ENGINEERING

Attracting Local Government

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With engineering skills being in short supply at municipalities, government and tertiary institutions should make this field more attractive as a profession, writes Frank Stevens, President of the Institute of Municipal Engineering of Southern Africa.

I came across a striking anecdote at an engineering lecture at the University of Cape Town recently. To put the story in context, one needs to bear in mind that this was in the engineering faculty —a profession vitally needed for securing South Africa’s economic future, yet where a serious shortage of young graduates
still prevails.

The professor asked the group, made up of 70 final BSc civil engineering students, which of them had the ambition or intention to become municipal engineers. Not a single hand went up. This anecdote illustrates a serious challenge we face at the Institute of Municipal Engineering of Southern Africa (IMESA). Within an already dwindling skills pool, municipal engineering is the lowest on students’ career radar. It is disconcerting to see that a general lack of leadership to promote this vital profession prevails.

Who is to blame? Perhaps the municipal engineering profession itself. Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, announced that the number of engineering science graduates has increased from 8 424 in 2009, to 9 387 in 2011. This may still be below the target of 10 093, but there are 9 387 young graduates that could (and should) consider a career in municipal engineering.

Why have they not done so? There seems to be a perception that the private sector is a far more “glamorous” or “dynamic” career path, with better opportunities and higher compensation. Although there may be some truth attached to this perception, I still maintain that the lack of interest in municipal engineering is because municipal engineers themselves are not doing enough to market and endorse the profession.

In the past few years, IMESA has made it our mandate to advocate and promote the municipal engineering profession. We have been successfully orchestrating its Bursary Fund to support and place young university and university of technology graduates at local governments across South Africa. We engage constructively with various tertiary institutions to combat the perception that municipal engineering is an unattractive discipline. We provide extensive training programmes and introduce a fair number of graduates to the field of municipal engineering each year.

We share examples and case studies of “out-of-the-box” engineering to young graduates. These are innovative, resource-savvy municipal engineering solutions that local authorities have successfully applied in rural areas across South Africa, breaking the conventional thinking patterns of how service provision "ought to be" done.

As the oldest organisation serving the municipal engineering profession in southern Africa, IMESA realised that the value of municipal engineers to the future of this country simply cannot
be overemphasised.

We urge every government organisation and all tertiary institutions to join us in the promotion of the municipal engineering profession, ensuring an uptake of brilliant young minds committed to the future of service delivery excellence in South Africa.

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