Engineering sector still lags behind 23 years after Independence

The engineering industry plays a pivotal role in the development of the Namibian economy. This makes it possible for other industries to develop harmoniously.

Engineers, engineering technologists and technicians have traditionally played a major role in Namibia, as witnessed by the excellent infrastructure relating to - among others - transport, telecommunications, power and water supply.

However, a greater emphasis has been placed on the effective utilisation of scarce resources, the maintenance of existing infrastructure and sustainable development [since independence], with due regard to the protection of the environment.

Unfortunately, the continued acute shortage of engineering-related skills in the country has seen many companies hire professional engineers and technicians from abroad, despite the fact that the country has the capacity to train its own skilled engineering workforce.

While it is noteworthy that the Engineering Council of Namibia strives to obtain international accreditation of the engineering degrees offered by the University of Namibia (Unam) and the Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN) under the Washington Accord, most local engineers concur that the country lags behind in terms of fully utilising the engineering sector.

Chief executive engineer, Consulting Engineers and Project Managers, Dr Patrice Urayeneza, believes there is need for engineering skills to be nurtured from primary school level.

“Currently, Namibia does not have a high qualification standard in the engineering profession. Proper attention must be given to primary and secondary school education. Think about giving a 10-year grace period to education whereby human and financial means would be provided to the education sector for free.

“The engineering sector is one of the vehicles of any healthy economy. Although some white elephants have been built in the process, infrastructure of all kinds have been provided to the country [to a minimum percentage (7%)] by Namibian engineers themselves. We hope that human capital will be hired to use that infrastructure,” says Urayeneza.

But why would the chronic shortage of engineers and skilled technicians still be hampering the engineering sector 23 years after independence? Will the sector successfully attain the Government’s Vision 2030 goals?

“The Namibian industry does not perform well enough to the extent that local engineers or technicians from Unam and PoN can compete with those abroad. However, let’s acknowledge the improvement that has been achieved since independence,” Urayeneza urges.

There is so much to achieve in the engineering sector, Urayeneza believes: “I know of certain Namibians who have ideas that could lead us to the achievement of the Vision 2030 goals within the remaining 17 years. Those in politics and civil society must identify those gems and entrust them with regard to the development of local education and engineering. Identify them! Asia (China in particular) and South America have made it. Why can Namibia not do the same?” He asks.

Local companies lack one thing: Leadership. Urayeneza states, Namibia needs more than engineering skills and Government support towards local black companies.

According to him, Asians believe in themselves and enjoy wide support from their respective governments and financial institutions.

“Namibians should learn from the Chinese in terms of self-discipline, leadership, hard work, respect for the employees, etc. We must learn the global history of engineering and its realisations. Otherwise, there would be no platform to establish philosophical directions and scientifically analyse historical facts,” he suggests.

But the Engineering Professionals Association (EPA) president, Sophie Tekkie says, many engineers own leading private companies and are in high executive positions in parastatals.

But they are often demotivated by the general public perception that engineers are not good business people, even though they do well in their private entities.

“Although many engineers have leading private companies and are in high executive positions in parastatals, this perception needs to be addressed, as it has caused the disappointment and discouragement of many local engineers. Engineers tend to be involved in hard technical issues but it is perceived that they cannot lead companies as they do not have MBAs,” Tekkie emphasises.

Additionally, the gross under-representation of female engineers has been an ongoing global concern for which Urayeneza asserts: “The engineering sector in Namibia is surely improving. However, women should be encouraged to express their unheard ideas that the engineering sector needs so dearly. This would create a healthy professional competition amongst local engineers while giving them the opportunity to excel on local and international levels.”

Engineering and construction are critical to the success of any country. In Namibia, the sector holds a strong position in the country’s future economic, social and sustainable development.

Both experts concur, the future will be influenced by the industry demands, as well as the Government and private sector support. Nonetheless, the profession will only be able to effectively fulfill its mandate if it attends to its current and future challenges with a purpose and direction. PF