En­gi­neer­ing sec­tor is ‘too white’

CityPress - - Business - RIANA DE LANGE busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Typ­i­cal state­ments like “an in­dus­try full of old, white men” and con­sult­ing en­gi­neer­ing firms “that are only in­ter­ested in mak­ing money” showed that the cred­i­bil­ity of the en­gi­neer­ing sec­tor was be­ing called into ques­tion, said Lynne Pre­to­rius, pres­i­dent of Con­sult­ing En­gi­neers of SA (Cesa).

How­ever, the sec­tor had to have cred­i­bil­ity if en­gi­neers, and es­pe­cially con­sult­ing en­gi­neers, wanted to play a crit­i­cally im­por­tant role in the coun­try’s in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment, Pre­to­rius said dur­ing a re­cent me­dia ses­sion in Johannesburg.

That’s why Cesa would this year fo­cus all of its en­ergy on trans­for­ma­tion in the sec­tors. It was the right thing to do, she said.

For Cesa, it’s not just about reach­ing trans­for­ma­tion goals, but about the over­all, sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment of all en­gi­neer­ing per­son­nel to the level of pro­fes­sional reg­is­tra­tion.

A bian­nual sur­vey con­ducted among Cesa mem­bers re­vealed that there had been no sig­nif­i­cant growth of en­gi­neer­ing per­son­nel.

By June last year, 53% of per­son­nel at Cesa’s mem­ber firms were white.

Among pro­fes­sional en­gi­neers, the fig­ure was 84%. How­ever, there has been an in­crease in the num­ber of black pro­fes­sional en­gi­neers pro­moted to man­age­ment level over the past few years.

Cesa’s sur­vey also shows that black peo­ple work lower in the pro­fes­sional hi­er­ar­chy, as tech­ni­cians and tech­ni­cal as­sis­tants.

Fe­male en­gi­neer­ing per­son­nel at Cesa mem­bers only com­prised 6% of all con­sult­ing en­gi­neers.

Pre­to­rius said that when Cesa talked busi­ness with the pri­vate sec­tor, there were al­ways ques­tions about who Cesa ac­tu­ally rep­re­sented. The fact is, more than 75% of con­sult­ing en­gi­neers in South Africa are still white men.

Ac­cord­ing to Cesa, only 23% of its 533 mem­bers had more than 51% black own­er­ship in De­cem­ber last year.

“Black own­er­ship among our mem­bers is low in all firms, ir­re­spec­tive of their size. We have to ad­vance the par­tic­i­pa­tion of black en­gi­neers in the pro­fes­sion at all lev­els.

“By trans­form­ing Cesa’s mem­ber­ship, we will even­tu­ally trans­form the con­sult­ing en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sion,” said Pre­to­rius.

She also said Cesa would ask its mem­bers for ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion about trans­for­ma­tion be­cause the present BEE score­cards were not nec­es­sar­ily an in­di­ca­tor of trans­for­ma­tion.

Data from the En­gi­neer­ing Coun­cil of SA show that the av­er­age age of en­gi­neers is 38 years – 27% are younger than 30, 44% are be­tween 30 and 50 years old and 29% are older than 50.

The age pro­file shows the num­ber of se­nior en­gi­neers is de­clin­ing.

The rel­a­tively young av­er­age age can also point to a lack of ex­pe­ri­ence, but shows that en­gi­neers who have com­pleted their stud­ies are ac­tu­ally mak­ing it through the sys­tem, said Pre­to­rius.

She quotes re­search by Allyson Law­less that shows that the num­ber of black en­gi­neer­ing per­son­nel em­ployed in mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly be­tween 2000 and 2015.

Law­less em­pha­sises that young en­gi­neers de­velop through a process whereby they in­ves­ti­gate prob­lems and so­lu­tions, take lim­i­ta­tions and risks into ac­count, im­ple­ment so­lu­tions, but also man­age re­sources, per­son­nel and bud­gets and so take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their de­ci­sions. This process re­quires a co­or­di­nated ef­fort by a team of prac­tis­ing con­sult­ing en­gi­neers.

Law­less said that if one took into ac­count that the num­ber of se­nior en­gi­neers at mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties is de­clin­ing, a ques­tion arises as to who is men­tor­ing young en­gi­neers.

Pre­to­rius said there were fewer en­gi­neers at lo­cal gov­ern­ment level as a re­sult of re­tire­ment and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of BEE.

“We have to be hon­est about it: Peo­ple are leav­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties be­cause they do not see the op­por­tu­nity of pro­fes­sional ad­vance­ment.”

Cesa wants to help cre­ate a pipe­line for peo­ple to reg­is­ter as pro­fes­sional en­gi­neers by be­ing in­volved in pro­grammes to ad­vance the study of science and maths among high school stu­dents, sup­port­ing stu­dents who are study­ing en­gi­neer­ing and through men­tor­ships in the work­place.

It has also iden­ti­fied pro­grammes to sup­port small, medium-sized and mi­cro en­ter­prises (which is 95% of Cesa’s ex­ist­ing mem­bers) and to sec­ond young en­gi­neers in state de­part­ments to gain ex­pe­ri­ence.

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