Engineering a catalyst for socio-economic development

Africa's inability to produce enough engineering graduates remains one of its greatest challenges. Engineers continue to be in short supply on the continent, with some countries coping with one engineer per 6 000 people, a situation that has been described as hopelessly inadequate. In South Africa, there is one engineer per 2 600 people, while the international norm is one engineer per 40 people.


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) Africa Engineering Week, launched today at the Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein, will focus on the state of engineering in Africa. Hosted by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and UNESCO, in collaboration with the CUT and the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality, the event is aimed at increasing the visibility of the engineering profession and popularising it among young people.


This year's event is themed "Engineering: A Catalyst for Socio-Economic Development".


South Africa, like its neighbours, has a shortage of engineers. Cyril Gamede, the president of the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), an association responsible for regulating the profession, said there is just over 16 000 qualified engineers registered with the council. He added that the numbers for women are very low, at a mere 6%, despite several programmes to encourage women to join the profession.


He said that South Africa, and the continent as a whole, needs significantly more development, thus making it critical for Africa to produce higher numbers of engineers.


Hubert Gijzen, UNESCO Regional Director and Representative, said if Africa is to realise developmental plans like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and regional initiatives and strategies such as Agenda 2063 and the Southern African Development Community Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap, then it must produce more engineers.


The DST's Deputy Director-General: International Cooperation and Resources, Daan du Toit, said that the department's participation in partnerships is important for the country and the continent as it serves the wider development agenda. He said the DST is committed to the Africa Agenda and multilateralism because it is critical in ensuring socio-economic development.


Yashin Brijmohan, from the World Federation of Engineering Organizations, said there needs to be a paradigm shift in the profession on the continent in order to meet the needs of the future. He said that engineering must become creative and innovative in order to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution which will drive Africa's development.


During the two-day event, hundreds of learners in and around Bloemfontein will descend on the CUT to attend the exhibitions aimed at interesting them in the profession. The planned activities will also demonstrate how important engineers are for economic growth and service delivery, and in finding solutions to global challenges like climate change mitigation and adaptation.


The event will draw to a close tomorrow.


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