More engineers are needed at senior government level to influence decision-making at the highest level, said Sipho Madonsela, the CEO of the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).


Madonsela made the comments during his address at the 5th annual UNESCO-Africa Engineering Week Conference held at the Bellville campus of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) on 18 and 19 September 2018.


He said that if engineers were considered a crucial part of economic growth and development, it was important to include them at all levels of decision-making.


"Maybe there is something wrong with the way in which we engineers teach our engineers. Maybe we do not encourage them to participate in political discourse, and something has to be done. But for as long as we continue without engineers among the creators of economic policy at that level of decision-making, our country will always be hampered from developing at the pace at which it is required." 


Africa and South Africa continue to produce far fewer engineering graduates than is required.  Engineers continue to be in short supply on the continent, with some countries coping with one engineer per 6 000 people. In South Africa, there is one engineer per 3 000 people. This ratio compares badly with other developing nations such as Brazil (230), Australia (450), Malaysia (540) and Chile (680). The South African situation is exacerbated by the fact that 48% of engineers are located in Gauteng, with only 10% and 4% located in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, respectively.


ECSA is in the process of creating a policy framework, which will lead to, amongst others, the definition of standards, processes and procedures for the development of academies for training and developing qualified engineers, technologists and technicians towards professional registration. The academies will have appropriate infrastructure for such training.


The framework will also articulate processes and procedures that will inform the validation of experiential and practical training programmes and the licencing of such academies by ECSA. This will be a significant enabler for graduate engineers who, through these academies, will be able to register as professional engineers within three years of graduation.


The Vice-Chancellor of CPUT, Dr Chris Nhlapo, said that the theme of the conference, "Enabling the Fourth Industrial Revolution for Sustainability and Economic Growth", was of particular interest to CPUT, as the institution had embarked on a strategy to unpack the concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its impact on Vision 2030 to create a smart CPUT.


"In the strategy we look at 4IR and society 5.0, including circular economy and their impact on our plans to 2030," said Dr Nhlapo.


He registered his appreciation of the focus of the convention in addressing the challenges of engineering, not just in South Africa but also in the rest of the continent. He urged students to use the platform to network and learn as much as possible, because the country needs more engineers.


"It is important to use this platform for your own benefit. The links you develop today will put you in good stead to serve the country and the continent in the future," he said.


Dr Gansen Pillay, the Deputy CEO for Research and Innovation Support and Advancement at the National Research Foundation, is of the view that South Africa is capable of doing megascience, saying that the launch of the 64-dish MeerKAT array, a significant milestone in radio astronomy, was testimony to that.


The MeerKAT will be the world's largest radio telescope of its kind until the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) has been completed, and will be integrated into Phase 1 of the mid-frequency component of the SKA.


He emphasised the critical role played by engineers in preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and said that engineers need to become an even more diligent and attentive workforce, and keep up with the rapid advancements in technology.


"It remains undisputed that the economic development in this country, or any other country, is dependent on a robust engineering industry, and ECSA is positioning itself as the driving force to unite both the private and public sectors to ensure continued growth," Mr Madonsela concluded.



Dr Jansen Pillay (Deputy CEO: NRF) left; Dr Chris Nhlapo (Vice-Chancellor: CPUT) middle; Mr Sipho Madonsela (CEO: ECSA) right



Issued by the Department of Science and Technology


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