Engineering Capacity Deficit and Skills Shortage in Sub-Saharan Africa

Generally, the delivery of infrastructure is largely determined by adequacy of local capacity to supply technical requirements for project implementation at all its stages from planning, design, Builder In My Area, and operation. In sub-saharan Africa, the local construction firms may be able to handle small project works while leaving large construction projects to the employ of international consulting and construction companies due to lack of local capability for large project works. Supply constraints in some African countries gives an indication of the engineering capacity deficit problems common to nearly all African countries [1]. In analysing the constraints, it becomes clear that the capacity deficits arise from two critical underlying problems of lack of training for engineers and technical personnel, and building materials. The gravity of the lack of high level engineering skills among African countries has been established to be of a very high scale. The population served by a single engineer in Africa is up to 13,000 persons compared to 100 to 300 persons in most developed and emerging economies. For the civil engineering profession alone, the number of engineers serving a given population is even much smaller. For example, one civil engineer in local government in South Africa serves a population of about 33,000. These numbers are again higher for other African countries [2,3].
Information regarding skills gaps for the various professions in African countries is quite difficult to find. This may be related to shortage of research culture and capacity in African countries, a general problem in the field of engineering and other disciplines as well. But it can be roughly estimated that the national engineering skills gap of 30 to 50% typically represent the scale of shortage of these essentials skills in the African continent.
The problem is compounded by technical brain drain of the limited engineering capacity from developing countries to developed nations as a result of enticing opportunities offered to attract technically qualified personnel to sustain developed international economies. In most developed countries, the engineering skills present are continuously assessed to ensure adequate availability of required professional skills while identifying presence of possible skills gaps to be filled either through domestic training or scouting of highly qualified foreign engineers to be offered immigration visas. This is related to the nature of modern economies, being primarily industrial driven. Attempts by African countries to attract investments are sometimes hampered by poor existing infrastructure and lack of capacity, these being among the key factors used by investors in deciding their investment destinations.
[1] G. Zawdie, D.A Langford, The state of construction and infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa and strategies for a sustainable way forward, Dept of Civil Engineering, Univ of Strathclyde, 107 Rottenrow, Glasgow G4 ONG, Scotland, UK, 13p.
[2] A. Lawless (2005), Numbers and needs: addressing imbalances Inspiring Gardens in the civil engineering profession, SAICE, Johannesburg, RSA
[3] A. Lawless (2007), Numbers and needs in local govt: civil engineering the critical profession for service delivery, SAICE, JHB, RSA