Education, skills development remain areas of concern for engineers


06 Sep 12

Engineers have grown increasingly confident in the status of their own profession, but once again flagged concerns about a skills shortage and the standard of the education system as areas of concern, a quarterly survey by financial services company PPS has found.

The survey, which polled nearly 800 South African engineers, revealed a seven percentage-point increase in confidence that the status of their profession will improve, from 55% for the first quarter of 2012 to 62% for the second quarter.

Further, 76% of engineers would encourage their children to enter their profession, up two percentage points from the previous quarter.

PPS marketing and stakeholder relations head Gerhard Joubert said in a statement that the recent naming of six African infrastructure projects, two of which were located in South Africa, among KPMG’s list of the 100 most innovative and inspiring projects in the world, could be one of the reasons behind the boost in confidence.

“This accomplishment serves as an inspiration for local engineers as their hard work is being globally recognised.”

Confidence levels of respondents on whether the government would adequately address the skills shortage in their profession, rose by only one percentage point to 41%.

“While this confidence level is up, it is still very low overall, highlighting the fact that engineers recognise the threat the current skills shortage presents to the profession,” Joubert added.

Latest statistics from the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) revealed that the ratio of engineers to South African citizens currently stands at about 1:3 166, compared with other developing countries such as India and Brazil which have one engineer to every 157 and 227 citizens, respectively.

Commenting on the survey results, South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering (SAIMechE) CEO Vaughan Rimbault highlighted that skills development, particularly the conversion from graduate to engineering professional, was receiving priority attention from professional engineering institutions, ECSA, the Council for the Built Environment and the Department of Public Works.

“We are jointly exploring a number of options to accelerate professional development, including the role of the State in employing and developing graduates via the many vacant positions in government structures,” he said.

Rimbault added that the State, with the support of professional institutions, had the potential to generate large numbers of competent engineering professionals, possibly through a national service model similar to the medical profession.

“Private industry is slowly beginning to realise that it has a similar role to play in providing the training and development facilities and support for new graduates.”

Respondents’ confidence levels on whether the current education system is providing the necessary skills for the creation of potential engineers, improved by only one percentage point quarter-on-quarter to 42%. When asked about their confidence levels in the standard of education, a confidence level of 42% was revealed, down two percentage points from the previous quarter. Further, 95% of respondents are concerned about the lack of mathematics and science graduates in South Africa.

“A vital component that contributes to the development of engineering skills is the education system and these low confidence levels can be directly linked to the lack of confidence in local engineering skills development. Seeing as mathematics and science are key subjects for the engineering profession, it is obvious why poor matric pass rates and low uptake of these subjects is a high concern for local engineers,” Joubert noted.

He added that other results on more general issues revealed a marginal improvement in confidence; however, the level was still very low.

“Confidence on whether unemployment will improve over the next five years was just 42%, up one percentage point, while confidence that crime rates would improve over the next five years was 45%, up two percentage points from the previous quarter.”

Joubert pointed out, however, that engineers were confident that they would remain in the country for the foreseeable future, with the results for this question remaining unchanged at 76%, while confidence in the future of the profession only dropped one percentage point to, 83%, quarter-on-quarter.