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This blog contains the popular commentary "An Engineer's View" which is a regular feature of SA Mechanical Engineer. The commentary reflects the personal views of SAIMechE members, typically those who have accepted leadership positions in the Institution. If you are a SAIMechE member and would like to share something valuable with your community, please send your submission to info@saimeche.org.za for consideration.

 

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Top tags: an engineer's view  Chris Reay  engineering education  engineering profession 

My Experience as a Female Engineering Student

Posted By Marietjie Jansen van Rensburg, Wednesday, 28 February 2018

In 2018, it feels almost irrelevant to talk about sexism, as we now live in a world where discrimination based on anything is considered taboo, and you will, most definitely, get called out on social media for being racist, sexist, or basically any kind of discrimination or bias.

Today we are bombarded with social media feeds containing messages of support and motivation; messages telling us that we can be anything we want to be, and not to be defined by any type of social construct; messages encouraging us to be individuals, and to achieve greatness, no matter how. What a glorious time to be alive.

However, this global culture of understanding and support is still new, and there are industries where sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination, still create a culture where individuals are not supported or motivated to be great or achieve greatness.

When I was asked to write an article for “SA Mechanical Engineer”, I was honoured but a bit surprised at the suggested topic of ‘my experience as a female engineering student’. Not offended, just surprised, especially since I am responsible for the most successful student initiative within the SAIMechE in the last decade. 

Subtle acts and role divisions 
But as I was sitting down to write this article, it suddenly dawned on me that today, in the modern South Africa, sexism is no longer a blatant disregard for the female gender, there is no longer an outright belief that men are better than woman, but rather a subtle way of thinking and doing, coded in our DNA because of the social environment in which we were raised.

Today, the female engineering student doesn’t experience sexism in obvious, outright ways, but rather through subtle acts and role divisions. For example, in a group project where taking down minutes is mandatory, you will often see female students being given the role, sometimes at the expense of doing more technical work.

That is why, when projects involve building, manufacturing, or assembly, you will see female engineering students doing the theoretical work. Often the technical or physical aspects of the project are allocated to male students first, with the female students then being given the option to choose from, or volunteer for, the remaining work.

The question that comes to mind is why? Why in a world where females are celebrated and supported do we have so little female representation in mechanical/mechatronic engineering at tertiary level and in industry? Limited research has been done regarding this topic, but the most popular notion is that there aren’t many female role models to motivate girls to pursue such technical studies, or to stay within the industry after graduation, and I tend to agree.

Affirmations
The low female representation within SAIMechE (less than 5% according to the latest demographic information) and the lack of celebrated female engineers within the leadership structures of our institution and the industry in general, is evidence of this problem.

Growing up, my mother, being an educator, understood and embodied the principle that reaffirmations during early childhood development build confidence and self-worth, and both my mother and father noticed and supported my technical aptitudes all through my childhood years.

Having grown up in this type of environment, I never experienced any type of doubt about whether I could excel in a technical, male-dominated industry. But not all girls are this lucky, in fact, some are actively discouraged against pursuing technical careers after graduation. The majority of female engineering graduates end up working in non-technical positions, or working in a totally different industry altogether.

Great heights
That said, ambitious female engineering students are achieving great heights. It is now not uncommon to see female engineering students at the top of their classes, in leadership roles, or even as part of technical endeavours such as robotics clubs and international design competitions.

This is evident in the strong female representation in the SAIMechE Student Chapter initiative across the country. These ambitious female engineering students are doing just as well and achieving just as much as their male counterparts.

I believe, that as SAIMechE, it is now our responsibility to identify, recognise, and promote already successful female mechanical and mechatronic engineers in industry, as well as ambitious female individuals (students and graduates) as strong female role models within the industry to girls in school and at tertiary level. In this way, girls will have the confidence to be more, do better, and achieve just as much as any male peer.

By Marietjie M Jansen van Rensburg
(BEng Mechatronics, Stellenbosch University)
SAIMechE Council Representative:
Student and Graduate Affairs

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The Engineer’s Contribution to the Economy

Posted By Prof Leonard Masu and Andre Roos, Monday, 11 December 2017

Unfortunately for engineers, the vision for new projects often emanates not from engineers, but from politicians in municipalities, at provincial level, by government, state owned companies and entrepreneurs. Very often engineers are instructed to generate the solutions and they deliver - The many successful projects are proof enough.

Unfortunately, funding is limited and engineering projects compete with other endeavours for funding. As funds are limited, it is in the best interests of the country and all who live in it, that the projects with the best returns are selected. While the powers that be may be well-equipped to make these choices, engineers are seldom present and therefore do not influence these decisions. 

By participating in all walks of life, engineers can contribute even more to the economy and wealth creation, by participating and influencing these decisions in the selection of deserving projects, funded by limited resources. If we, the engineering community, stand up and are counted, by participating in all walks of life and we aim to play an instrumental role in influencing decision making, funding will be channeled to more productive projects, which in return will stimulate the economy even more.

We will influence decisions and our knowledge and skills will contribute significantly. 

In this way, as an institution, represented by our branches all over the country, we have knowledge of local conditions and should promote projects and ventures, which will most benefit our communities. Each SAIMechE branch can probably draw on more expertise than most companies, organisations, municipalities, provinces and government departments. Combined each branch probably has more expertise than the companies they work for!

The achievements listed here, are testimony to our contribution to the development and wellbeing of our society and the projects listed here also serve as a reminder of the role we have to play in the future. 

Industrial: Yskor (Mittal) – South African parastatal steel company founded in 1928 by Hendrik van der Bijl to supply the demands of local consumers. 

Sasol – First and largest oil-from-coal refinery (provides 40% of the country’s fuel). 

Coastal: The Dolos – These structures are designed to break up wave action and protect harbour walls, created by Eric Merrifield in SA in 1963-1964. 

Rail: The Scheffel Bogie – a unique railway Bogie allowing higher speed, less wear and higher load capacity on our unique narrow gauge railway lines. 

The Coal Export Railway line serving Ermelo to Richards Bay. The Iron Ore Export Line, running between Sishen and Saldanha Bay (opened 1976).

Agricultural: Dams and Irrigation Schemes - Orange-Fish Tunnel, completed in 1975, is the key structure by which water is delivered from Gariep dam to Teebus Spruit, Great Brak River and then
to the Great Fish River and Sunday River valleys.

The Vaalharts Irrigation Scheme is one of the largest irrigation schemes in the world covering 369.50 square kilometres in the Northern Cape Province. 

M-Net: (Electronic Media Network) - Established by Naspers for broadcasting local and international programmes.

Pratley Putty: Krugersdorp engineer George Pratley invented his famous sticky stuff in the 1960’s while looking for a glue that would hold components in an electrical box. Pratley’s glue is the only South African invention that went to the moon. In 1969 the putty was used to hold bits of the Apollo XI mission’s Eagle landing craft together. 

Pools: The Kreepy Krauly which revolutionised pool cleaning (invented by Ferdinand Chauvier in SA in 1974). 

By: Director Andre Roos, and Professor Leonard Masu
SAIMechE

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The Engineer: Create, Imagine, Dare to be Different

Posted By Andre Roos and Prof Leonard Masu, Monday, 13 November 2017

Engineering is generally recognised as a profession, along with other professions such as medicine, dentistry, law, ministry, architecture, and education. A profession which is an occupation is generally characterised by: intellectual effort, creative thinking and the desire for service. Engineering seeks to “employ knowledge” to create what never was or improve what already exists.

 

The distinguishing educational objective in engineering is design. Design is at the heart of engineering.Engineers design new things such as improved airplanes or appliances or materials or things that do not even exist as yet. To be creative, to imagine, to take risks, to “dare to be different” but not to endanger safety of course. Engineering creations must comply with the principles of science and that is the engineering challenge: to be creative but within the constraints inherent in a specific project.

 

The majority of engineers work for industry or government and only a small, but important, percentage is in direct contact with the public as consulting engineers. It is important that engineering professionals, technicians and technologists should be well trained, should be well aware of the demands of their activities and always act responsibly with the public’s safety in mind.

 

Challenges and anomalies

The environment within which engineering is practised is not perfectly designed though to allow for the engineer to follow a logical and structured approach and thus perform optimally. Rather the engineer is presented with challenges and anomalies, most often introduced by the employer or client, requiring the utmost professional conduct from the engineer, to arrive at a safe, economical solution.

 

Notwithstanding this, we do succeed in designing solutions which benefit our economy in a very major way. According to many commentators, growth in the areas of science, engineering and technology are a major catalyst for job creation, social upliftment and economic development.

 

Easy examples are the benefits to our economy of a good infrastructure including road, rail, harbours, airports, energy, communication, banking system, water, sanitation etc, all made possible by engineering. Unquestionably South Africa benefits from a good infrastructure, allowing efficient, cheap communication, freight and transport.

 

Standard of living

While our engineering accomplishments in South Africa have contributed greatly to our economic development, social upliftment and job creation, the need for increased economic growth demands ever more engineering contributions, also requiring an increase in the number of technically skilled artisans, technicians and engineers.

 

We have the engineering capability in South Africa to meet with most demands for engineering expertise and most probably the only constraint engineering faces in South Africa is a lack of development projects and funding. Due to our knowledge of local conditions, we are also well positioned to serve other African countries.

 

Engineering has been vital in addressing basic human needs, improving the quality and standard of living as well as providing opportunities for sustainable development in South Africa and has the potential to do the same for Africa.

 

We (engineers) have in the past and should continue in the future to focus on developing solutions to meet the needs of our local industry and population.

 

Article by: Andre Roos, Vice President SAIMechE (and Director: Megchem), and

Professor Leonard Masu, Vaal Branch Chairman (and Lecturer: VUT)

SAIMechE

As posted in the SA Mechanical Engineer, October 2017 issue

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Meaningful Contribution

Posted By Gideon van den Berg, Monday, 13 November 2017

When our young engineers enter industry, they spend a long time trying to reconcile what they have been taught at a tertiary level versus what particular selection of skills and knowledge sets are important for their immediate place of work. Now, according to Malcolm Gladwell (author of “Outliers”) what we term as “expertise”, requires around five years to develop. This period of “getting good” unfortunately also appears to equate to “getting stuck”.

 

The hard truth is that engineers are employed by businesses, not training institutions. They need to contribute in a very tangible way, as soon as possible. In the context of mechanical engineering (where engineers do not need to register with ECSA as such) this has a particular spin-off. Due to business/operational constraints, much is done to/with our young engineers to make them ‘useful.’

 

However, on the other hand the value of ‘professional development’ is attended to very seldom. And to make it worse, it appears that, whenever engineers are ‘developed’ they are given MBAs and are removed from the technical side of operations.

 

I believe this ‘isolation’ - especially in the first years of employment – creates a silo culture. I’ve dealt with skillful, talented engineers, who have been blinkered by their industry and have lost sight of the  whole, beautiful, vast field of knowledge, known as mechanical engineering.

 

Making a difference

These engineers will eventually become bored with their small aspect of mechanical engineering and grow into the field of management sciences – since it appears there is still some excitement to be had in that field! This leaves a skill and mentorship vacuum, which in turn makes it even more difficult for the new crop of young engineers due to the lack of mentorship and role models.

 

This is truly the space where the voluntary associations such as SAIMechE can, must and are making a difference.

 

Consider two items of major importance. The first: SAIMechE’s student chapters where students are given a chance to interact with engineers and their fraternity, to glimpse a wider view of the actual industry and its possibilities. The second is SAIMechE’s Professional Development Programme (PDP). This programme, based on internationally agreed professional attributes, has been created, and is available free of charge from SAIMechE. It was created to help guide young engineers to develop into competent professionals and is in-line with the 11 Outcomes that ECSA requires from its candidates.

 

By being part of a voluntary association such as SAIMechE – and taking part by interacting with your local branch – you are taking responsibility for your own professional development and furthering the interest of the profession.

 

When you get down to it, gathering CPD points is not all that difficult when you have developed this habit. When was the last time you picked up a new piece of knowledge or a tool? There are so many things to explore... have you heard of TRIZ when you innovate or the Design Structure Matrix when planning a project?

 

Having read this, and perhaps given a bit of a nod in agreement, you are also now vicariously responsible to bring our young engineers (and yourself) into the “fold.”

 

Article by: Gideon van den Berg, National Treasurer and Chairperson of the Eastern Cape branch.

As posted in the SA Mechanical Engineer, September 2017 issue

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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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Goodbye Chris - and thank you

Posted By Vaughan Rimbault, Wednesday, 03 May 2017

SAIMechE has lost one of its most committed and influential members, Honorary Fellow Chris Reay, who passed away at his home in Cape Town on Wednesday, 26 April 2017.

 

Chris’ service to SAIMechE and the engineering profession stretched over four decades, from his service on Branch committees to more than thirty years’ service as a member of Council.

 

He joined SAIMechE as a Student member in 1963, and his contribution to the institution was recognised through his election to Honorary Fellow in 1999.

 

Chris participated at the highest level in SAIMechE, holding the office of President during the 1990-1991 Council session.  His father was SAIMechE President during the 1948-1949 Council session, giving them the distinction of being one of only two successive generations to have held this office in SAIMechE.

 

His influence was felt across most of the profession, from schools to universities to graduates and fellow professionals.  Many colleagues have commented on his passion for pertinent professional issues, and for holding all around him to the highest standards of integrity and commitment.

 

Chris is probably most well known in modern times for his regular column “An Engineer’s View” which was the leader to our magazine.  He set the bar high in this regard, and we will continue to honour him by using this space to be honest, forthright, courageous and critical of ourselves and other stakeholders in the engineering profession.

 

Thank you Chris, for giving us so much of your life, and for speaking out on our behalf.  We are a better organisation and profession because of you.  Until we meet again.

 

Note:  We invite members to share their memories and comments about Chris, either by emailing these to info@saimeche.org.za, or by commenting here on this post.

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Statistics on starting salaries

Posted By Chris Reay, Monday, 24 April 2017

New data from Analytico, a data and earnings consultancy, shows that engineering and information technology graduates can expect much higher salaries than other major fields.

Analytico’s data is based on a sample of 93 658 university graduates who supplied salary information and other insights.

According to Analytico, people with a matric certificate can expect to be paid almost double the salary of someone who has not completed high school.

The research further showed that a tertiary qualification will significantly increase earning potential.

According to the report:

  • Someone with a grade 12 can expect to earn R4,977 in their first job.
  • Someone with a bachelor’s degree increases their starting salary to R8,270.

All bachelor’s degrees are not equal, however, with a big salary difference apparent in different fields of study.

The average starting salary for a person with an engineering or IT degree is R19 180, far higher than social sciences at R6 612 and life sciences at R7 412.

Occupation-specific

It should be noted that the salary figures are not occupation-specific, and attempt to provide a picture of what graduates with a particular degree can expect to earn each month.

This bears out the experience we are getting in the engineering and technical recruitment industry although the demand across the profession is significantly down from 2015 through reduction in corporate activity and retrenchments.

 Pockets of “green shoots” are emerging slowly from the ashes, and clients who are growing again are generally able to seek out their previous employees as projects emerge.

Unfortunately, industry now faces a further threat with the downgrading of our credit rating which will impact on investment, interest rates and inflation. There seems to be little indication of the NDP happening in any concerted form, and we have a lot of resources available on the market to undertake the type of work associated with infrastructure development.

The potential for engineering graduates remains huge internationally and confirms the desire for the degree after high school.

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Six essential skills for Engineers

Posted By Chris Reay, Wednesday, 15 March 2017

This is a summary of an article from research done on the six most basic skills an Engineer needs to have today.

You should probably consider this if you want to stand out and be the stand-out young Engineer you want to be.

Taking Engineering seems to be a norm that many young people consider in order to keep up with society’s demands of rapid changes, innovations and advancements in technology. Many specialised Engineering courses are also introduced and the population of people taking career paths in Engineering fields gradually grows.

Competition is getting tougher, especially for new grad Engineers. Several countries produce thousands of Engineers most of whom end up in non-Engineering fields or obliged to settle in entry levels they don’t deserve. Even if you’re an Engineering graduate, you may not be competent enough.

But don’t lose hope just yet.

Here is a checklist for you to stand out and become the stand-out Engineer you want to be.

1. AUTOCAD SKILLS

We are in the age where Engineering design is not confined to 2D blueprints or sketches alone. Designs of components, structures and architectural plans now heavily depend on 3D CAD designs especially for intricate objects in manufacturing. The ability to design with Auto CAD is really a must for Engineering and architectural people in these fields.

Having proficient CAD skills certainly gives you an advantage over other candidates. If your institution does not offer learning to use CAD software, there are crash courses offered in other technical schools for a certain number of sessions. Also, there are CAD software programs and tutorials online so you can study it yourself too.

2. BASIC PROGRAMMING / IT SKILLS

At this point, hard sciences are now converging with the digital world to be more efficient and productive. There are now industries that depend on heavy database management and automated components in industrial plants (computer-integrated manufacturing). Learning how to use programming languages and algorithms is also a plus.

Even if you’re a computer Engineering major, not all programming languages are taught in school. There are also crash courses for this such as learning SQL, Mathlab, COBOL, C#, .NET, Python, Java or Ruby. In addition, online tutorials and downloadable software programs are available if you plan to self-study.

3. COMMUNICATION SKILLS

As an Engineer, our science and mathematical knowledge or technical skills are a given. But presenting and relaying it effectively is another aspect. Being a persuasive presenter gives us opportunities to be an exceptional Engineer. We must learn how to strike the right balance between technical and communication skills as they are the keys to a successful professional career.  There are programmes and workshops that can help us enhance speech communication and presentation skills.

4. PROJECT MANAGEMENT

In our profession, we always coordinate with others or work as a team in a department. Engineers who become project managers and learn how to manage a project and a team can have a successful career. Having project management skills enables you to lead project or programme teams and will eventually allow you to master the dynamics of a project.

From there, you can handle more complex projects and be appointed in leadership positions. You can also draw other professionals together and open opportunities for business and personal growth. There are institutions offering Project Management as an elective and also a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.

5. PROFESSIONAL LICENCE

As they say, licensure is the mark of a professional. It means you are at the top of your game and your profession. It is a standard recognised by the government, the clients and companies assuring skills and quality. It has now become a requirement in a number of Engineering firms and corporations. Having a professional licence assures the public that you can perform Engineering work. It is also seen as a commitment to your profession and gives more opportunities in your career.

6. GRADUATE DEGREES (MSc / MA / MBA / Engg D / PhD)

Today, a number of professional Engineering societies are considering making a graduate degree the mandatory credential for would-be Engineers. They require master’s degree in finance, business administration or industrial Engineering in order to advance in managerial positions. Millennial Engineers opt to take master’s degree units and certifications while working in order to raise their credentials and value of being a professional Engineer.

Some high positions need a certain depth of knowledge and expertise in a particular Engineering field so that’s where these graduate courses come into their own. Engineers must not be limited to their majors but must continue to learn and diversify into different fields.

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A Flawed Process

Posted By Chris Reay, Friday, 10 February 2017

There are an awful lot of Engineers, Technologists and Technicians on the market seeking employment commensurate with what they were used to a few years ago. Employers have a choice today even though there are some categories that are hard to find or hard to fill because Engineers who are currently employed are not keen to move given the uncertainty in the market.

The numbers that have undergone retrenchment are horrendous typically in the EPCM and EPC domains. The opportunities for graduates remain consistent although employers are hesitant to undertake training programmes that graduates need in order to fulfill their professional registration requirements. It is an ideal time for this process to take place as long as suitable mentorship is available.

With the hopeful advent of the NDP, we should expect a demand on the engineering profession, but indications of this are slow in materialising. Infrastructure is in serious need of upgrading and development particularly in matters of water management and transport, electrical distribution and support of health care facilities.

What of manufacturing? Are we winning or losing this battle? All these areas of engineering activity need all the engineering disciplines and skills we can muster if the economy is to start growing.

Litigation process underway

Another serious matter has made itself apparent in our profession and it concerns the flawed process of appointment of the new council at ECSA. The VAs (Voluntary Associations) have followed due process, but essentially, the old council agreed on a list of people to be appointed as the new council. This list was then forwarded to the Minister.

When the Minister made the appointment, it was noticed that the list appointed was not the same as the list that was agreed upon by the old council. At this stage, we are not speculating on who changed the lists. We simply want to ensure that due process was followed as per the Engineers Professions Act (EPA). We believe, and after seeking legal advice, that there is sufficient evidence to the contrary and that the process was flawed, which concurs with the legal finding of the CBE.

Previously we sent official letters to the Minister of DPW and the office bearers of ECSA. They have not responded. We have therefore instructed our attorneys to lodge papers in the high court of South Africa. This sees the full litigation process underway.

ECSA is changing all the current systems to effectively disregard the services provide by the VAs in the form of committees. As to whom will now provide these remains to be seen, but it looks as though ECSA will be run by an administration, and hearsay is that they will work on changing the Engineering Professions Act.

 

How all this will align with the various Accords of which SA is a member is anyone’s guess.

 

It’s a clear case of government meddling in the profession without realising the importance of the role that peer group judgment plays.

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The PPS engineering survey

Posted By Chris Reay, Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The most recent survey carried out by PPS on the views of a wide spectrum of engineers identified some serious concerns as well as some encouraging ones.

Of these, the item that is reasonably positive is that 75% of the Engineers surveyed were confident about the future of their profession over the next five years, primarily due to expected financial viability and contributing to society. Of the 25% who were not inspired by the future, the most negative factor is the political climate.

64% would encourage their children to study engineering, but 94% are concerned about the standards of maths and science at the tertiary level. The pessimistic 25% regard the lack of good jobs and retrenchments as the cause, and many are concerned that good Engineers are considering leaving the country.

87% are worried by the brain drain on the profession, and 54% are considering emigrating, with politics being the main driver. Countries of choice are the USA and Australia. 65% of employers offer internships to graduates.

Reasonably positive

On the question as to whether the government is delivering on its promises to create infrastructure, 96% voted a solid no on this.

According to the National Development plan, more efficient and competitive infrastructure is needed to meet the objective of the plan. By 2030 key services such as commercial transport, energy, telcoms and water has to be strengthened to ensure long term sustainability. 91% believe this will not be met.

 

When we consider the skills and experience that are needed to design, build, operate and maintain infrastructure, the low level of confidence exhibited by this survey should be considered in a serious light by government as well as private developers. As to what factor would have the most impact on the profession over the next three years, the economy got the biggest vote at 62%.

 

Investment savvy

 

83% of engineers believed that they are investment savvy, but only 44% had an established plan in place and 51% had a combination of financial products, so only 5% have no structured financial plan in place. On work/life balance, 50% consider it as average while 33% said good and 13% said poor.

Overall, what can we conclude from this survey? It is accrued from the top levels of the profession who give the government and policy a distinct negative vote. How else is the country going to tackle the challenge of economic growth with the belief that so much engineering talent is being misused?

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That was the year that was

Posted By Chris Reay, Monday, 05 December 2016

As we come to the end of another year, we must reflect on its having been a bad year in many respects.

The engineering profession has seen unparalleled demise of jobs across the board. Mass retrenchments under section 189 rules have effected most of the large employers. The radical decline in new projects is evident. It has demonstrated the impact that our mining industry’s demise has had on the whole downstream industry.

We are stuck in a hiatus of no growth, unclear policies and government more concerned with political agendas than real demonstrable action to get the economy moving. The protests affecting higher education are a major worry as the effects on education and graduation of students is having a significant impact on professions. We now wait to see what the outcome of the review by the ratings agencies will be.

Employment has taken a knock and disposable income as well. The emergence of entrepreneurial activities is being suppressed by lack of funding for SMEs at a time when we need this to drive new business.

Raw materials

It does however appear that commodities are showing promise again which we hope will ramp up the projects in mining and processing. Can manufacturing get a leg up from this as it limps along at ever decreasing outputs?

I do believe that a Trump government will see some positive effects on the demand for materials for the projected infrastructure programme in the USA which should have a role for our raw materials. This is what we should have been doing with the NDP which has been stillborn since 2012 and only now getting some attention to address our infrastructure needs.

It shows how rapidly the economic recession has transformed the country. I reflect back on as recently as 2014 when the profession was actively deliberating and planning the solutions for the scarce skills agenda. That has terminated as we now contemplate how to get our existing skills employed.

Backlog

The registration of Engineers, Technologist and Technicians has overcome the backlog and extended waiting times at ECSA. We now need to concentrate on developing our Mentor force using the material in the PDP. This will form a major part of SAIMechE training in 2017.

Funding for the PDP programme is now available from the SETAS. There are plans to develop an online webinar based support programme on the PDP which should, in particular, facilitate the requirements of trainees who are located remotely.

This being the last edition for 2016, may I take the opportunity of wishing all members a restful December and a prosperous new year.

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Reinvention and change in personal development

Posted By Chris Reay, Wednesday, 19 October 2016
When the economy is down and fortunes are being decimated, there seems to be a purpose in pursuing personal development to enable us to change from the old normal routines to develop a new ‘normal’.
 
One which is created via our own inspiration and desire to change by seeking new goals and personal
practices. There are a variety of change agents providing guidance and assistance in this challenge and it makes sense to scan the market to locate the content that suits your own aims. Over the years I have studied a number of self-development books and videos and attended many interactive sessions.
 
On reflection, the weakness in achieving the outcomes is largely my own inconsistency in following the well-scripted content and following on keeping up the basics that apply to any new development. It’s so easy to resort to business as usual.
 
One of my favourite gurus whom I follow when it comes to the basics is Jim Rohn who makes a lot of sense. He starts with personal development defined by very practical approaches that essentially cover focusing on developing self-discipline. He follows logic reinforced with reason: life and business is like the changing seasons. You cannot change this ebb and flow but you can manage the process.
 
How many Members of our profession pursue the challenge of personal development as distinct from traditional CPD or technical courses? Do we set goals and have them drive our behaviour? Do we get trapped by economic necessity and settle for existence rather than substance? Perhaps we should include in the CPD curriculum some personal development content which should enhance the processes we use to perform our work and achieve a goal mindset.
 
This approach is being used increasingly by the purveyors of entrepreneurial training and development
programmes and their adoption should be encouraged by many starting out on a new career. The process lends itself to mentoring and should be included in the training curricula for mentors in guiding
the learnings for the 11 outcomes.
 
Is this a topic we should address in some of our forums?

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Emerging changes in the mining industry

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 11 October 2016

A noticeable movement has been occurring in the mining capex industry which is focusing on the diversification of product lines, maintenance and life of current products and training of resources to achieve these new objectives. This is also being reinforced by expanding the local SA market into Africa.

With the shortage of capital plaguing the market, this make sense. Situations are arising where suppliers are providing fulltime permanent staff to maintain and service the equipment on site to, for example, supply the compressed air requirements for whole site with senior Engineers Technicians and Technologist as part of the on-going site team.

Similar refurbishment processes are occurring in the field of adding wear resistant surfaces by metal spraying into worn components resulting in a high grade of surface protection on plant which is otherwise fully reusable.

Electra Mining displayed some novel new development in situ maintenance illustrating the approach
to asset recovery and re-use. The concept of clustering of similar industries is happening where like-mined suppliers cooperate to provide missing gaps in the supply chain from their collective capabilities which assists in being competitive with overseas suppliers.

A further area of development is occurring in the rental market for specific equipment such as pumping where collective suppliers can make available tailor made solutions for clients on a rental basis across a wide range of water or pumping related options encompassing mining, municipal, marine, residential requirements and disaster relief applications.

Some 40,000 visitors attended the exhibition and the standard visitors was exceptional, and there were over 800 exhibitors on display. It has been the largest specialised exhibition in Africa since 1972.

We can only hope that it raises the bar for the industry in SA and north of us together with the innovative new work being developed in the profession.

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Could we have a revived gold and silver era?

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 23 August 2016

One can hope that the predicted pending implosion of the world currencies and monetary system will create a flight to gold and silver which, if SA plays its cards right, should reinvigorate our mining industry. Predictions of the gold and silver prices rising by multiples emanate from their obvious roles as a safe havens more than as a base for currencies, although that remains an option. No one really can predict the future monetary model. The world has never had the massive issuing of currency by central banks, politely known as Quantative Easing (QE), and negative interest rates before, so there are no precedents. There is an odd and worrying counter play between deflation and hyper-inflation looming.

The number of views as to what this all means and what the results will be are as diverse as those making predictions. Suffice it to say that overriding aspect remains undisputed: the massive debt burden that the global governments and the public are carrying, effectively debiting the credit cards of the next generation. QE has in effect just kicked the can down the road and is postponing the pain of reset that should have occurred after the 2008 crash. The eventual reset would likely mean the collapse of much of the central banking system and debt write-off .

Let’s hope we can get the gold and silver mining industry going again along the lines of its former glory. Would mechanised methods be used, and can we create a sustainable all-stakeholder structure that includes safe mining practices, well rewarded Miners, decent living conditions, treated mine water, associated and supported industries such as agriculture and localised manufacture, and cooperative unions?

Studying the current developments by Sibanye Gold gives one a real level of confidence that this can be achieved. If Sibanye ‘s model can be successful at the current gold price, imagine the opportunities if the price goes near the projections of US$ 5000 per oz and silver maintains its price ratio with gold.

Clearly this is not in the Treasury plans to get this growth going in SA, but it could emerge by default as a windfall from the stressed global economy. But assuming this works, then we must ensure that it becomes the enabler for both the traditional and new downstream industries that have always been the hallmark of the SA mining industry.

A big challenge is the investment required to revamp the mines under close-out or care. Can the vast resources of retained funds by investment funds and industry be a source of this financing? After all mining feeds the very industries that would be involved.

The reverse flow of skilled and experienced engineering resources referred to in last month’s leader article continues and is witnessed daily. Thee is still no evidence of serious activity in the National Development Plan (NDP) and the 19 Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPs). If the Minister and the group from the private sector really want to do something effective, surely this must be one of the growth goals? There are so many competent resources on the market that one would wish to see actively involved in managing the SIPs rather than scouring the industry for new jobs.

With the encouraging shift in the political balance following the municipal elections, will we see some active realisation by government that their neglect of the economy becomes evident to them?

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Employment bloodbath

Posted By Chris Reay, Monday, 11 July 2016

If we thought the 2008 crisis was bad, it appears that 2016 is going to be worse. The metrics are scary. In summary, the normal net flow of resources is from the candidate market to the employer. The net current flow is the reverse of this with noticeable movement from the mining, EPCM, EPC, consultants, manufactures and many contractors and suppliers of goods and services. Official projections of GDP growth for this year now hover between 0,1 and 0,5%. It is evident that the bleeding is getting worse.

When one contemplates the growth rate targeted in the National Development Plan in 2012, it was to be 5% pa for the next few years -10 to 50 times the current rate! Much good was work done then by various groups to estimate the scarce skills that we would need to find to provide a basis for a development strategy. This motivated the implementation of training and mentoring models for new local feedstock and the seeking of specialists to supplement many of the specific roles. I however harboured deep suspicions that, ignoring the impact of the global recession here, SA would not get into implementing the NDP in any effective form and I have been proved right. It was naïve to have expected anything else from the ANC government. Action has never followed the reams of plans that have been hatched at great cost, only to lie fallow in the offices of incompetent bureaucracy. Now we have no money to invest. Much goes to bloated public service salaries and over inflated tender awards (corruption). The NDP would have at least triggered some velocity of money, confidence and employment.

This a time when many will take a hard look at the essentials of retirement planning or even, if that has been activated, the many strategies that have failed to keep up with the realities of changing demographics. How many of those early policies taken out at the time one started working are now worthless as a result of inflation and the influences of the broker who persuaded you it was in your interest to change to another policy more likely to broker advantage? Or with the trends of life, when work opportunities were abundant, one could shift jobs, get better remuneration, live it up more but fail to save or build an investment that actually grew in real terms? Retirement is in a crisis. Most funds are classic Ponzi schemes: new entrants needed to pay for those at the top end or the fund fails. Do we have enough young entrants for this structure?

How has the employed class been affected by the structure of the financial, and in particular, the fiat based central banking systems that have indulged in the promotion of debt based credit? This mechanism starts to explain the evident shift in political behavior: the emergence of the middle and lower-paid class in moving to the right, effectively giving the middle finger to the establishment: the rapid rise of what I believe will be called the Trump and Sanders movements in the USA in which Trump had the most primary phase votes in American history after he, as a new entrant to the field, defeated 16 of the established Washington politicians; and the Brexit action in Europe giving notice to the EU Commission that is unaccountable to the taxpayers and indulges in a command performance. It’s the gatvol syndrome at work.

The protests in SA are a similar notice by the electorate: they are fed up with watching the wealth rise to the political elites and big business at the expense of their own livelihoods. Mayors of poorly run municipalities earning R2 million-plus annual salaries (and no doubt some attractive kickbacks as well) is a blatantly overpaid politically motivated item. What qualifications do they have to oversee the expected built environment functions of the Councils? Unqualified cadres are employed in engineering roles, and the infrastructure collapses.

Engineering resources will always be needed to build the country. Perhaps we need an “Engineering Party” to make the right noises in Parliament. Until some real changes occur to the Mines and Minerals, Act, the Labour and BEE Acts for starters, SA is not going to grow to meet any semblance of wealth generation.

However, with the world of work changing so rapidly, the entrepreneur and small businesses are going to have to be supported with a reduced regulatory system. Economic freedom, but not the EFF way.

We have so much engineering talent in the retired age group that has the experience to train and mentor young entrants to the profession. With employment in reverse, it isn’t happening.

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Becoming Informed About Tomorrow's Jobs

Posted By Anisa Nanabhay, Digital Communication Specialist, Monday, 27 June 2016
Updated: Thursday, 30 June 2016

It is not often that I make use of content created by others. My excuse for occasionally doing so is to believe that so much good information misses us here. To remain at least partially discreet, I believe that using one article is plagiarism, but combining a few is research. Below is an interesting perspective on the development of future engineering careers, a combined creation of a number of views taken mainly from IEEE USA’s Today’s Engineer, to whom acknowledgement is given, and to some extent a distillation of my own.

At the start of the year, many of us speculate on what the next 365 days will bring, and analyze what impact these speculations might have on our careers and personal lives. No one can predict the future, but those who make the effort to become informed will be more successful than those who do not. The career-savvy individual must scan the world continuously, seeking out information from a variety of sources. Past Today's Engineer articles have dealt with various strategies and techniques for doing this and are available in the Today’s Engineer archives. From information gathering, intuition, history and experience, patterns will emerge that may provide insight into how to manage your life. 

What do futurists see as some of the emerging trends? The ''eco-economy'' will create new career opportunities in technologies, processes and services that are environmentally friendly and economically sustainable. Renewable energy and conservation/recycling projects will be employment growth areas, as will be biotechnology and nanotechnology. In addition, increasing workplace diversity will require all employees to be respectful of other nationalities and cultures. Digitization is evolving rapidly across all functions.

Continuing education will be the norm for all workers and will create additional opportunities for older, part-time learners. Employees will market themselves virtually as individual goods and services providers to employers locally, nationally and internationally, as Internet use and telecommuting options grow. Further, employers will use the Internet as their primary tool to find the most qualified employees, and employees will seek out and apply for jobs on the web. Professionals will blend skills from two or more disciplines to create new professions. Service industries and professional specialty occupations will grow as well. Finally, as health and wellness continue to become more popular, so, too, will career choices in such areas as recreation, nutrition and the design of healthier homes and workplaces. The more knowledgeable you are, the more successful you will become in life and your career.

Hence the importance of the process of the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme being required by ECSA here in RSA for our Engineering resources to qualify for on-going registration, recognition and ultimately sustained competence.

Despite the difficulty in making the decision, more people are making significant career changes and in addition are moving jobs more frequently. However, it is possible to make a career change and remain in the wrong career. This happens to those who don't use a good method to manage the change. There are many articles posted on the internet providing processes to guide this.

Engineering degrees are now increasingly being touted as stepping stones to other professions. IEEE-USA Today’s Engineer points out that engineering graduates automatically have a foundation that can be applied to most other professions. Engineering graduates have usable knowledge in mathematics, physics, chemistry, software, humanities, English, speech, social studies, history and economics as well as in engineering, giving them more breadth and depth of knowledge than most other disciplinary educations.

That diversity can help engineering graduates migrate to other professions, such as medicine, law, business management, and computer science.

The current economic recession in SA is threatened to persist as long as we cannot find any growth initiatives to replace the dependence we had on mining and commodities sold in the raw state with little beneficiation. Many of the engineering resources that have developed in that industry and its downstream businesses will be forced to consider new directions.

As engineering as a discipline is probably the most adaptable skill world-wide due to its scientific basis (the rules of science are the same everywhere), so our own Engineers will need to keep up to date and become global. It clearly is now a knowledge world.

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Can the Engineering profession create an urgent, united front movement?

Posted By Chris Reay, Thursday, 19 May 2016
SA must have more government plans gathering dust in state offices that any other country. The problem is that it seems to be where they remain. Any action or implementation does not appear to follow. The classic case must be the National Development Plan which largely consists of projects that create the built environment, the natural habitat of the engineering and project management professions.

It is now well known that the capacity of what we call the Owners’ Teams is lacking in skills and experience and positions are largely filled with cadre appointments. It is also a project management reality that if the Owner’s Team is deficient, the project will fail in meeting deliverables, programme and budget. In our case it does not get off the starting blocks and is thwarted by incompetence, political indecision, lack of policy, red tape, bureaucracy and now evidently corruption in high places.

In our professional community there exists a skilled and experienced engineering, project management, contract management and artisan resource that could collectively make a sea change impact on managing the projects in the NDP from Owners’ Teams to operations and maintenance if only the system would permit this to happen.

It of course depends on the availability of funding which, way back in 2012, was meant to be used to get the 18 strategic infrastructure projects going. We get told that funding is in short supply whilst the politicians speak of an enormously expensive 9600 megawatt nuclear programme that will at the time, if and when it ever transpires with our record of project "successes” (Medupi, Kusile and the Durban Jhb pipeline spring to mind), it will be vying with the future massive development of PPP based renewable energy projects that will shift the whole power game.

This is a challenge to the Council for the Built Environment (CBE) and the Voluntary Engineering Associations (VAs): why can you not all get together on an urgent mission to put the case bluntly to government: either you use us, or you abuse us by our non-involvement in turning the SA economy around in management and execution of infrastructure development. This must include the training of new resources into the profession on these projects so that they are competent to take up the baton from the ageing centre of gravity of the profession. Whether we believe it or not, the era of the baby boomers provides the experience for the engineering skills in SA.

If this movement was sufficiently evident and effective, it could be brought to the notice of the rating agencies in an attempt to show we mean business in using our capacity to actually do something worthwhile. If we wait for the predicted decline to junk status and possible eventual appeal to the IMF, be warned: the IMF are a nasty bunch and will make demands that could drive any remaining self-respecting professional from SA.

We are simply watching the economy decline into a comatose state. It is time that the President’s Forum as a start addressed this matter with vigour and intent.

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Delusions of grandeur

Posted By Chris Reay, Wednesday, 13 April 2016
I decided for some masochistic reason to take a look at the National scarce skills list - top 100 
occupations in demand that was gazetted for public comment on 24 April 2014. There was considerable energy spent at the time (from 2012) during which this list was compiled involving various voluntary groups assembling at workshops to find a sensible way to construct such a list. After many meetings and refinements, the documents were submitted to the Minister who promptly asked for comment from the persons who had compiled the report! That seemed pretty pointless as the onus was then on the Ministry and the DHET to come forth with suggested solutions to enable the recommendations of the report to be implemented. Predictably, it lies in limbo, no doubt gathering dust with all the other reports that have been the result of studious research and plain hard work.

According to the SONA in 2012, the President announced that over the next three years SA would spend R840 billion on the 18 SIPs projects making up much of the early part of the National Development Plan (2010-2030). Well, fast forward from 2012 to 2016. Any signs of progress? At the time they were announced we asked what metrics are to be used to measure the progress of projects against the plan.

Clearly we seem not need them as it is intuitively evident that not much has happened. More recently the Phakisa maritime development programme was announced and so far, looking at the planned deliverables, not much is evident there either.

What is it that drives this national characteristic to have endless indabas, conferences, issuance of plans, green, white and all colours of papers that results in nothing actually being actioned? The Durban to Gauteng pipeline is years overdue and has escalated from an initial cost of R9 billion to R23 billion, and nowhere near complete. Look at Medupi and Kusile - enough said.

There seems to be one apparent factor that pervades all these projects as well as countless late or failed municipal and provincial projects : the quality of the Owner’s team. If the Owner’s team is deficient, one can rest assured that the project will be a failure.

If we consider the renewables projects, they seem to have generally been successful. However, the
technologies have been developed overseas and proven in similar environmental circumstances. They are essentially procure and construct, hardly placing much load on the local management knowledge and initiative.

With the current expectation of a nuclear development with generation 3 reactors do we really think we can produce any better results than our national projects are achieving now? Concern over the impact of corruption on this programme is real based on the endemic status that corruption has acquired in this country on so many big cap projects.

Our gazetted scarce skills top 100 list covers about every engineering discipline we have. It is fascinating that the Ministry has targeted "30,000 additional Engineers by 2014”. The list is still stuck in a 2014 time warp as no further dated actions are evident following its publication for comment.

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Will gold shine again?

Posted By Chris Reay, Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Updated: Wednesday, 09 March 2016

Studying the current state of the world economy following, amongst other effects, the end of the commodity cycle, there is a growing concern that the worlds’ currencies, which have since 1913 been effectively fiat based (ie no value backing such as gold), will eventually collapse. Historically currencies do this. The US Dollar as the world’s reserve currency might remain the strongest of the lot until there is the impact of deflation and hyper-inflation resulting from the quantitative easing with fiat currency.

Ultimately, it is all a result of the debt based currency systems which have been manipulated to create the biggest debt bubble in the history of money and currencies. Anyone interested in the impact this is having on world trade should look up the Baltic Dry Index records. It is a very interesting metric that measures the shipping movements between continents. It is at the lowest index level in its history.

Out of most misfortune one hopes for the glimmer of positivity. In the current economic saga is the possibility that there will be a replacement world reserve currency that would be based on a value backing, and the most obvious is gold. Silver may have its role as well.

Some protagonists of this are predicting a massive hike in the gold price. Two interesting issues are evident. China is buying large quantities of gold, and the USA banking system and Fed are doing their best to suppress the price. Gold is no longer following the commodities index and going its own way.

SA does not have any perceptible agenda on the table, let alone observable action, to get economic growth going to uplift the rate of wealth generation and make an impact on the rating agencies. Would the rise in the gold price to such an extent happen such that it provides acceptable margins above the cost of recovery in a stable manner and be an option to get our gold mines going as before so as to help a bit?

It is of concern that we are losing, and have lost, a significant number of our experienced resources including Mining Engineers who have in the past managed our gold mining industry. We see them leaving the industry: retiring, leaving the country or moving in to other careers. From our historic role as number one we are way down now, not sure where.

For one hundred years SA has effectively grown its economy based on mining and commodities. The investment into that has almost ceased. Have we learnt anything from history that should have prepared us for the end of that boom, and undertaken development of other industries?

The NDP has proven to be stillborn and the excitement created in 2012 on the need to train up skilled resources to enable us to build the SIPs has waned into a dilemma that we now have surplus skills and no projects. It appears we have no funding for them now.

Did anyone have any confidence in the budget speech and its rhetoric? I did not. If I had not known we have a serious economic recessionary environment on our hands, I could have believed it was a business-as-usual budget. Do you really believe that government will cut back on the blue label and the top of the range Mercs? Please, where is the real strategy to create growth?

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An appreciation of the contribution by John Walmsley

Posted By Chris Reay, Wednesday, 09 March 2016

Our long serving Members will recall the articles written each month by John Walmsley who for many years was a member of one of the SAIMechE’s specialist groups, The SA Institution of Nuclear Engineers which operated as a branch of the UK body.

John passed away in October last year with complications arising from asbestos exposure in his early days. It is suspected that it could be a result of working with the type of piping insulation used in power stations.

John qualified as Nuclear Physicist in England prior to joining Eskom where he played a major role in the nuclear department and in the Koeberg Project.

John had a very visionary view on the role of nuclear power which was the main content of his regular articles, expressed in his skillful and erudite manner. He was an excellent writer, the quality of which was commented on by most readers. Writing a regular feature for a monthly journal with its unforgiving deadlines is a major commitment, especially when done as a free service and when it becomes an element of the publication that readers turn to with great expectation.

John saw a definite role for nuclear power in the SA mix but certainly not in the magnitude as currently identified by government. Disappointed at the closure of the PBMR project, he hoped that other developments in nuclear would emerge of the same scale. With his background in nuclear physics he was able to give some in-depth evaluation on the various technologies that are available and that are being researched and tested at present.

John was involved on promoting and encouraging the development of engineering resources for a future nuclear programme and had addressed many aspects of this including the following:

  • Promoting teaching, research and innovation capacity in South African Universities in strategic areas in the nuclear field
  • Facilitating nuclear skills development through skills transfer programs as part of technology acquisition from local and international suppliers
  • Creating a continuous pipeline of high school learners into the nuclear industry
  • Developing a critical research and skills base to support the nuclear programme

John retired to Fishhoek with his wife Susan and was a regular player at the Clovelly Golf Club. We had some memorable sessions quaffing good wine at the Waterfront pondering over the state of nuclear in SA and the issue of having the local SA branch of the UK Institution becoming an independent SA Institution which in fact did never materialize.

John will be remembered as having a sense of notable intellectual humour. His contribution to the SA Mechanical Engineer was significant.

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