Johannesburg, Tuesday, 13 July 2021 – The need to grow science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills has been a priority for decades. And with an estimated 20 million young people joining the African workforce annually for the next two decades, it is something that must be addressed if the continent is not to miss out on the opportunities for growth and employment provided by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“It’s well respected that STEM education is a key lever for economic transformation, making the value of skilled people with engineering, environment sciences, and green building skills immeasurable. These skills will form the foundation of the future workforce and are crucial to support sustainable growth and development on a continent targeted for its massive investment potential,” says Mathieu du Plooy, Managing Director of WSP in Africa.
However, the potential in African markets is impacted by diasporas, which is compounded by STEM capabilities being substantially under-represented in higher education when compared to other emerging and leading economies in the world. To put this into context, the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) previously asserted that South Africa is severely under-engineered compared to the international benchmark, and the number of engineers per capita in South Africa (3,166) falls significantly short of other developing countries, including Brazil (227) and Malaysia (543).
“With specialist skill shortages and a constant need to recruit talent, addressing the problem means providing openings for young people as they start their careers. Additionally, a concerted effort is needed by stakeholders across basic and higher education. It is as important to provide learners with STEM-related classes when they begin their schooling as it is to manage the entire process all the way through to post-graduate programmes. In fact, the World Bank says only 6% of students across Africa enrol into masters degree programmes, with the number dwindling to 1% for PhD programmes,” says du Plooy.
Fortunately, pressure on organisations to do more when it comes to their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) responsibilities means initiatives in STEM education can be targeted to not only deliver the skills development needed for young, aspiring professionals, but also help reach their fiduciary goals. This will require organisations across industry sectors to focus beyond short-term needs that show immediate economic benefits and incorporate a longer-term vision of how fundamental change can be applied across the skills development value chain.
“The past 16-months have had their challenges and caused significant disruption worldwide. This has resulted in many companies rethinking traditional business practices and approaches, including the skills they require to remain relevant. We have undertaken this process and are now more than ever looking for talent to recruit in most parts of the business,” adds du Plooy.
Rethinking business practices offers the perfect chance to shape a new vision for upskilling and reskilling employees. This creates the opportunity to partner with the education sector to help drive skills development programmes that better reflect the needs of businesses today and into the future with the Fourth Industrial Revolution reshaping how people live and work.
This reinvention can also enable improved regional collaboration between countries on the continent. For example, South African skilled professionals could bring their experience to bear on infrastructure development projects across the continent in places where large-scale infrastructure is being newly implemented. If more countries look at ways of working with their neighbours to develop regional zones of STEM expertise, the continent will be able to drastically reshape how it goes about skills development, training, and even job creation.
“Because Africa consists of so many developing nations often funding availability is directly impacted by global and local market developments, trends and volatility – particularly public and major projects. This has a trickledown effect on project planning and pipelines, and as a result the ability to retain in-country project experience for STEM professionals. But, if done correctly, collaborating and sharing knowledge across borders when such projects do get underway not only enhances the exposure for these professionals, but such opportunities can be leveraged to create programmes for upskilling and training of young STEM professionals, thereby growing regional expertise. Ultimately, it comes down to creating enough opportunity to develop the skills required to the benefit of future advancement in Africa,” concludes du Plooy.
WSP is a proud STEM employer and year-on-year supports among the most candidates from a single firm working towards Professional registration in the industry. Today the business employs 86 professionally registered engineers, technologists, technicians and scientists, and 62 registered candidates (with ECSA & SACNASP), 74% are EE and 32% are female (including non-EE). The business has also awarded 20 full- and part time Engineering & Science bursaries for the 2021 academic year, all EE bursars and 45% of these bursars are female.