Why South African engineers are leaving the country – despite huge demand and R1 million salaries

The South African Institution Of Civil Engineering (SAICE) says that the country is losing an alarming number of engineers and other high-level skills – and the economy is likely to suffer for it.

The group, which has around 12,000 registered members, said that it has seen hundreds of engineers leave the country over the last three years, largely through emigration.

“The majority of these members cited seeking greener pastures and opportunities and were between the ages of 30-60,” the group said.

SAICE said that South Africa has excellent, experienced engineers both locally and internationally and urged government to take action to attract them back to the country.

The engineering sector in South Africa is extremely lucrative, particularly for those fortunate enough to land a government job in that field.

According to the latest salary scales published by the Department of Public Service and Administration, entry-level salaries for engineers in the public sector can start at R720,000 a year, and go as high as R2.2 million.

However, despite 68% of engineering professionals indicated a willingness to work in the public sector, specific issues remain that prevent engineering professionals from joining the public sector.

These include:

  • Over-politicisation of infrastructure departments;
  • Diminished decision making roles of technocrats;
  • Lack of systems, processes and structures for efficient administration;
  • Lack of training, development and career paths;
  • Unwarranted interference of HR and Finance divisions in the work of infrastructure engineering professionals.

“While government continually speaks of its commitment to the National Development Plan, the professionalisation of the public sector and placing emphasis on job creation and infrastructure development, there’s been virtually no positive outcome of this commitment,” the SAICE said.

In terms of projects, the group said that it also appears the weakness in government structures is the lack of knowledge on how to identify projects and how to effectively spend the allocated money.

“This is evident from the lack of structures, processes, systems as well as suitably qualified and experienced individuals in government to manage infrastructure spend.

“It is necessary to urgently re-install appropriately qualified and professionally registered technical people back into the system to plan, identify, procure and manage large-spend engineering projects to unlock the economy,” it said.

SAICE acting CEO Steven Kaplan said that the brain drain happening in the industry is devastating, and is costing the country a lot of money and resources to produce world-class engineers, only to lose them because they can’t find work.

He said this happening in a country where they’re needed the most is a travesty.

Read: 3 scary graphs show South Africa’s emigration trends

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Why South African engineers are leaving the country – despite huge demand and R1 million salaries