Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills are in short supply globally. However, in South Africa the skills shortage is compounded by difficult barriers to entry, where there are insufficient numbers of high school graduates attaining the mathematics and science results needed to enter into these fields.
To put this into context, the number of registered engineers in South Africa is only about 0.04% of the population, which is a very low number when compared to more developed economies, such as the United Kingdom for instance, where the number is about 0.34% of the population. Furthermore, the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) 2016/2017 Annual Report highlighted that of the 28 195 professional category registrations processed in the reporting year, only about 7% were women.
These statistics demonstrate a clear gap that needs to be addressed, starting with attracting more young talent to pursue careers in these fields and that they may become more involved in designing for a sustainable future their way.
WSP believes in the value of skilled people; where engineering, environmental sciences and green building skills are crucial to support sustainable growth and development. The company therefore places significant focus on looking in every possible avenue to find key talent and skills that may be nurtured through mentorship and career guidance – and believes that diversity (in age, sex, culture, etc.) can add immense value to dynamisms, innovative thinking and new approach to collaboration and project work in the workplace.
Looking at tackling some of the barriers to entry, WSP caught up with four inspired women in their business – two engineers, an environmental scientist and a sustainability consultant – on their career advice for the youth and budding professionals on entering these fields.
Seeing possibilities, everywhere
One clear message from the panel is to not feel limited by a chosen discipline and/or qualification.
Hlologelo Manthose, Sustainability Consultant, Building Services, WSP in Africa, says “I am living proof that even if you don’t end up working in the profession that you have studied and qualified for, you can still find limitless and meaningful opportunities if you follow your passion. I studied Industrial Psychology, and I love working with people – and ensuring that people and the environment are well integrated. This led me to working in the built environment. So, my advice for young people who are looking to get into the built environment, is that there really are limitless opportunities, but it’s important to be open-minded.”
Jabulile Nhlapo, Mechanical Engineer, Associate, Building Services, WSP in Africa, agrees and adds that young people and students should look to pursue a career in something that interests them and that they will be passionate about in their work lives. “What I love most about what we do is being able to imagine and conceptualise something – and then see it come to life. This is not something that can be experienced the same way in a lot of professions, which makes it very special to me. It’s knowing that what you do in your profession can physically and sustainably contribute to other people’s lives – which is a responsibility, but also a great privilege.”
Every experience moulds you and builds on your career
“From my experience I can say that it is important to not negate any opportunities to gain experiences, or how important that experience will be to you,” says Frankie A'Bear, Civil Engineer, Transport & Infrastructure, WSP in Africa. “Even if it’s a project or an organisation that you’re involved with while in school or university – because even these provide you with exposure to basic skills in project and people management, for example. And, it’s so important to have those experiences – even outside of your core disciplines – so that you are constantly learning skills that will be very applicable to your future career.”
“Engineering is my personal passion and I would encourage all young people to study and enter the engineering field. But, even if you don’t, it’s important for young people to use the time while they are studying towards their chosen qualification to build themselves into a multifaceted person,” continues A'Bear.
“This is especially true at university, as there are many resources available and it is so important for young people to not allow themselves to be pigeon-holed by only focusing on finishing their qualification. Rather, they should look to use the resources around them to the best of their ability, possibly visit other faculties and sit in on some of the public lectures and discussions, because they will be surprised by the lines of similarity between the various disciplines,” suggests Nhlapo.
Collaborate with others to grow your career
Karen King, Senior Associate, Environment & Energy, WSP in Africa, advocates that for students who want to grow their career in any STEM field they should also look out for opportunities to job shadow and intern. “It’s important to do what interests you – and to leverage every opportunity to gain as much field experience as you can. In fact, once you enter the working world, your practical experience tends to become more important than anything else as you grow in your career.”
“When afforded such opportunities, it’s just as important to be conscious of the environment, to gain the most from the learning experience. And, if a mentor is not provided to you, seek advice. There are so many people around you that can mentor your way of thinking, your work ethic and that you can draw inspiration from, while there are also formal channels and mentors you can engage with on your career development,” adds Manthose.
King indicates that the mentorship and professional career guidance provided at WSP is very advantageous. “For instance, WSP has had an almost 100% successful registration rate with ECSA over the last three years – and the firm offers a similar programme for candidates in the environmental science space for professional registration with the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions. So, for anyone coming into WSP, they will receive mentorship and career guidance – and from people who have been through the process before them and know how to get to that next phase for professional registration.”
“At the end of the day, if you love what you do, you’ll never stop enquiring and innovating, thereby making a difference for society and the world we live in,” concludes Manthose
WSP is one of the world's leading engineering professional services consulting firms. We bring together approximately 43,000 talented people, based in 500 offices, across 40 countries. We are technical experts who design comprehensive and sustainable solutions and engineer projects that will help societies grow for lifetimes to come.
Enquiries: Elaine Porter. Tel +27 (0)11 300 6095 or email email@example.com