Putting transformation on the agenda


Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) held its annual Presidential Breakfast in Rosebank on 8 February 2017 and highlighted the organisation’s focus for 2017 –  “Let’s talk transformation”.

CESA’s transformation committee plans to transform its membership and industry by monitoring the progress of its members beyond the requirements of the construction sector scorecard, explained Lynne Pretorius, CESA president (pictured). The committee will help members understand that transformation is an ongoing process; facilitate broad-based black economic empowerment practices within the industry; and promote transformation initiatives through members’ professional and business activities. Pretorius highlighted that the intervention is essential considering that black ownership is still low at all levels of the industry.

Of the 533 firms on CESA’s database, only 122 firms are black-owned, with an ownership of less than 51%. Membership companies comprise of 84% white staff at engineering level and the employment breakdown indicates that black people are typically employed as technicians, technical assistants, and laboratory and survey assistants.

The average age of engineers is also a concern – 27% are younger than 30 years old, 44% are between 30 and 50 years old and 29% are older than 50 years old. This is a good indication of the increasing number of young engineers entering the industry, but raises concerns about the amount of experience in the industry. The Engineering Council of South Africa’s (ECSAs) National Engineering Skills Survey (2013) indicates that 55% of engineers above 55 years old were planning to retire within five years, and 91% of them expressed their intention to work part-time after retirement.

The survey also showed that only 14% of South Africa’s professional engineers are black but the number of black engineers in the age group 22 to 38 years has increased. Additionally, the most senior civil engineer out of 50% of municipalities is 41 years old, and 17% of municipalities have civil engineers of 34 years and younger. This leaves a gaping hole in the amount of senior mentorship that young engineers are receiving.

Pretorius explained that it is important to acknowledge the numbers in order to move forward with transformation goals. A limited amount of learners with sufficient competence in mathematics leave the school system and the engineering profession has to compete with other sectors to attract these learners to do engineering degrees.

It appears that the Construction Sector Charter Council scorecard is driving transformation targets set for the construction sector. As necessary as transformation is, for member firms to be competitive in the current procurement environment and to be in a favourable position when bidding for public sector projects, it is CESA’s view that this should be a secondary consideration.

CESA’s approach is to sensitise its membership to the ethical approach to transformation by encouraging increased participation of black engineering professionals and ensure the sustainable growth and development of consulting engineering staff.

Pretorius also highlighted that young black professionals tend to have fewer opportunities to be mentored by more experienced engineers and CESA plans to develop mentoring programmes to address this issue.

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