Leading engineering, management and technical services company, Aurecon, has recently partnered with the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) to provide four DWS graduate employees withmentoring and learning opportunities.
The employees have been seconded to Aurecon and they are gaining practical experience aimed at contributing to the government’s efforts to forestall a potential skills shortage that could affect the national water sector.
“The employees are enrolled in the department’s Learning Academy, which is a response to specific scarce and technical skill-related issues that affect both the Department and the country as a whole,” says Chief Director of Integrated Water Resource Planning at DWS, Livhuwani Mabuda. “Senior officials at DWS often do not have adequate time to properly mentor young professionals. Partnering with the private sector can help provide such mentorship.”
Werner Comrie, Head of the Water Unit from Aurecon’s Tshwane Office, says that including young engineers, technologists and technicians in large scale, current water projects will help give them the experience and skills they need to fast-track the long learning curve that is part and parcel of delivering real value as an engineer in the water sector.
“The DWS employees who have been integrated into Aurecon’s water teams are gaining exposure on various types of projects, including water resource planningand master planning water strategies, as well as construction and design work. It takes years of experience in the water sector before a person is able to offer value to their employers. Aurecon hopes that the exposure we are able to give the DWS employees will see them delivering real value within a shorter period of time,” says Comrie, who has over twenty seven years of experience in the water engineering sector.
Besides practical experience on projects, Aurecon is also providing mentoring opportunities to the young engineers. One of the goals of the secondment to Aurecon is to help the graduates through the process of registering as a Professional Engineer with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).
“In order to register as a Professional Engineer, you need to be exposed to different types of work and projects in your field. At Aurecon, we are able to expose young engineers to cutting-edge technology and solutions that are offered by our global engineering consultancy. By working on our current projects, the seconded employees are able to gain insights into the challenges involved in dealing with the variety of stakeholders who are usually involved in water projects. They are gaining a deep understanding of the service delivery issues that exist throughout the entire value chain,” says Comrie.
The four seconded employees from the DWS: Tlhologelo Mogoathle, Jan Mabela, Andre Meintjies and Sipho Mahlangu, all recently completed degrees in engineering and they say that the practical experience they are gaining at Aurecon will not only help them with their careers, but it will also benefit the DWS and South Africa’s water sector as a whole.
“There is definitely a skills shortage in the national water sector, especially since many water experts are nearing retirement. Initiatives such as the DWS Learning Academy and mentorship opportunities in the private sector are addressing this shortage,” says Sipho Mahlangu.
“I’m currently gaining exposure to various engineering aspects at Aureon, including infrastructure design and practical problem-solving scenarios, which I wouldn’t have been exposed to this early on in my career otherwise. I’m going to be able to register as a Professional Engineer sooner and add value to the DWS,” adds Mahlangu.
Jan Mabela comments that the technical skills that he is currently gaining are invaluable. “I’m exposed to innovative engineering design methods and the latest software packages,” he says.
In Comrie’s view, skills transfer and skills development should be an ongoing focus among private firms in South Africa and Aurecon will open up more opportunities like this in future.
“While we are helping the DWS graduates directly, the industry as a whole will gain from these types of mentoring opportunities: Investing in young engineers means the future decision makers will have the expertise and practical know-how that they need to make a positive difference to society,” says Comrie.