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Sowing the Seeds

Posted By Vaughan Rimbault, Monday, 13 November 2017

How to turn the Public Sector into a producer of quality engineering professionals


No country or economy ever complained about producing too many competent engineering professionals. In fact, the opposite is true, and we are often reminded in the press about the link between strong economies and the ratio of engineering professionals in the population. South Africa has one of the lowest ratios of engineering professionals to the general population, and so we have good reason to focus on producing more of this valuable resource. We should aim to produce as many competent engineering professionals as we can.


The public sector has a perfect opportunity to play a role in this space, and I would like to share my vision of how this might be achieved, particularly in the mechanical engineering arena.


Every engineering graduate (NDip. BTech, BSc/BEng) who cannot find a position in the private sector, will be guaranteed a full-time position as a Candidate Engineering Professional in the public sector, on a minimum 36-month contract and at a salary equivalent to that of a junior officer in the defense force.


Basic training

There will be two intakes of Candidates per year. The Candidate will spend an initial period of at least 6

months in basic training at an approved mechanical engineering training facility which will offer exposure to the fundamentals of the occupational and practical aspects of mechanical engineering.


This will include things like fabrication, machining and workshop practice, as well as introduction to pertinent legislation (e.g, Engineering Profession Act, occupational legislation, basic conditions of employment, etc).


The Candidate will be evaluated in this phase through a combination of written and practical tests and examinations. It is not the intention of this phase to develop artisanal skills in the Candidates, but more to create an awareness of how the profession of engineering engages with the occupation of engineering, particularly in relation to the delivery of basic infrastructure. On completion of the basic training, the Candidate will be deployed within the public sector at national, provincial or local level, depending on requirements.


Candidates will be deployed considering a number of factors, not least of which will be closeness to their own home communities. Communities enjoying the fruit of their investment in the education of their children, and receiving decent basic services through the work of their own, should add significant value to this idea.


Evidence of competency

Candidates will be deployed to work on specific infrastructure projects which will provide the working environment within which professional skills will be developed. Although referred to as “basic” infrastructure, the engineering work behind successful projects still needs to take place and can be made sufficiently complex to serve as evidence of competency.


As part of the contract, the Candidate will be enrolled into a professional development programme in partnership with the engineering Voluntary Association most closely representing their engineering discipline.


All Candidates in all disciplines will do the same programme, aimed at developing and demonstrating the learning outcomes described in ECSA’s various competency standards for professional registration, thus paving the way for professional registration with ECSA. The programme will produce a portfolio of work for each Candidate, to be used as evidence of competence when measured against the standard.


An effective public works programme to develop engineering professionals will achieve two important things: add momentum to the delivery of basic infrastructure; and produce competent engineering professionals. And we need as much of both as we can get.


Article by: Vaughan Rimbault, CEO: SAIMechE

As posted in the SA Mechanical Engineer, August 2017 issue

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