Finland, which produces 13.2. According to the Foundation, “South Africa will never become a technological or economic world leader. To achieve this, we would have to produce 10 times more engineers than at present.”
These facts and statistics highlight the urgent need for South Africa to focus significantly on addressing and solving its skills crisis within this Industry. This being the exact reason why the African Academy is so focused on addressing the scarce skills areas in Draughting and Design. The Academy is already addressing this skills crisis by training +/‐ 250‐300
Draughting graduates at an NQF4 and NQF5 level which represents more than 50% of the total Draughts persons trained in South Africa annually. The importance of such initiatives, focusing on the population of South Africa who have previously been excluded from such educational endeavours, is a critical aspect in addressing these severe skills shortages. Not only is education in the engineering Industry exceptionally important, it is experienced and skilled individuals that companies require to meet the job requirements. There is an abundance of job and career opportunities in this Industry and with the correct skills training, the high unemployment rate can be alleviated and the South African economy can grow.
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