2023 is a year of opportunity for the South African Institution of Civil Engineering (SAICE) to actively raise the relevance or value of the engineering professional, as perceived in the public sector; as well as its own relevance as a ‘thought leader’ in the infrastructure environment and a fair arbiter of infrastructure evaluation. SAICE will encourage the public sector to position itself as the ’employer of choice’ for engineering professionals. This is the sentiment expressed by the institution’s new president Steven Kaplan.
Kaplan was welcomed into office at a special inauguration event late last year, which was attended both virtually and in-person at the Sandton-based Hilton Hotel, in the presence of SAICE members, stakeholders and members of the media.
For his presidential theme for 2023, Kaplan explained that his focus would be to showcase the value and relevance of the civil engineering professional – engineers, technologists and technicians – in the built environment.
“I have taken up the gauntlet to re-establish the value and relevance of the engineering professional in the public and private sectors. It is in this country’s best interest for infrastructure development to be led by the experts – the engineering professionals responsible for the foresight and know-how into building infrastructure that will leave a positive legacy for generations into the future.”
The Public Sector in Focus
SAICE, he said, would be committed to establishing synergies and partnerships with the public sector to help build up the much-needed engineering expertise. “We want to work with the public sector and to position it as the “employer of choice” for engineering professionals.” He explained that in a survey conducted in 2015 together with SAIEE, SAIMechE, CESA and WISA; 68% of 1367 engineering professionals surveyed were willing to work in the public sector and 50.3% in rural areas.
“To help address the unemployment challenge facing South Africa, we must create opportunities for engineering professionals who are underutilized or unemployed to mentor those young graduates in both the private and public sectors. Our SAICE members are here to provide expertise and guidance in the journey of professionalizing the public sector, such as through establishing effective mentoring and coaching of graduates as part of the long-term succession plan for the public sector.”
SAICE – the ‘go to’ thought leader in the infrastructure space
He explained that SAICE’s 2022 Infrastructure Report Card (IRC), launched in November 2022, is a testament to the expert research and insights available on the country’s infrastructure.
“It is potentially the best, and currently, the only tool in the SAICE toolbox, which expresses the professional opinion of this learned society about the current condition of our infrastructure.
“During my tenure as president, I intend to push forward the 2022 IRC to reinforce SAICE as the “thought leader” in all things’ civil infrastructure. This will be done by targeting the decision-makers in the public sector, and focusing the discussions on planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure.”
He added that a “positive change towards improving the relevance or value of engineering professionals, and their representative professional institutions,” is critical to the improvement of infrastructure development.
Kaplan remains determined to position SAICE as a leader in infrastructure research driven by acknowledged experts. “I am also committed to creating a platform for further engagements that will inform and influence macro-level planning; lobby for infrastructure funding; stimulate debate on the condition of infrastructure and the effect of that condition on quality of life and the economy; and to highlight the actions necessary to improve the condition of the nation’s infrastructure.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that enabling a positive change that enhances the relevance or value of the engineering profession and their representative professional institutions is key to the capacitation of public service institutions and the improvement of infrastructure in South Africa, which will best serve the public interest.”
Kaplan’s commitment and vision for SAICE is welcomed by outgoing 2022 SAICE President, Professor Marianne Vanderschuren, the third female to serve as the president of the SAICE. She has undertaken her tenure with a philosophy strongly underpinned by a ‘sustainable livelihood’ and a ‘dare to care’ approach, which aimed to push forward the importance of the civil engineering profession in building and maintaining South Africa’s infrastructure.
Prof. Vanderschuren said: “SAICE remains on a path of success to enhance the civil engineering profession. I want to thank the SAICE membership, Council and Executive Board, as well as my family, friends, and the University of Cape Town for allowing me the space to pursue this memorable opportunity. I encourage all SAICE members to continue to give back while focusing on the sustainable livelihood approach in civil engineering. I wish Steven all the best during his tenure in taking forward SAICE’s vision and mission in building a better South Africa for everyone.”
The SAICE Presidential Inauguration also celebrated Francis Gibbons; Andrew Baird; Arthur Taute and Malcolm Mitchell – all recipients of the Honorary Fellow Awards, which recognises outstanding service and contribution to SAICE and the civil engineering profession at large. Taqueer Ahmed and Sharon Shunmugam, were the winners of this year’s President’s Award owing to their significant service rendered to the institution and the civil engineering profession over a number of years.
Perspective article Steven Kaplan, President SAICE