There are many green engineers, but where do the experienced engineers go?

This is a translation of an article published in Beeld on 11 May 2014, by Heléne Cilliers.

The construction industry recently came under sharp criticism from Dr Rob Davies, Minister of Trade and Industry.

According to him, there isn’t enough transformation, especially related to ownership.

But the shortage of senior engineers also slows transformation in the Built environment.

Thami Mthethwa – Managing Member of Recruitlink, a recruitment agency on the East Rand that specialises in placements in the Built environment – says that while there’s an excess supply of young black engineers, the same can’t be said for senior engineers.

Mthethwa says that the situation has remained unchanged for over 5 years, which means that engineers are leaving the industry.

According to him, the engineers specialising in design is the scarcest, i.e. structural and geometric engineering.

Mthethwa, a Civil Engineering Technician himself, says that the problem with young engineers is the lack of knowledge of what the industry expects from them.

Newly qualified engineers, or even surveyors, have too little information about what to expect, he says.

Academic institutions don’t do enough to prepare these engineers for the realities of the working conditions.

Many engineers don’t know, for example what the difference in working conditions are with contractors or consulting engineers.

This means that recruitment agencies like Recruitlink actually have to establish which discipline within the Built environment would best suit a candidate’s personality.

Many candidates believe they will be working in an office with a big computer and a nice suit or outfit on, and then they find themselves mostly on building sites, wearing protective clothing in the dust.

But according to Mthethwa, companies in the Built environment should also look at adjusting their attitudes towards the young graduates to meet the needs of the younger generation engineers if they want to keep them.

Older people must understand where younger people are coming from, says Mthethwa.

Young people should be properly prepared by the company to ensure that they will still be there in 5 years.

If everyone in the Built environment does this, engineers won’t be taken advantage of by the companies either, he says.

Mthethwa says that although there currently aren’t many jobs in the construction industry, he believes that this will soon change after the elections.

He expects that the National Development Plan together with the Infrastructure Development Bill, which is focussed on speeding up the completion of certain products, could have a significant effect on the Built environment in South Africa, especially where employment opportunities are concerned.

Mthethwa doesn’t believe that the government will have reservations against big construction companies that are fined by the Competition Commission for conspiracies and cartels.

He explains that this would be counterproductive, because foreign companies tend to bring their own employees and this doesn’t meet the government’s goal of jobs creation and skills development.

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