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Lesego Setou
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Too many old white engineers

06 February 2013, 17:30

There is a greatest lie that goes around in South Africa and the lie is; we have a shortage of engineers. But maybe it’s not a lie; maybe there should be quantification of the kind of engineers needed in terms of type of engineering, race, gender and even age. 

The reason I am saying this is that having worked in the engineering world for almost 5 years, I have witnessed chemical engineers who have been jobless for four years despite the punted shortage, engineers who left the engineering world for banks because banks promised more growth prospects. I have also associated with engineers who have recused themselves from the profession to pursue a life of joblessness and meditation, because the profession was proving stressful and fruitless.

Unfortunately for me, I have experienced these trends in black engineers mainly because I am black , studied Biotechnology, started work in a mineral processing company, so as life would have it , I associated with black engineers. Having worked in the engineering world and still monitoring the developments within this field, I still think engineering world is still not ready for transformation.

By transformation I am referring to change in totality, to have an organisation with great mission statements, wonderful values and yet feel very comfortable to have someone work as an operator for over 10 years without capacitating that person, for me, shows a serious need for change.

Then you have an issue of white grey beards who are not prepared to make an opening for a black guy in strategic position. You will soon realise that the majority of these few black engineers who seemingly sit in top positions are really toothless, spineless, highly paid pawns with no influence and decision making abilities. 

You then zoom in on the case of the young black zest up groups with B.Techs, Honours degrees and Masters Degrees without some serious strategic experience besides their long accumulation of operational and routine oriented roles specifically tailored to delay their readiness for management roles, who soon wake up to the reality that they have no place in the boardroom. 

The white grey beards wish not to share their knowledge with the young educated black because they don’t want to disadvantage themselves to the wrath of BEE. The young blacks are the stuck in the cocoon because they cannot develop full wings in the form of serious technical know-how. 

The country the sits in a still mate because there is no sustainability, there is no grooming of people, no succession planning and hence we end up lacking in skills capacity.

It’s because of these challenges in the engineering world that I feel sorry and sad for all those beautiful young black minds who are encouraged to study engineering. I know that they will sooner or later be faced with a future of effortless struggle to prove yourself, a tiring and soul diminishing career.

If there is a shortage in the engineering world, it will be a shortage of great attitude, a shortage of inspiring leadership which is people centred and development oriented. There is a shortage of transparency, it is no longer acceptable to have Piet and Thabiso as Process Engineers with same experience yet Piet earns double Thabiso’s salary.

There is a shortage in realizing the impact of allowing someone to be a rock driller, artisan, operator for 10 years without substantial growth, what does that mean for the future of those people’s children, how does that translate to youth unemployment, poverty, crime. There is a shortage in the realization that we cannot just disregard the knowledge of the white grey beards, experience does count for something, we need to appreciate that we cannot dispose them like used paper plates, we need to assure them of their value, so they can also be comfortable in sharing their knowledge.

We have been very good at pointing out the wrongs of our government; it’s about time we do intrinsic audits and ask ourselves; how we are building the nation within our spheres of influence.

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