The Young Professionals Forum (YPF) of Consulting Engineers of South Africa (CESA) was established with two clear objectives in mind: The first was to attract young people to a career in engineering and the second was to offer a support network to retain professionals within the industry.
Leading the way
Jana van der Merwe, Chairman of the forum and associate at Stewart Scott International in Pretoria, had her work cut out for her in taking on the role which required attracting young engineers to YPF branch meetings on a regular basis given their already full work schedules.
"We've introduced initiatives like guest speakers and event marketing to incentivise members to attend gatherings. We also make provision for networking opportunities over snacks and drinks so that members can see the value added benefits of attending YPF discussions," says van der Merwe.
"Another initiative is our partnership with industry players like Knowledge Base to help us spread the word. They have captured more than 95% of South Africa's Technikons who use AllyCAD and Civil Designer in their curriculum and they have introduced AllyCAD in high schools to help promote Engineering as a discipline. That's right in line with the broader YPF initiative and this partnership will only grow from strength to strength.
Tapping into future talent
The drive to attract new recruits is an urgent one according to van der Merwe: "If we don't get enough new recruits to join the industry, then we will have a real problem on our hands. It is also important for more young engineers to join the YPF network because it provides the ideal networking platform and we need to talk to each other and support each other if we are going to take the industry forward."
Besides creating a national network, the YPF runs a Young Professional Exchange Programme between countries. "Some of the member associations such as Sweden, Japan, Australia and New Zealand have already formed their own young professional groupings, thereby creating an opportunity for a cross-exchange of information and new ideas into the profession. We are also trying to get some of our Engineers who have left South Africa to return home. But in order for us to do this we have to look at the reasons why they left in the first place and one of the factors is money."
"With the alarming fee-cutting trend, young engineers often work long hours to meet production needs because their rates are lower. Fortunately the client is still able to get good quality work but what will happen when the experienced engineers retire and there are not enough skilled engineers that enter the market? Things could become critical if the situation is not assessed in time."
From strength to strength
Jana van der Merwe leads by example with her dedication and passion for the profession and has tackled issues head-on and already made significant headway.
"The next step for YPF is to have a 're-launch' in certain regions so that people are motivated to continue their efforts despite the problems experienced. If we all pull together we can make this work and there is no better time to do it. Engineering has never been more exciting than it is at this very moment."