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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 

When demand is down

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 26 January 2016

When the economy recedes, there is a temptation to cut back on any activities that appear superfluous although in any business there should really not be any, unless they are intentionally provided to buffer the business constraint. I guess it becomes evident that when business is bad, the constraint is deemed to be in the market. That being the case, it makes strategic sense to subordinate other activities to that constraint by elevating the resource loading in marketing and sales.

Such subordination could include training up other line persons in the organization to find a supporting role in sales. Sales training should be an existing function in any organisation so the sales team could be extended to include these resources.

What about marketing, which is strictly the identification of opportunities, where sales is the exploitation of them? It is often said that everyone should be a sales person for one’s employer. Involving the rest of the team in the marketing and sales strategy can generate a lot of unexpected new options and get the spirit and drive going across the organisation.

A recent global survey, which included SA, revealed that in these slack economic times, the number of employees actively searching for a new job increases noticeably. In the case of sample SA, the results showed that more than 4 in 10 employees were seeking new positions, and our statistics indicate that this is higher than the global average by some 16%. The quarterly shift is particularly evident.

The expectation (following the big strikes and the commodity price collapse) for retrenchments in the industries affected by mining investments has been borne out dramatically. The impact on the value chain from capital investment in new mines all the way through EPCM, EPC, Consulting Engineers, main contractors, suppliers to the small business providing nuts and bolts, is a harsh reality. It becomes even more stark when we realise that SA was effectively built and developed on mining for the last 100 years.  Thus the need for radical strategy shift is urgent. A big, new marketing and sales challenge.

Essential to this is the need to define, locate and employ the human capital to operate the business. All business is doing it, but not well. My own research with many industries over some years on identifying the constraint in the business shows that there is an overwhelming belief that it exists in the lack of having the right people in the right place at the right time. This is almost a no-brainer. In my own, and in the opinion of many in the industry, is that the current process of recruitment is flawed and has been usurped by the role of HR. HR should focus and interact on the internal resources and keep them happy or at least find out what makes them tick. That might then reduce the frequency of the look-elsewhere-and-lose-staff syndrome. Recruitment is a different process requiring different skills, tools, databases, market knowledge and expertise, especially in engineering.

Until management addresses the human resource constraint with processes that protect and elevate the constraint, things will not change. It should be seen as a strategic issue at board level. It will simply be more of the same. Delays, lack of knowledge within the recruitment process, poor selection in terms of environmental/cultural fit into the organization will continue. In the days when the line spoke directly to the recruiter that understood their business, appointments were faster, better and more permanent. At least in engineering. I know, I have been on both sides. However, too much emphasis is placed on finding the perfect fit at below market value, and too little on the need for induction and mentoring in the new role. The metrics of selection are outdated and mostly inaccurate. A good start is so often messed up with poor internal conflict and dubious management skills. Hence the high turnover rate.

We are finding that matching by functional auditing is breaking the mold and needs to be seriously considered by management.

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Entropic creep revisited

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 08 December 2015

A complex factory and a teeming metropolis combined, busily devoted to constructing, repairing and maintaining its systems to ensure that it delivers its support to the mega system. A frenzy of electrical energy that, if scaled up to visible dimensions, would represent the energy of a lightning strike. It works to a plan that all parts understand is part of the grand architecture”.

 

What is being described here is a living cell, of which you typically have some 10,000 trillion in your body. And as long as you are alive, they are all working pretty well. They work hard to ensure that your energy and survival remain at a sustained level. In another way one could conclude that the system entropy remains low as there is normally no degradation until we actually expire. Even then, at atomic level, the parts rush off to work elsewhere.

 

While the body collective is at work, it will be receiving energy in the form of sustenance to feed the cells. As long as we feed in sufficient energy, we will get work output. If we overwork and take out of the system more than we put in, the active system will die.

 

In this exercise we will assume that the system is the SA economy with all its persons acting as the cells, the actions of which should be planned by a cohesive design to create the energy such that its consumption is less that its production. That design would be the rules and practices set up by those in the role of having been elected to do so. The problem arises when the architecture is flawed and fails to provide a net energy growth by suitable conversion.

 

This is a long way round, couched in technical speak, that implies that the model in question is running out of money and all indications are evident that it will do so within the next 2 to 3 years. The intervening circumstances however will be horrendous.

 

We need a built environment to provide the right conditions for the people to generate the energy (wealth) to sustain the system. We as a nation are in serious trouble with the deterioration in the number and type of projects that build the economy. Engineered projects are not happening. The commodities base of the historic economy is dying, if not already dead, and the downstream activities are starved of action including the EPCM, EPC, contractor, supplier and service roles that have been the backbone of the SA economy for 100 years. We are witnessing more retrenchments in our measured scarce resources than take-ons. The result is scary to watch and many facing the situation are seeking opportunity outside SA. Our own policy makers seem to believe it is all the global economy’s fault and wallow in their comfort while the citizens face accelerating hardship of unemployment and despair. If we ever, by some magical formulation, reverse the rot and start to provide a growth path, we will then, like an ironic twist, face the biggest skills’ scarcities ever. We do not have the project environment to enable our young engineering resources to train and gather experience. Thus the centre of gravity of the useful, experienced resources is perceptibly now in the 50-70 age group who we must utilise as Mentors and Coaches for the younger resources. But where are the projects?

 

What can we as the engineering intellectuals of SA do about this? For decades we warned about the electricity crisis and have been doing so about the water situation and lack of infrastructure maintenance which is now emerging as predicted. It was ignored. How do we get the message of entropic creep into the minds of government? We know it is probably beyond their comprehension to understand anything with a thermodynamic flavour which is why we endeavour to provide “simple” analogies.

 

Foreign investor attitude is changing: billions of dollars that were directed into our shares and bonds over the past two decades are being withdrawn. When the tax base revenue declines below the endemic ability of the government to spend on so much non-productive activities, we will of necessity have to go cap in hand to the IMF. That will change the rules of the game by force.

 

Try messing with the proven mechanisms of a living cell. It is usually catastrophic.

 

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Do we have a Trump card?

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 08 December 2015

I have been watching with interest the nomination process that is happening in the USA particularly with the Republican Party bun fight for their nominee. The debates are prolific with typical political innuendo and the desire to try to convince the public to accept each partys’ policies or attempts to have any. A rather grey bunch of the inevitable professional political candidates all seeking to make a living off the taxpayer by being elected to a nice paid position without ever really having to get any action to meet the word.

One exception has emerged in the person of Donald Trump. This has caused a great deal of anxiety in the ranks of the republicans and it seems Democratic Party as well. A number of reasons have caught the voters notice; he is not a politician being sponsored and influenced by election funding from future lobbyists and superPACs, he is self-funding his campaign, he has proven he is a successful businessman, he employs thousands of people including legal status Hispanics, and he is the only candidate who has raised the matter of illegal immigrants and bringing jobs back to the USA.   He has adopted a campaign message stated as “Make America Great Again”. What is striking is that his policies do not align with the traditional republican mandates. He is clearly showing the value of leadership and how desperate the people are for it. He is creating a movement.

The press has displayed its traditional biases but are finding it a challenge to have to accept his domination in the poll results so far. As Trump keeps pointing out in his speeches, the USA has a debt load of nineteen trillion dollars and growing as its trading partners keep having trade deals loaded in their favour. This seems to have missed the notice of all the other candidates. 

What if any message does this have on SA? It is not a trivial indication that the voters are fed up with political inaction and ineptitude. The real concern voters have is lack of jobs. Not too different from our situation. What is striking is that in the recent ANC’s national gathering to review progress and future action, the economy and jobs did not even get onto the 7 item “action” list. 

Daily we watch SA business shrinking into losses, projecting an uncertain future and now retrenching the skilled resources (largely engineering) that formed a major part of the scarce skills lists published (again) following the tabling of the stillborn National Development Plan. The most obvious question is how does SA handle the collapse of the resources and commodities bubble? It really did not effectively participate in the commodities boom since 2008, hamstrung by policy uncertainty, labour strikes and power shortages, so there was little if any funding stored away for the present rainy day. Where is a replacement strategy?

If one follows the logic outlined in RW Johnson’s recent book on “Can South Africa survive?”, it is going to require a very concerted and effective policy and strategy change to get us out of the declining trend which may inevitably go the way of Greece, and possibly going cap in hand to the IMF.

Does SA have a Trump who can get up and take a bold stance against our over politically mandated economy and lead SA out of our mess and into a promised land?

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The implementation of the Professional Development Programme (PDP)

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The global economy is on the decline and that of South Africa is suffering from both that and its own almost endemic ability to mismanage itself into a siege economy where we cannot blame outside influences. We had better get on and dig ourselves out of this hole by adopting policies that have some economic structure in place of the focus on political mandate driven ones that seem to be in the DNA of most emerging African economies.

As Engineers build the environment, and that environment will need to keep being built and maintained, we as a profession cannot contemplate that we will not be needed. It is evident that whatever the growth state of the economy is, engineering resources are always a scarce skill, and whilst one may measure numbers and deny that this is a reality, when it comes to quality, skills and experience, it holds true. Don’t be blinded by cycles, they are fact of life. Of concern however is the growing gap in the age demographics where the rate of retirement from the profession and the lack of commensurate restocking from the entrants to the profession is causing the centre of gravity of available skilled engineering resources to move into the higher end of the age spectrum.

Your Institution over the last three years has developed and beta tested the PDP, and is at a stage where it is ready to move into a productive phase by involving all the necessary players. The goal is to produce professionally registered engineering resources for the economy. SA is still well below the accepted international norms of numbers of engineering resources per head of population, a relevant number if the level of a competitive industrial economy is to be achieved. In meeting this goal, there are a number of necessary conditions (NCs) that have to be in place and all operating at their required level of performance. No goal can be achieved if one or more of those necessary conditions are not in place or working.

The PDP business case has thus identified the following NCs.

  1. An accredited competency standard under the authority of a regulator – the New Registration System (NRS) with ECSA.

  2. Candidate engineering resources – graduates from tertiary institutions that meet the various qualification accords – Washington, Sydney and Dublin.

  3. Employers – providing the workplace environment and supervision roles.

  4. Mentors – registered and trained (by SAIMechE) in the application and facilitation of the NRS.

  5. Money – to fund the training and mentoring activities required by the candidate. SETA and any other funding to pay Mentors to facilitate cells of candidates.

  6. A curriculum that provides a methods guide to the parties that becomes "the rules of the game” for all parties to follow and which facilitates the processes that meet the needs of the candidates to be able to submit the evidence to the regulatory authority to enable registration.

It therefore must be clear on evaluating the above that if any one (or more) of these is missing or does not perform, then the goal will not be met. Registration is not an end in itself. It should be seen as the recognition of the ability to meet the appropriate competencies defined in the eleven outcomes, but also to provide the successful candidate with a basis of on-going improvement to aspire to meet the challenges of the built environment.

The PDP in fact under its facilitation and guidance, provides the successful candidate with an SAIMechE Certificate of Competence that meets exactly the needs of the NRS for the ECSA submission format.

In this sense, the SAIMechE is trying to be proactive and keep the show going however the economy performs. It is now time for these parties to get in on the act.


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Recruitment is in need of a radical change

Posted By Chris Reay, Friday, 21 August 2015
Recruitment processes have in reality hardly changed since the invention of the CV. The same information is requested, searched for and provided and the processes have only changed with the developments in the speed and access to information and to people. Emails, electronic job boards, social networks, video conferencing and of course the time tested personal networks of peers and the extension into head hunting continue to be the order of the day. Decades of business as usual.

All that has really changed is the speed of the movement of information. The fundamentals of the process have not changed. Advertise in the media, receive applications from candidates, select via CV, sort to a degree with word search, short list, interview, carry out reference checks, qualification checks, decide on the remuneration and make an offer. All being well, the right candidate is selected and starts with your company. Both parties hope that they are well suited and get on together. All usually done in a hurry with too many intervening parties applying a worn out system.

Let’s try to define the goal of recruitment. It should surely be to acquire human resources to optimally provide the talent, skills, productivity and dependability to serve the organisation’s business objectives. 

The use of the word optimally would embrace the overall cost of employment. This therefore includes the costs associated with the hiring process, the remuneration, training, development and other rewards and expenses of the employee. The employee is thus a major part of the business of achieving the throughput of the business.

We hear the repeated cry from employers that the war for talent never ends and frustrates productivity in projects, manufacturing, production and services. Who then ever stops to consider where the constraint exists in the business and what one should do to relieve the constraint? It is evident, that on extensive analysis, the most common business constraint is in the ready availability of skilled resources. This makes sense if the business appreciates that it is the people that enable it to operate.

What then does one do then to relieve the constraint? Subordinate to it, enable it to operate at maximum efficiency and elevate it until it is no longer the constraint. That’s proven TOC (Theory of Constraints) theory and practice that has enabled the advance and competitive advantage of business that apply this internationally to any process.

In recruitment, it’s time for this application. This means applying protection to the constraint by buffering it. If business knows the type of resources that it needs or is going to need in future then why not build a buffer of the type of resources required? How does this work?

Avoid the last minute rush to start the process of locating the typical resources required.  Why not align with a niche resource consultant to build a buffer stock of prescribed types of resources so that when the rush is on either through departure of existing resources, or the need for new capacity for new projects, you can call on the consultant’s known candidate buffer stock who has been working with you, getting to know you and your needs. 

We can add further advances to this. No longer relying only of the same old processes that cannot identify the attributes called for in most job specifications that have no way of being evaluated, in particular the human characteristics such as attitudes, temperaments, emotional intelligence, ethics and motivation for example, replicate the international successes being achieved in utilizing the tools of functional auditing that apply 24 well proven constructs to align the employer profile with that of the candidate. It does not replace the technical attributes, but adds to the success of identifying and retaining new talent with the metrics that really matter. It’s all done on-line by the candidate and has been developed to identify manipulation, impression management and variations from the employer’s "culture” profile that is established prior to the recruitment process. It is not psychometrics which measures against social norms (whatever they are); it enables unique alignment between employer and candidate where it matters. The myth of using technical alignment only in selecting engineering candidates remains and continues to prove its limitations. Technical knowledge can be learnt: intrinsic characteristics don’t change.

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The currency of electronic databases for physical addresses

Posted By Chris Reay, Monday, 27 July 2015

In the days before emails and cell phones it was crucial that one kept one’s physical address and post office address current or one was simply untraceable or able to receive written mail. Landline telephones of course were the obvious and only other mechanism and fax message depended on that facility. It was a norm that if one moved, there was the required attention paid to the physical address, and the telephone book was then invaluable.

It is evident that since the advent of emails, cell phones and now smart phones with multiple messaging options, that keeping physical addresses up to date is really only kept live by the banking systems insisting on having the FICA data but that is normally only updated when the banks call for that.

As long as print is mailed then physical addresses need to be kept current This is an issue that faces the likes of SAIMechE with the magazine, and it suffers from two issues that arise with physical addresses: change that is not notified and the inaccuracy or limited information provided by the Member which results in the item being either returned to sender of dumped at the posted office. Very often outdated or unattended mail boxes are too full to take any more mail. Problems with the efficiency and reliability of the post office itself frequently add to the amount of undelivered mail.

Address databases are renowned to be inaccurate or badly configured. I am at least three separate customers in my bank. Implementing a FICA update for the current account information does not get fed to the other accounts. It would seem that modern configuration management is a foreign practice to most banks as the format for collecting the same data varies across departments, even though the ID number is common.

It is unlikely that physical address accuracy will never be required even with all our advanced electronic communication as some form of hard mail will need to be used. It just seems that the processes for updating the address on a systematic basis is flawed. Updating of mail addresses is invariably left late so that mail continues to go to the previous address. Will GPS via mobile smart phone location ever be able to be a source of this at an accuracy that is dependable? Now that’s an app opportunity.

Let’s look at a specific case. We have about 4000 addresses to which our magazine is sent each month. On average about 5 percent are returned for reasons that the address is incorrect or cannot be located due to paucity of detail.

The best way we can keep up to date with addresses of Members is to request a regular email feedback on the receipt of the Torque newsletter on a prescribed format with the option to tick “no change” to keep it simple.

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Self-drive cars

Posted By Chris Reay, Wednesday, 24 June 2015

An up and coming hot topic is the emergence of the reality of self-drive cars. The general reaction is to respond that they will and could not ever work as a norm. But we have seen many crazy ideas that were originally conceived in science fiction or futuristic insights that have become a reality. Take the wrist watch worn by James Bond or the communication between the car Kit in the Knightrider series. 

Some exuberant investment advisors are predicting that the technology behind self-drive cars will be the next big one in the order of the smart phone or even the internet. In their space they are trying to attract investors at the early incubation stage to invest before the technology matures. It will depend on very sophisticated processors interacting with sensors and then with the mechanical and electrical 
functions of the vehicle so the role of the engineer will remain crucial in this development. I particular it would seem that Mechatronics Engineering will have a massive future added to by the growing dependence on robotics and mechanized replacement of manual labour.

Fast forwarding to the future when the self-drive car becomes the norm does raise some interesting 
questions and issues. What does the driver actually do? I guess one sets the destination data up via the GPS and hits the start button and that’s it. Sit back and take it easy or would one distrust the system and sit back in a state of anxious stress that the car will not avoid another person-driven vehicle behaving like a normal Cape Town driver does when in a state of road rage or plain impatience. 

It would seem that the best situation would be when all cars are self-drive and no people are involved in the process. What then are the risks? What if the power system (battery) fails?  A low level warning should bring the car to a gentle stop in a safe parking area identified on the route map.  Some form of protection against manual override by a frustrated driver must be implemented who would otherwise create the necessary but irritating avoiding action by the smart self-drive cars nearby.

Let’s however consider all the advantages. On the assumption that going physically to the office is still a requirement i.e. virtual offices have not eliminated this need, then imagine settling into the car with 
one’s digital equipment (very smart phones and tablets) and working on some productive activity instead of getting impatient with the traffic or cursing the traffic cop that saw you using the phone at the wheel. And if the cop does stop the car or the camera records an over-speed, then should the ticket be made out to the processor for an error in judgment for not observing the speed sign via visual sign reading? Most likely there will not be any traffic cops as everything will be via electronic communication cameras and digital records. A fine notice comes up on your vehicle screen.

The real benefit will be for the pubs, nightclubs, house, parties etc where one will not have to worry about a sober driver or being caught by the breathalyzer. Simply jump in, grab one for the road and off you go safely into your garage where the gate and door all open in advance of your arrival through intelligent programming sent out by the car as it arrived. Booze industry, watch this space. Maybe another good investment would be shares in SAB. 

And of course all these smart self-drive cars will be electric powered with advanced battery technology 
where the batteries can double up as home energy storage on a swop out basis. And all charged by one’s own solar system, but still connected to the main grid in order to both draw from the system or feed back into it. I actually fancy this era. All made by Engineers.

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Ode to the SA economy

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Was Shakespeare’s Macbeth reflecting on our Alliance style economy…?.

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

          And then there is Shakespeare’s Hamlet, on contemplation….     

To BEE, or not to BEE - that is the question: 
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer 
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune 
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, 
And by opposing, end them.

A brief analysis of records of the power strategy set up in the late 90s illustrates how, what appeared to be a well-structured and integrated plan, simply fell apart. Of significance is the complete lack of achievement to privatise a growing proportion of generation and distribution via IPPs, a situation now being forced on the system out of survival. The strategy to implement the REDs was abandoned. Then add the decision to cancel the PBMR, which if pursued with the same vigorous focus of the synfuels, uranium enrichment and arms development projects under sanctions, could have placed SA as global leaders in small nuclear plant. The planned completion of the additional 2 coal plants has not been met. 

The availability of the existing installed capacity dropped from the earlier 80-90% to 50-60%. Planned maintenance was neglected. Eskom now has a funding crisis. It has failed to provide for replacement of assets. And now it is limiting the ability of the economy to grow. All in all, a dismal record of failure of the government and Eskom. Forget excuses, apartheid etc. It's the sheer incompetence and poor management to execute their own plans. Too much has not been achieved to be anything else. We had the experience and skills, but politics overcame pragmatism. I repeat what I said some weeks ago: things are done by people: better people do things better. When will this change?

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How about some innovation and action on the energy crisis?

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 26 May 2015

I believe that the real crisis in our base load system has not yet been reached, and the inevitable worst case scenario is to come if the period over the next 10 years is analysed. If we make an assumption (as naive as this may be), and the economy grows over the next 10 years at an average of 3% per annum, then the demand on the installed base load system will grow by 34% by 2015. If the effective available base load now is 40GW, we will need to add some 14GW capacity but that is only on the assumption that the existing fleet of units does not suffer incremental attrition through ageing and hard running that stresses the system over its design limits. 

But let’s look at the equations on the assumption that in this period Medupi and Kusile actually come on line and add 9,6 GW,  and the oldest of the 6-packs now running meet their end of useful life. The net gain would be say 2,5GW capacity. The chances are, over the next 10 years, that more attrition is likely. 

In the event that say 12GW of new base load capacity is needed, this is equivalent to 2,5 new Medupis or 6 Koebergs. We know that SA cannot build Medupis very well – so far double the initial cost and 4 years late with just the first unit. So don’t let’s kid ourselves that we will just hurry up building some new six-pack fossil stations, and the likelihood of 6 Koebergs or the equivalent in nuclear would take a minimum of 12 years for the first unit to be ready. Add to this the dismal record of state planning and financial control, and we can envisage the scale of the challenge ahead. It simply is not possible to quickly correct 20 years of perpetual erroneous thinking and insufficient action. A necessary condition would be the affordability given that SA is currently near junk investment status.

With the commodities market in decline and on which SA has historically depended via foreign investment in mining, we have to realise that unless we jack up manufacturing and are competitive in world trading, we are heading for what could be national bankruptcy. 

The current climate makes us more risk averse than ever. How innovative can we be? Some ideas.

If any funding for another fossil station is ever available, rather re-direct it to providing solar water 
heating and PV panels for every home in SA. Invest in the best PV panel, solar water unit, battery and 
grid inter-connect device factories with the best technologies that can take all low-order water heating 
i.e. hot water geysers out of the base load system, enable the PV panels to work both on-line back-feed to the grid and charging of the batteries complete in a one-stop package with inverters, switching etc. 

Train up Engineer and Technician teams to be able to install, commission and maintain the complete 
system. Do it all on a massive scale with private sector skills and sufficient competitive organisations as was done with the wind and solar farms. The technology must have SABS certification to avoid the 
bandits in it for the quick kill. This will require constructing an attractive long term cost to the user with 
the capital cost being tied to the asset value of the home via a structured debt note that stays with the
home or building. 

The incentives can be seen as the horrific on-going cost of Eskom-provided electrical energy, the stability of the returns that are associated with the mortgage instruments, and a base charge that is offset by lower consumption of high price electricity for low order energy use. 

Who then knows when electric car fever will hit SA? Could we take a leaf out of Elon Musk’s USA initiatives – SolarCity and Tesla, and if possible, license their technology? Tesla has, and is developing, a battery based on their current market leading Lithium-ion  pack design, to be provided to homes together with the solar energy systems, and where the car batteries, once they lose their initial high energy density, can be used for home use. So material sustainability is also achieved.

If a smart South African can go to the USA, invent and build SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity, then come on guys, what are we doing about solving our SA challenges? And ours are not even rocket science which SpaceX certainly is. We tend to spend too much time looking for reasons ideas won’t work and playing the blame game.

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What's going on at Eskom?

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Does Eskom really want to remove 1081 white engineering resources and 2149 white Artisans from its employ to meet BEE tick box requirements while it faces the challenge of getting its assets working at a desired level of reliability? Does it think this is a valid idea in the face of a 10 year, at least, history of its assets declining in availability to the point where it has to load shed to keep it from a potential domino collapse through inability to meet demand? It is beyond comprehension that with its deplorable record of project management on the new projects and questionable operational integrity eg Majuba and Duvha events, that it can consider shedding experience and skills (of any colour) until it can convince me and any other citizen that depends on electrical energy that it has an answer to the graphic and metrics below.

 

If the above graphic does not strike alarm and concern into the reader then nothing will. In case of this being in doubt, let’s look at the goal metrics that apply to an electrical utility’s installed capacity. In the “orange“ period above, the targets were set and drove the behavior of operations and maintenance of the assets.

Uptime : 90% ; planned maintenance: 7% ; unplanned outage: 3% (This was the 90:7:3 programme)

85% was a common achievement across most of the power stations. The 7% was mandatory.

Currently we are informed that the following is being achieved (with variations, but of the order shown)

Uptime: 65% Planned maintenance: ? unplanned outage: up to 35%. Hence load-shedding.

We now have a “war room” and musical chairs in the board and executive. Load shedding is now regular, new-build costs rising and high anxiety among consumers. If you bother to review the last Eskom annual report, one can get no idea at all of the mess it is in. Great, rhetoric and wonder-numbers that convey things are going right. What we now see is an exhibition of bungling policies, incompetence and mismanagement. We are none the wiser as to the action plans. The damage to SA is a crisis.

Fellow Engineers, let’s solve this problem.

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You be the judge

Posted By Chris Reay, Monday, 25 May 2015

“The president again blamed the scheduled blackouts, in part, on the apartheid regime's failure to expand the electricity supplier's capacity. SA’s electricity woes are a "challenge", but not a crisis and the government knows how to address it”.

We can’t affect the furnaces, but downstream, we have to shut the mills for the times when we are asked to cut back. He explained that the R1.5-million-an-hour loss was calculated based on the closure of Vanderbijlpark’s hot-strip mill and its downstream operations, as well as halting operations at Newcastle from “the rod mill and down”. A CEO statement.

The view below is from an ex-Eskom Engineer. (1977 – 2004 - Forced to take early pension due to Affirmative Action) 
Eskom (when it was the Electricity Supply Commission) was one of the best power utilities in the world. It was owned by all South Africans, and was a non-profit making organization. Money was always set aside, by selling electricity for more than it cost to produce, making surplus for replacement and expansion (No World bank or Government loans). It created its own sinking fund. In 1994 it was turned into a business with the government as sole shareholder. This was done to collect further tax from those who actually pay for electricity and to provide a vehicle for the implementation of government policies in the form of job creation and black empowerment. Profits, and the money set aside for replacement, expansion and maintenance, was paid to the government as dividends.

The sole 'shareholder' directly appointed most of the executive, and non-executive directors. These appointments came out of the ranks of the ANC, and were people with little managerial or power plant experience. Appointments were often based on nepotism. 

They couldn't do the work, but the people who could do the work were retrenched based on skin colour, and some were then re-employed as contractors. Although no real additional work was getting done, (due to lack of funds because of the increased work force of roughly 23%) this was considered acceptable because the government wanted to reduce unemployment. In order to bring relief to poverty stricken townships, Eskom directors were instructed to produce the cheapest electricity in the world. This plan did not work, because of all the extra wages, contractors, a management team that did not have a clue how to run a power utility and which resulted in Eskom running into huge losses for the first time in its history. To compensate for this, the incompetent management team cut the maintenance budget by 55%. These were the first “cracks” in the once stable, profit making power giant’s foundation. 

You will have to live with it and decide if “it’s not a crisis and the government knows how to address it”.

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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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The ageing of the baby boomers

Posted By Chris Reay, Monday, 15 December 2014

On January 1, 2011, the oldest of the Baby Boomer era turned 65. Every day for the next 19 years from that date, about 10,000 more (in the USA alone) will cross that threshold. This puts the starting date of the era at 1946 and the “end” date at 1965. The annual birth rate in the 50s was the highest ever in history.

We can ask what relevance this has to us here in South Africa where the population distribution is radically different from that in the USA. This however becomes apparent when we track the impact this era has had on the development of the built environment world-wide, which is largely engineering based. Post- war birth rate behavior was not much different in other countries recovering from the depression of the 1930s and the second-world war.

The baby boomer era was really the builder of our modern infrastructure as we know it. The rise of urbanization, consumerism, technology development and health care improvements among many changes took place rapidly, underscored by the focus on access to education and high levels of employment. 

If we reflect on SA, it is evident that the basic infrastructure of the country was developed in this period and well into the 80s. Multiple large projects were all happening in mining, power stations, roads, water storage and reticulation, industries, military developments, agriculture and travel facilities to name many. Urban development began with a vengeance and has continued unabated to accommodate the growth in the population. Urban development brings with it the need to provide power, sanitation, communications and general infrastructure and the services required by the citizens.

It is interesting to witness the trends that evolve with eras such as this. Aside from the social characteristics such the hippies, political protests, civil rights etc, there has been a decline in the building and replacement of infrastructure since. It leveled off by virtue of having met the required levels of need. Much of it has understandably worn out over the last 50 years and simply not either been maintained or replaced. It would appear that maintaining and refurbishing is not as glamorous as building from new. 

So we look at our own circumstances and in the domain of engineering it is evident that the same era built the bulk of our infrastructure, and much if it is ageing. More evident is that maintenance has been neglected in many cases and we are experiencing that on an increasing basis in our electrical power assets. Added to that is the “forced” reduction in skills and expertise which existed in that era of Engineers that built the power stations and distribution systems. Where we designed, constructed and commissioned many six pack stations, none of them ever displayed the horror that is being displayed by Medupi – 3 years late (so far) and getting on for double the capital cost, and add to this the cost of non-availability to the economy. It is thus worth noting: things are built by people. Better people build things better.

Of concern to the Americans is that the rate of exit of engineering talent is considerably greater than the rate of entry of new resources that have to be developed with the assistance of the outgoing skills. This is our own experience in SA where it must be understood that numbers entering the industry may be improving but the experiential training is certainly not sufficient. This applies to the trades as well. The average age of a qualified artisan in the USA is now mid- fifties, the same as ours.

This scenario then makes it very clear that unless we harness the ageing skills and experience of the baby boomer fraternity to mentor and upskill the young engineering resources entering the profession, where else will we get them?  They are not available in a box, a book, a video, a classroom or a memorychip. It is time on the ground with the human interaction, learning on the job.

Time waits for no one. The need is now. It’s time to start attracting the baby boomers to enter a paid mentoring profession.

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The need for economic leadership

Posted By Chris Reay, Monday, 15 December 2014

If ever Nero fiddled while Rome burned it must be the current performance of the ANC “leadership”. I hesitate to even use the word in this context as it is virtually non-existent in the role the President is playing and equally insignificant in the performance of the yes-men who answer to him. While the economy slides into an aimless mix of unemployment, retrenchments, energy constraints, bail outs for state enterprises, reducing growth rates and evident general frustration and anger across the population spectrum, Nero ‘s attention is directed elsewhere, primarily in the direction of self-interest and to be quite frank, embarrassing incompetence. Let’s hope this era of the revolution-makers ages out as soon as possible so that a new era of hopefully more concerned leaders will emerge.

On-going reports over the years have signaled the serious deterioration of the infrastructure. Energy is limited, water supplies are threatened with shortages and toxicity. Plants break down and are not 
repaired. Roads deteriorate to the point where maintenance is no longer viable. Health care and education gets worse. It’s a classic case of thermodynamic entropy – lack of work to overcome the tendency to move into a natural state of chaos, all at the same temperature and in social and economic reality, the lowest common denominator.

Can we derive a message from this? A characteristic of the obvious solution is that if the system is not intentionally reversed by leading a focused endeavor to recreate those aspects we call the built environment, it will not reverse and not improve. 

It is critical time for the Engineer to enter the fray, participate in the call for action, play a leadership role, and get to work developing the skills base, training the new graduates, using the retired (and mostly white) engineering  capacity to transfer their experiential skills to the younger generation before it is too late and they are all gone.

There is no room nor role for BEE and its misplaced execution in this activity. To hell with politics, this is serious stuff. It’s all hands on deck and the sooner the better for time waits for no one and we do not have too much left to avoid passing the point of no return.

We now have about 500 new Mechanical Engineer graduates emerging from university each year and mostly finding employment in industry, aside from those that emigrate or go into say financial services and other non-engineering activities. We have the latest and well developed outcomes based professional compliance structure, a willing group of Voluntary Associations hosting the training model, many willing retired or semi-retired Engineers willing to become Mentors, commitments from the SETAs to fund the candidate training costs (including the payment of Mentors), and we hope a willing number of employers in industry wanting to play a role in developing new skills. This will also enable those existing employed graduates to undertake their candidate phase training.

What are we waiting for? Who will lead the movement? Pay me and I will manage it with a vengeance.

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Stop producing Engineers………?

Posted By Chris Reay, Monday, 15 December 2014

It has often been raised that we should limit the supply of Engineers to the market in order to increase the remuneration levels through normal supply/demand dynamics. The ensuing debate tends to indicate that employers would then employ unqualified or untrained persons with the resultant risk of the failure of the system through poor design, operation and maintenance.

The answer must therefore lie in addressing both limitations and to converge towards a combination of necessity and sufficiency and meeting a standard of safety and reliability which effectively means a level that is decreed by adherence to the laws of science. That is a pretty good advantage we have in our profession.

SA is essentially set up for this structure via internationally accredited tertiary qualifications, a well-defined candidate training model with professionally focused assessment criteria, which will shortly be joined by the requirements of Identification of Engineering Work (IDoEW). As with any great rules and structures, they are only any use if implemented effectively by the parties concerned.

Can there be any doubt that Engineers would want to maximize the return on time and effort? As the income levels rise, more Engineers will enter the profession. But engineering, of all the professions, is 
probably the one most readily open to the "quacks" of the discipline, employing guess work, non-adherence to standards, quick fixes and obfuscations which can delude the public. Examples are rife. 

Then there is the take-over of roles that should be performed by the Engineer by bean counters and politicians and the like in matters of selection of cost effectiveness on maintenance, for one example.

This prostitution of Engineering can therefore only be contained by regulation. Thus, as we proceed from the well regulated tertiary starting point, we recognize the need for competence standards and assessment criteria for registration, followed by IDoEW in the realm of practice.

The demand then for the numbers of Engineers required will follow from the needs of society. The constant refrain on scarcity of skills would indicate that the demand still exceeds supply. This imbalance is aggravated by the social engineering effects such as BEE which frequently skew the balance of skills. If only the system would recognize the serious loss of continuum created by expelling the older experienced white Engineers. When their intellect is gone, how will the younger Engineers develop?

We may have a bit of a breakthrough on the involvement of the retired Engineers as Mentors. To encourage this, as from April 2015, the SETAs are obligated to fund the training of Candidate Engineers. 

Most of this funding is destined to pay Mentors in a structured mentorship process.

In reality, engineering remuneration is growing to hopefully compare with the other professions. Let's keep it that way. Professional recognition, upkeep of high standards and ethical conduct will raise the status of Engineers in society.

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The “must” country that rarely delivers

Posted By Chris Reay, Thursday, 25 September 2014

 

For all the “must” talk in which those in government indulge, very little actually gets actioned. If there have been intentions to make it easier for small business to flourish, then they seem to fall into the category of rhetoric only. I learnt only this week of a new product line that the manufacturer has introduced into some 105 countries over that last five years, and who has stated that SA has been the most difficult, bureaucratic and plainly obstructive of all, as though the intention is to prevent the business from proceeding. And it is one which would enable the self-owned business or entrepreneur to develop and grow with little investment other than time, hard work and focus.

 

We are all tired of reading the usual “speeches” by officials at the interminable conferences and congresses about what we “must” do. Most of it is simply common sense that does not need a Minister to harp on about as though it were new rocket science level discovery. “We must improve our science and maths at schools” stuff as though it was news to us. All interminable talk, little action.

 

Now there are the new entry requirements for potential immigrants and tourists. Ministerial prerogative finds it acceptable to defy the objections from the airline industry, employers seeking specialized skills, tourists and business in general. The vulnerable falling Rand and investment rating downgrades do not encourage foreign skills currently on Dollar, Euro and Pound rates seeking a Rand equivalent in SA to get accepted. It’s too high for local industry.

 

The “reality” dashboard shown last month continues to see the pointers moving further into the red. Is it believable that the policy makers can be so disconnected from the reality of an economy in crisis? The “cleva people” as defined by Zuma are noticeably and more audibly astonished and frustrated by the lack of concern and action. Do they really think that the NDP is going to save the country? Please, Mr Minister of Finance, do answer the question we have been asking for the last 3 years: from whence cometh the R840 billion to do the 18 SIPs projects (in three years - your own claim) and where will the required skilled engineering resources, placed in the right structures at the right time, come from? You will also need to rescue Eskom first.

 

Shortly, a presentation on the most recent exercise on scarce engineering skills will be presented at Ministerial level. It has taken note of years of ineffective action and will make some radical proposals to get skills development moving properly. The SAIMechE input made it evident that candidate phase training needs to be taken seriously by both employers and the SETAs with the SAIMechE providing a facilitating role to enable the collective participation by Candidate, Employer, Mentor and Supervisor focusing on the criteria of the outcomes by which the programme is assessed. Those industries that are the likely participants in the SIPS/NDP will be asked to identify the resource needs at a job specification (not generic) level so that training in those disciplines can be actioned.

 

I would like to ask one question of the Minister of Higher Education. Do the subsidies that are paid to universities for the students in the Faculties of Engineering and the Built Environment get used fully for that purpose, or are they diverted to other “non-engineering” causes?

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The Reality

Posted By Chris Reay, Thursday, 25 September 2014

The South African economy is sick. The diagnosis has been going on for a long time, but the prescriptions have been ignored. It is evident that the body may not find the energy and perhaps the will to recover without some serious surgery. The danger of infection is greater as the invasive nature of the surgery is complex. The doctors and specialists (quacks?) may not succeed in finding a recovery routine before incapacity of the patient becomes permanent. To make matters worse, the patient is in a state hospital.

I am writing these words as the engineering based industry, having just had a serious dose of platinum deficiency syndrome, is now steeped in a viral bout of non-metal-working plague. It is going to take a patient with a very strong immune system to overcome this one. Many of the limbs that support the body may simply not survive, suffer from permanent damage and shrink into a state of paralysis.

All the machines (that are working) are monitoring the patient as follows. For clarity, the health monitor dashboard terminology has been calibrated with economic metrics.

Productivity: declining with the record showing the index has shown a reduction of 41% in the last 10 years. The meter rider position shows that the current level is the lowest in 46 years.

Employment: declining.

Unemployment: Increasing

Economic growth rate: Declining, now below 2% pa

Rand parity with world currencies: declining.  Rand: US$  1994: 3.55:1   2014:10.80:1

International Investment rating: Declining towards junk bond status

Corruption factor in government and the economy: increasing, reaching epidemic levels

Infrastructure status, education and service standards: declining

Small Medium Enterprises development rate: at best static but declining in small manufacturing.

Inflation rate: increasing

“Real” recession: evidently active and technically in stage of stagflation

Cost of living of basic items basket: rising (at alarming rate)

Centre of gravity of skilled and experienced engineering resources: moving into 50-60 age spectrum

Potential for Engineers to survive economically at retirement: declining

I do not think we need any more metrics to realize that the patient is in really big trouble.

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Project performance

Posted By Chris Reay, Thursday, 25 September 2014

My interest and activities in the field of constraints theory over the last 15 years inevitably leads me to evaluate how its body of knowledge has impacted on industry. It was developed by the late Eli Goldratt, who described his reasoning behind developing the Theory of Constraints (TOC) was to help to teach the world to think more effectively. Perhaps the most resonant feature of TOC is that it simplifies complex issues due to the logical manner in which the thinking processes are applied.

Project management has had few really significant breakthroughs over the last 50 years with the exception of the applications of the TOC to the processes. Reviewing the statistics published by organisations that carry out this type of research indicates that the overall project failure rate (as defined by collective metrics) had not changed since the early 80s and has remained at a level of some 70%.  Indications are emerging that over recent years this may be starting to improve.

Projects essentially fail on the two main measures; costing well over original budget and finishing well beyond due completion date. In fact it can be said that there is no such thing as a project that meets its original cost estimate even though it may finish on due date. The challenges that arise in projects which require resolving normally face the inevitable conflict: finish on time at no increase in cost or finish at original cost with no increase in time.

TOC realized that until measures to address this typical conflict were created, the situation would not change. The thinking processes reviewed the assumptions being made and extent of the focus. The most interesting to me is that the changes that TOC proposes are of a human behavior nature rather than high-tech algorithmic solutions. When this difference is observed by the new-comer to TOC, the response is often “why all the hype, it looks like common sense to me”. Eli, is his characteristic way, would respond that the observation is entirely correct; the problem is that common sense is not that common.

Projects are once off activities and have not had the benefits of the production industry that has adopted the constraints theory to implement and practice the focusing steps. Touch time in projects is long whereas in production it is generally short. But both processes utilise the same fundamental rule of applying the focus onto the constraint, subordinating to it and making use of buffer capacity to meet the throughput requirements.

The evidence is now robust that the most effective project improvement that has occurred over recent times has been from the application of TOC methodology.

What can we learn from all this in the hoped-for implementation of the 18 NDP projects? It is apparent that whatever project approach one uses there is one endemic mistake made on so many projects today. That is, starting to construct before the design is complete, which is to me a culture driven by the bean- counter mentality that, in its ignorance, believes the project will finish sooner and cost less.

A quick lesson from TOC would propose the following: start activities as late as possible, ensure resources are available which includes design work, avoid multi-tasking with limited resources , cut the normal (over) estimated times back by 50%, allocate half to the task and half to the project buffer, start the activity on time and thereby run your project with safety in hand instead of losing it before you start.

The biggest concern I have for the NDP is the evident lack of engineering and project management capacity at the Owner’s team level. Will government, provinces and municipalities take this issue seriously and ask private industry to help with resourcing this?

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Will the NDP actually start happening?

Posted By Chris Reay, Thursday, 25 September 2014

We have been subjected to the National Development Plan for some time now with various degrees of emphasis. Government, or at least in reality the ANC, continues to use it as a manifesto item typical of political posturing presumably to convince the public (and the voters) that the country is all set to have an era of great investment, new projects, employment opportunities, export improvements, and reversal of the fiscal deficits amongst many attributes. The better life for all stuff. The alliance continues to nitpick at it and academic and research organisations find flaws in the numbers and the statistics as though it is all an exact science. It has taken on the form of a sort of hallucinating drug that one places one’s faith in when faced with the current economic reality. It all depends on what is one’s own perspective of current reality.

Engineers would be inclined to agree on the need for the NDP, the 18 Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPs) and the spin off from the designing, planning, constructing, commissioning, maintaining and operating of all these projects. These will use all the engineering capacity that we have, and more. Never mind from where the investment funds are to come from, that remains all smoke and mirrors and it’s hard to believe that the country will suddenly find R800 odd billion and then spend it over three years on completed projects.

Perhaps closer to the Engineer’s concern is, if we had all that money, where are we going to find the sufficient number of engineering resources to spend it (properly)? We will avoid contemplating the potential behind the corruption that is now endemically entrenched in our country with very little accountability. The efforts to ascertain the available engineering resources by the PICC/SIPs/DHET/ECSA/Volunteer committees will presumably produce some results but so far the numbers do not seem more than high level estimates. I believe it was an exercise to find out what we already knew: we have a scarce skills problem. My own evaluation is that the systems and processes used cannot measure the extent of the scarcity in a meaningful way if the time frame is that of the SIPs programme. This is an example of breaching a very fundamental engineering ethos: if you cannot measure it, you do not know much about it. Clearly, if the metrics used to measure the scarcity do not take this into account, the process while necessary, is insufficient.

The 18 SIPs projects are reasonably well defined at a high level. From this a start should be made to identify the required resources by a reasonable relationship between project size and type. The reality is however, that those who will need the resources normally specify the needs at a granular level, not a generic level that emerged from this committee. Efforts of the SAIMechE to propose a model to measure the needs, to locate as many as possible from the existing market and to focus Candidate Engineer development in those scarce areas are met with a sort of glazed, unconvinced response by the “authorities”. After all, we have to find ways to spend R800 billion effectively, but it would appear that to spend a few million on getting knowledge of the course to take to manage the scarce skills issue is considered either too expensive or unnecessary. The real reason is uncertain as the response has been nil. If the proposed model were to show a return on investment, it would only have to save about one thousandth of one percent of the programme budget to cover its cost. It’s a no-brainer when one realises the costs, delays and consequences of the scarce skills impact on projects. Take a look at Medupi and the Durban-Jhb pipeline as examples. Consider the impact on infrastructure service delivery alone.  There are legendary other cases out there that show the result of technically incapacitated owners’ teams alone.

But then that makes the assumption that the NDP actually is going to happen. If history is anything to go by, we may still be talking about it this time next year. With elections over and “won”, why hurry? At least it may all work as a dream forming drug.

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The case for free-lance, paid Mentors

Posted By Chris Reay, Tuesday, 27 May 2014


The new outcomes based registration system for Engineers is now underway albeit that ECSA has not yet developed the online system for the capture of the submission data. The release of the systems for Technologists, Technicians and Certificated Engineers is in progress.

SAIMechE, under its Professional Development Programme (PDP), has finalised the development of the training curriculum for each of the eleven outcomes, the submission capture formats and the introduction to the complete programme and the training programme for Mentors who play a necessary, regular and specified role in the process. The PDP has been developed using the exact outcome and assessment criteria for registration as those formulated by ECSA under the R02 model. SAIMechE will facilitate the Candidate's training programme by the provision of the documentation that guides the Candidate on the requirements for each outcome and the coordination of the activities via a monthly Mentor facilitated workshop per Candidate cell.

We call this the regular procedure that is intended to be applied to facilitate the training programme for professional development for members of SAIMechE. This process will result in the issue of an SAIMechE Certificate of Competence that will enable any holder thereof to use the same content to apply for ECSA registration.

A necessary condition for the process to work is the structured involvement of the Mentor, and it is here that, for the PDP to have its intended industry wide effect, the role of the "independent" Mentor is required. Currently, and under the legacy training system, the employer provides Mentors from its own employ that provide the service to its own employed Candidate Engineers. This generally limits the availability of mentoring in the case of smaller businesses that may not have the capacity to employ persons who can act as Mentors. The role of the Mentor in the legacy system is generally much less involved than that required for the new system. Thus the PDP is, in conjunction with the other VAs, ECSA and the "scarce skills" forums, striving to obtain formal and substantial funding for free-lance Mentors to undertake the mentoring role as a revenue earning activity.

Accordingly, SAIMechE is inviting its members to consider applying for the role of Mentor for the PDP. The role will be defined in the Mentor training programme. This includes the review of all the PDP curriculum material, the workshop process, guidelines on the forming of candidate cells for ease of access and meetings, referee roles, sign-off documentation, remuneration and administration functions. The referee or sign-off process must finally be done by a Mentor who is a Pr Eng.

Ideally the business model would encourage a Mentor to seek and oversee up to six candidates in a cell who would all attend a one day workshop per month. Each workshop addresses one of the eleven outcomes in turn, thus making eleven workshops per annum per cell. Depending on the number of candidates available to an area, a Mentor could select to practice mentoring full time for as many days of the week he or she chooses. Thus the income potential is attractive.

This is a bold move forward to stimulate the level of professionalism in the industry and to utilise the valuable experience of the Mentor. The question remains, can we find sufficient Mentors?

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