SOUTH Africa does not have the capacity to deliver the R3.2-trillion in infrastructure the government intends commissioning by 2020, as the country lacks the skills required, a survey has found.
Although the construction and engineering sector was expecting the huge build programme to spur its recovery, delays in the awarding of tenders have meant companies are not investing in training skilled staff.
Landelahni Business Leaders Amrop SA, the executive search firm that conducted the survey, said on Tuesday that 74% of construction companies were struggling to fill engineering vacancies.
Many companies are looking for work abroad. But risks abound, and Group Five and Basil Read recently produced results that plunged 64%-78%.
The Treasury has set aside about R850bn for public sector infrastructure projects over the next three years. So far, about 25% has been financed and is being implemented.
"This means a R250bn spend per year — about R100bn more than the average over the past five years, including the Fifa World Cup," said Sandra Burmeister, CEO of Landelahni Business Leaders Amrop SA.
Engineering Council of South Africa data showed the country had about 14,700 professional engineers in 2010, but most of them were white males heading for retirement.
Despite the council launching an initiative to tackle the chronic shortage of engineering skills, in line with the government’s plans to produce 30,000 engineers by 2014, this was likely to remain a pipedream.
"It ain’t going to happen," Ms Burmeister said. "We are already relying on international partners to bring expertise not available locally."
She said foreign expertise had been used on the Gautrain project, Eskom’s Medupi and Kusile power stations, South Africa’s nuclear energy initiatives, and the drive for alternative energy sources.
"We simply do not have the right skills to meet the specific demands of huge new infrastructure projects," she said.
Research from Consulting Engineers South Africa, an industry body, showed the private sector had a dearth of registered black professionals, including quantity surveyors, architects and engineers.
"We have a major institutional capacity problem," its president Naren Bhojaram said on Tuesday.
The National Programme for Artisan Development — a joint government and industry project — had pushed the number of artisans up from 3,222 across all trades in 2006 to 11,778 in 2010.
But there has been a 45% pass rate in the programme, and it is unclear how many artisans have had one year or four years of training. And the pass rate does not support the government’s target of 50,000 new artisans by 2015.
In the 2010-11 financial year, the Treasury reported that the government had spent only 68% of its capital budget.
This indicated that to meet South Africa’s proposed infrastructure plans, there would need to be a significant increase in public-private partnerships.
In 1990, 40% of certificated engineers in South Africa worked in the public sector, but this has now dwindled to about 15%.
Mr Bhojaram said the main hurdle to South Africa getting out of the infrastructure starting block was weak institutions, coupled with "serious business integrity issues", including corruption within the state and the private sector.
Consulting Engineers South Africa reported that spending on the country’s infrastructure maintenance was at a record low, and the cost of replacing the infrastructure would be more than 10 times the cost of regular maintenance.
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