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Quo vadis?

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 17 February 2015

This is a good question to ask anyone in SA at the moment, with so many of our economic engine diagnostics showing error codes. Clearly we have never been in such pending trouble in a profession that should by all measures have expanding opportunities rather than declining activities. In the role of recruitment consulting which is highly email and internet dependent, one gets the inevitable onslaught of negative news, analysts’ forecasts, global economy trends, and the very direct experiences of employers. Over the years it seemed to be recommended to have goals, practice focus in one’s chosen field and have blind faith in the future. The problem with blind faith is that eventually reality becomes too evident and too compelling to rely on it.

The media is taken up with constant streams of the blame game, regular excuses particularly lame and inept ones from none other than Zuma and the ANC “spokespersons” that can only leave one with the belief that they simply do not have any idea of how bad things actually are in the business of growth and wealth generation. It’s votes at all costs, irrespective of the damage being done in the process that will eventually unhinge the ANC anyway. The claim, for example, that the power crisis is apartheid’s fault is serious in that one expects not only that statements from that level would have a semblance at least of some sense, but that it must by inference reflect the opinion of the Presidency, cabinet and executive who write the speeches for him.

In 2005 my partner and I visited Megawatt Park for a meeting with the then emerging Capital Expansion Division (CED) with a view to getting involved with recruiting engineering talent for the CED. It was early days in this process but well overdue in terms of the need to get going with new capacity, but we all know by now the ANC’s lack of action on this. What stunned us at the meeting was the following. “Yes, we will need new engineering resources, but you are required to provide BLACK FEMALE ENGINEERS ONLY!!” 

You may now realise why Eskom has been judged deficient of appropriate skills and that the number of employees from 1992 to 2012 per installed GW increased by 43% but the effective installed GWs did not increase. This analysis disregards comparing any talent index that will also have changed for the worse as most of the experienced white engineering skills were retrenched or left.

I would now ask, in the so called 5 point plan being undertaken in the recovery “war room”, what is being done about this factor, or in more specific terms, is it not evident that a complex engineering asset requires the appropriate engineering skills and experience to plan, design, construct, operate and maintain to be sustainable? Eskom (and SA) will never recover without this realization.

So leaving behind the history, how can the engineering fraternity get some action going on applying this necessary attribute to the crisis we are ALL in whether we like it or not? Is it possible, and can a start initiative make an impact on this – it is a survival thing, not a nice to have? Clearly as with any recovery action, it will require radical funding and a change of attitude to fix this crisis over a long period, made more difficult with the recent news that our earlier fear has also materialized – government does now not have the funding for the well verbalised 18 project National Development Plan let alone the engineering resources to manage them. It cannot even fund Eskom. Will FDI come to the party with our present investment rating? We are potentially on the road to bankruptcy – Zimbabwe style.

If we as the profession in our voluntary capacity do not take some form of cohesive action, it would seem we are unworthy of our cause as Professional Engineers let alone our need for SA’s economic survival.

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