The Big Read: Engineers face retrenchment, struggle to find jobs

Steven Kaplan, COO of SAICE.
Steven Kaplan, COO of SAICE.

Civil engineers are being retrenched, graduates are struggling to find jobs and students at universities are aware they will find it difficult to find jobs, according to chief operations officer (COO) at the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE), Steven Kaplan.

“We hope the situation will turn around, it’s a difficult environment…it’s disheartening” Kaplan told Fin24 in an interview on Friday.

Government’s spend on infrastructure has been in decline since the 2010 boom for the World Cup stadia and other programmes. 

FNB and the Bureau of Economic Research Civil Confidence Index has been below 20 for more than a year and more than 80% of index respondents in the third quarter of 2018 said they are dissatisfied by the prevailing business conditions.

Kaplan is optimistic the situation will improve next year with President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic stimulus package, announced in September, which includes a R400bn infrastructure fund to be spent over the next three years.

But he warned that the construction industry “always lags a year behind the economy” and it takes more than a year after an announcement of a project before contractors start to move on site and the “real money is being spent”.

According to Statistics South Africa, construction activity in the second quarter of 2018 improved by 2.3%, driven by a rise in non-residential buildings and construction work activities.

Rosebank and Sandton building frenzy

But Kaplan points out that the majority of the building frenzy  in Rosebank and Sandton is within the private sector and is not enough to drive the industry or provide large numbers of employment.

“It looks like there’s a lot happening but the big money is in infrastructure, social housing, water and electricity”.

SAICE releases a report card on public infrastructure every three years. The third edition in 2016 found that the grading of most government infrastructure had dropped, except for airports and roads, which Kaplan credits the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) for.

“There’s work to be done, the vast majority of the stimulus plan will go into maintenance,” Kaplan said.

SAICE parted ways with its former CEO Manglin Pillay in September over comments he penned in an article disparaging female engineers. The organisation is setting up a think tank to improve gender diversity and the workplace environment after receiving numerous complaints from members.

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