Consulting Engineers offer not only the technical expertise and skill set required to help solve social, economic, and environmental challenges in the South African Industry at large, but also help develop policy on sustainable development, according to Vis Reddy, managing director of SRK Consulting (SA). It seems, however that the future of this service to the industry is under threat: “The demands on us are growing at the same time that the sector’s capacity could erode,” warns Reddy.
Reddy highlights the role of the consulting engineer in fields such as infrastructural development, water management, energy generation, environmental protection, and social engagement, stating, “The growing complexity of the world’s regulatory and ethical framework is demanding a more wide-ranging consideration of project requirements and risks in industry.” Engineers and scientists have therefore had to adapt and recognise ‘non-engineering’ factors like health and safety and environmental and social impacts in projects with a focus on sustainability.
Consulting Engineer talent development and retention in South Africa is at risk. “There are many practitioners in the market, but there is often insufficient experience,” comments Reddy in the light of variable quality of work that is being currently delivered in the industry.
Proposals in tenders are being adjudicated through ‘price-focussed’ parameters and consulting engineers are rarely involved in vetting the tenders awarded but are pulled in last minute when contractors struggle to complete projects. “The under-valuing of consulting engineering input can be seen by the drop in the proportional value of our services within engineering projects,” says Reddy, adding, “An accepted norm is for consulting engineering services to make up around 7% of project value, but these days this as low as 2% in some projects.”
He highlights a startling trend in the industry. There is a gap of supply of engineers between the ages of 35-50. This poses the very real concern that industry will face a vacuum of engineering experience in the next decade. In the past, graduate engineers would gain experience within mining companies, municipalities, and government enterprises, and this has declined substantially over the years.
Reddy encourages government to play role in rectifying this “by prioritising the employment of local engineers and scientists in government’s infrastructure and service delivery programmes.”
Source: SRK Consulting