A dearth of skilled engineers is stunting social and economic progression in sub-Saharan Africa, a new report has suggested. The Royal Academy of Engineering observed that a new wave of experienced people is needed to ensure that sanitation targets and efforts to reduce rural poverty can be met.


The contention is founded on a series of interviews and surveys with people in South Africa, Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania, all of which continue to see their efforts to boost growth undermined by inadequate infrastructure. However, the report observed that by funding a significant increase in engineering capacity, the transport, power and communications infrastructure would see a major improvement, thereby stimulating development.


For example, this progression would improve access to education and healthcare, while it would also create new employment opportunities and attract additional foreign investment.


"Unemployment among engineering graduates may, in part, be due to a reluctance on their part to take poorly paid positions in rural areas, or due to the dominance of foreign engineering firms who import foreign labour," the report noted. "However, the predominant reason identified in this study was that engineers were graduating without the necessary skills and experience to be employable."


The study cited the recent actions of the Kenyan Engineering Board, which has withdrawn recognition for engineering degrees from three of the country's public universities. Consequently, the Royal Academy of Engineering has called on industry bodies to develop stronger links with academic institutions, thereby ensuring that more graduates are ready to make the leap from academia to the world of work.


The study gives even more credence to the recent comments of Sir John Parker, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, who claimed that the engineering industry holds the key to addressing many of the world's greatest challenges, including the issues of sustainability, health and education.


Despite this contention, the importance of people with engineering skills continues to be overlooked. What more can be done on an educational level to address this problem?