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The Patel Puzzle (Jan 2011)

Posted By Chris Reay, Thursday, 03 February 2011

"Government is targeting the training of at least 30,000 additional engineers by 2014” was announced by Economic Development Minister Patel last month. One has to "interpret” the meaning of this as it conveys many possible options. It also pre-supposes that required national projects will be activated (R800 billion in infrastructure in 3 years?) as the current project load is dismal.

  1. The Minister wants 30,000 more graduates on the market in 3 years time.

Since engineering is at least a 4 year course, then somehow he is "arranging” to have 30,000 more 2nd year students enter the tertiary system in 2011, or find 30,000 additional pass-capable students in the current streams. Since graduates are not useful Engineers until they have completed the 3 year EIT period, does he mean Engineers or graduates? Pass to next option.

  1. The Minister wants 30,000 new entrants to the first year of the engineering course.

He should drop in on Blade Nzimande and place an order for 30,000 extra maths and science higher level school leavers without delay. Then check the capacity of the secondary school teachers and tertiary institutions to accommodate this. If impossible, pass to next option.

  1. The Minister wants 30,000 employable Engineers to enter the labour market.

The Minister together with the cabinet and ANC policy makers must scrap affirmative action, employers wake up to the fact that 60 plus year olds are as good as Engineers as you can get (which would also mean scrapping the useless HR departments staffed with 20 plus year old non-technical somethings) and putting the retrenched and early retired Engineers back into the system to both run jobs and mentor the new graduates in structured EIT programmes to achieve the training. Possible, but improbable. Pass to next option.

  1. The Minister recognises that most of the 30,000 should be employed by government, parastatal and provincial sectors to enable these bodies to be able to deliver projects to the citizens of SA. Capacity at state "owner's team” level is so low that it is virtually dysfunctional. Ask SAICE, CESA and SAFCEC.

But this means cadres have to be removed, and if any of these are good at anything at all, they should be employed as road repair gangs, and using the chain-gang system would be appropriate as they are guilty of wasting taxpayers' money, doing nothing for service delivery, and failing to execute the required operations and maintenance of the country's assets while occupying cushy salaried positions that only qualified engineering resources should have had. However, this is clearly not seen as necessary by ANC politicians (until service delivery protests, riots and citizen management reach nationwide crisis levels). Pass onto next option.

  1. The Minister is not certain where the training should happen but believes there is a need.

That at least would be a realistic option. One would think that he has observed that the supply of Engineers takes place along a long-term and well established supply chain. It starts at the age of about 6 when the prospective Engineer has the inclination, interest and role models to guide him or her into it as a career move. It is probably in the genes of those that adopt the profession successfully. Making up numbers with feedstock that has no inherent, natural inclination and desire to be an Engineer just wastes the supply chains' resources.

  1. The Minister's intentions are well meant and he intends to consult with the engineering profession in order to address the real issues.

The Minister may wish to identify the real shortages and remove the pointless political policies (BBBEE for one in its present form) where points for skills development count less than having a figurehead black director on the company letterhead. The NSF's unspent money can be directed via programmes managed by the Voluntary Engineering Associations to up-skill new engineering graduates, technologists and technicians. The need is agreed, but the action is lacking. At least the Minister has realised one thing: skills are in a major crisis, largely created by his own party's idealism and inability to educate or train for the required, competent national capacity. Industry must also wake up and get training instead of expecting the perfect resources to be eternally waiting for their call. Can the profession please be consulted on how to get this training done as it needs to be developed right through the supply chain?

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