In a report, Saice called for an urgent intervention into the “brain drain”, saying the majority of those leaving were aged between 30 and 60.
“Of those who left, 120000 are reported to have had professional qualifications.
“This represented about 7% of the total number of professionals employed in South Africa at the time,” the report revealed.
Furthermore, Saice noted that they had lost 1.73% of their members to immigration in the last three years.
“South Africa has excellent, experienced engineers - both locally and working outside of South Africa. The government needs to make strides to attract South African engineers back to South Africa and back into the government sector, where they are most needed,” the report said.
Saice said a serious shortage of technically qualified managers, in all three spheres of government, was of great concern.
“It appears the weakness in government structures is the lack of knowledge on how to identify projects and how to effectively spend the allocated money. In a survey conducted by Saice among 1367 of its members, more than half of the engineering professionals said they were willing to work in the public sector,” the Saice report said.
Saice acting chief executive, Steven Kaplan, described the brain drain happening in the industry as “devastating”.
“It costs the country a lot of money and resources to produce world-class engineers. To lose them because they cannot find work, in a country where they are most needed, is a travesty,” Kaplan said. Two engineers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were seeking greener pastures in other countries because of corruption within the sector. Other push factors were job security and a higher earning potential overseas.
One of the engineers, a father of two, said that despite having almost 10 years of industry experience, he battled to find permanent jobs.
“I thought acquiring all my qualifications would help me in getting jobs, but I find myself without permanent employment for months on end,” he said.
Another engineer, who has since left Durban, said job security, better pay and exposure to international projects were the major factors pushing him to move.
“I am in the civil engineering field and specialise in multidisciplinary project execution. As soon as I am professionally registered, I will be looking to emigrate. I want to leave for the higher standard of living, political stability and educational opportunities for my children.”
He said newly qualified engineers should complete a community service programme, similar to the Health Professions Council of SA stipulation for doctors.
Economist Dawie Roodt blamed the government for the mass exodus, saying plans put in place to address it had not materialised.
“What we see are people battling to find jobs because the infrastructure sector is not growing,” he said.
Durban Chamber of Commerce chief executive Palesa Phili said they were deeply concerned about the trend, as the loss of talented, skilled workers had significant direct and indirect financial implications for the local economy.
“Skilled labourers such as engineers are critical for projects such as infrastructure development, repair and maintenance which, in turn, are crucial for a thriving economy,” she said.