South Africa has a great shortage of civil engineers

CONSTRUCTIVE: Alain Kivuvu, a civil engineering technician. © Unknown.
CONSTRUCTIVE: Alain Kivuvu, a civil engineering technician. © Unknown.

Lihle Mtshali

Lihle Mtshali

South Africa is currently experiencing a massive shortage in the civil engineering sector. About 4000 to 6000 civil engineers are needed to fill the ever widening gap as experienced engineers reach retirement age and leave the industry. This is according to David Botha, executive director at the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE).

The sector is responsible for designing, building and maintaining infrastructure such as roads, sewer systems, portable water systems, storm-water management and earthworks - the aligning of ground to make it suitable for construction.

According to Botha, one of the main reasons for the shortage of skilled professionals in the industry is that after the heydays of building roads and dams in the 1970s, the government had not been investing in capital work and therefore civil engineers were not in high demand. In recent years, however, the government has advanced billions of rand towards infrastructure development and the shortage of civil engineers has become conspicuously evident.

Civil engineering is made up of three different and specialised levels, namely: engineers, technologists and technicians.

Engineers, having done a four year university degree, are the thinktanks of the industry. Technologists study at a university of technology but specialise in one field. Technicians also study at a university of technology and their task is the more practical and varied aspect of civil engineering.

Alain Kivuvu is a civil engineering technician at PD Naidoo & Associates, a multi-disciplinary engineering group in Gauteng.

Kivuvu transacts with clients such as municipalities, property developers and private customers who are looking to build houses.

His typical day starts at 6:30am when he checks his e-mails to see if there is anything outstanding from the previous day. With that out of the way, he begins design work which sets the groundwork for the job at hand.

Once designs are in place, he meets with clients and is then required to make supervisory site visits to his current projects to ensure that the designs are being executed with precision.

Ambitious individuals who are willing to learn something new every day would be a success in this industry, said Kivuvu. They must also be humble because they will work with a lot of different personalities. A methodical team player who has a practical mind and enjoys working with his hands is an ideal candidate.

A technician has to do a lot of background work before each new project is implemented to ensure that he is constantly up to date with industry trends. This, coupled with the challenge and thrill of continuously working on different projects, is what Kivuvu loves about his job.

He has been involved with various types of assignments, from working on the new border between South Africa and Swaziland, to a new shopping mall and construction of residential townhouses.

"When you stand on top of the highest building in Johannesburg and look around you, what you see is civil engineering. I like to see my work, the finished product," he said.