Johannesburg - The electricity industry has been hit by a "chronic" shortage of engineers, the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers said in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
"Eskom's current status doesn't only involve power generation issues and the failure of government to recognise the power problem - we must also take into account that the engineering skills shortage has contributed to the power crisis," said the institute's Ian McKechnie.
He was addressing a conference entitled "A Constructive Response to the Power Crisis from the Mining and Metallurgical Industry".
One of the factors that had to be considered was apartheid-era education, where skills were disproportionately developed in the population.
There was also a world-wide demand for engineers. Another concern was the "deficiencies in the present school system" and the low number of pupils with maths and science marks high enough to study engineering.
He added that the USA produced 380 engineers per million people, China 225, India 95 and South Africa only 45.
Furthermore, McKechnie said, traditional artisan training had
collapsed and the Setas were not making a sufficient contribution.
Levels of artisan training had dropped from around 30 000 registered artisan apprentices in 1975 to an estimated 3 000 in 2006 - a drop of ten times.
McKechnie said that in order to produce more engineers,
technologists and technicians, it was necessary to "feed more students into the tertiary education system". The availability of lecturers and tutors however remained a significant challenge.
In the 2007 matric results, only 25 415 students passed higher grade mathematics and 28 122 passed higher grade science.
"Of this number, only 8 000 got a C aggregate or higher in higher grade maths - and this was the typical entry level for a university engineering degree, McKechnie said.
Restructuring the electricity distribution industry to deal with the shortage was not the answer, he said.
"The current trend of outsourcing within the electricity
distribution sector, whilst possibly being an effective short-term solution, does little to empower the network owner and enhances the risks of unreliability and failure in the longer term."