To ascend to the upper echelons of the global economy, South Africa knows it must overhaul the country's outdated infrastructure. Hence the ZAR3 trillion earmarked for projects to upgrade water, sanitation, waste management, roads, etc., across the country. In August, Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene estimated that with each percent increase in infrastructure investment, the GDP could rise by more than 1 percent.
The problem: South Africa's human capital may not be able to live up to its aspirations. "We suffer from latent skills gaps and latent skills shortages," says Manglin Pillay, CEO of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) in Midrand.
The engineering talent crunch, particularly in the government sector, is already sabotaging the nation's infrastructure goals. "How do you address service delivery issues without competently qualified and registered engineering professionals at the municipalities? This results in maintenance being neglected and new projects not happening," he says.
The South African government has responded with an ambitious plan to develop 30,000 engineers by 2014, in part through efforts to nearly double the number of graduates in the sector.
Professionals remain skeptical. Only 40 percent of 800 South African engineers surveyed said they were confident the government will adequately deal with skills shortages in the short to medium term, according to a June study by South African financial services company PPS.
Partnerships in Talent
South Africa's public sector is bearing the brunt of the talent gap, as many engineering experts have been replaced by non-technical staff who lack basic engineering project management skills. That puts projects in …