“Industry transformation is not just a social concern, it’s an economic imperative”: CESA webinar addresses importance of local skills capacitation for economic development

“Industry transformation is not just a social concern, it’s an economic imperative”: CESA webinar addresses importance of local skills capacitation for economic development

17 November 2020. In their second episode of the successful Protecting Lives and Livelihoods webinar series, Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA) hosted esteemed panellists on 17 November to discuss how the state’s technical capacity can be improved, while implementing sustainable solutions which will see tangible long-term benefits. The concepts of skills development, sustainable change and public capacity to implement infrastructure effectively were discussed.

Chaired by Danielle Petterson, editor of Water & Sanitation Africa, the discussion was held through an interactive webinar featuring:

  • Ntandazo Vimba, Chief Executive Officer, Municipal Infrastructure Support Agent (MISA)
  • Cas Coovadia, Chief Executive Officer, Business Unity South Africa
  • Professor Dirk Kotzé, Lecturer, UNISA Department of Political Sciences
  • Refilwe Lesufi, Founding Owner, Prana Consulting
  • Dr Gustav Rohde, Chief Executive Officer, Zutari 

Lesufi kicked off discussions by citing the current challenges faced by South Africa in the development of sustainable infrastructure. Prominent on this list was the issue of available skills. “Professional engineers are leaving the country, young engineers are disheartened and leaving the industry, and this ultimately impacts the ability of government to engage with long term planning and engagement across institutions.” She said that there are huge opportunities to create the skills we need by combining education, experience, and training initiatives. “We have the power to create the required skills,” she said. 

In agreement with Lesufi, Coovadia addressed the skills concern by citing the case of the SANDF’s procurement of Cuban expertise for military equipment maintenance. “This is something government should not allow. Considering our rate of unemployment, it is mind boggling that we could not train our own people with technical courses to fill this role.” He said that the first question that should be asked when procuring is whether we can procure locally. “Failing this, the question should be ‘Can we train the right people for the job?’ This will ensure that transformation and inclusion are top of mind.” He said that the sustainability of businesses and the economy depends on transformation and inclusion. “It is not a social or CSI issue, it is a hard economic and business concern,” he said. 

Tackling the topic from a wider perspective, Vimba said that poor collaboration and coordination internally and across the three spheres of government, including business and civil society, undermines South Africa’s ability to execute sustainable development. “The District Development Model should go somewhere towards addressing this,” he said. The model aims to improve the coherence and impact of government service delivery with focus on 44 districts and eight metros around the country as development spaces that can be used as centres of service delivery and economic development, including job creation. Vimba also highlighted that climate change is something to consider as a challenge facing South Africa. “Infrastructure solutions need to take this into consideration. Further, our limited resources mean we must be innovative and be willing to try new ways of doing things.”

Dr Rohde highlighted the existing capacity in South Africa – consulting engineers who are eager to provide expertise to see the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery plan to success. “We as infrastructure consultants have a huge role to play in the design, delivery and maintenance of infrastructure. We cannot allow this critical programme to be hijacked by corruption or poor implementation.” He said that CESA members are aligned to a strong integrity policy and are committed to sustainable development initiatives. 

On the topic of funding, Prof. Coetzee posed the question of who should be responsible for infrastructure development. “At the moment there seems to be no answer to this question, and it should really be addressed systematically.” He says that funding currently appears to come one third from the private sector and two thirds from the public sectors. Promoting South Africa as an attractive investment opportunity was a theme which all panellists could agree on.