Engineering sector is ‘too white’
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.