Civil Designer Showcase

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

WHEN Johan van Schalkwyk walked through the offices of SAACE nearly three years ago, there were mixed emotions. With a strong background in training and a natural flair for communication, Johan took on the vital position of managing the School of Consulting Engineering, a task that proved to be both challenging in nature and ever expanding in its application.

His varied portfolio includes overseeing training initiatives, administering SAACE's quality system and handling the skills development of the body. The School of Consulting Engineers started about four years ago and has grown from training 50 delegates a year, to accommodating the needs of between 800 and 1000 engineers nationally.

The school aims to educate consulting engineers on issues that affect the trade and covers a broad spectrum of training. Among the most important focus areas are occupational health and safety issues, financial management, project management, quality assessment procedures, risk management and contract negotiation. "Our intention is not to compete with any training provider but rather to increase the selection of CPD accredited courses that are currently available to consulting engineers. In some cases we even partner with training providers and use their teaching professionals to present courses," he explains.

The Continuous Professional Development - or CPD programme as it is commonly known - became compulsory in 2006, encouraging engineers to accumulate training points in order to retain their professional registration status. "Many engineers do not have time for weeks of classroom training so we developed a satellite CPD programme that covers a wide range of topics like management practice, sales technique, civil engineering and design software. Since we are living in a world that is driven by technology, the turn around time for design has to happen almost immediately, making on-line training a viable alternative to more traditional training methods," says Johan.

The increasing skills shortages currently experienced in the engineering sector have recently come under the spotlight, resulting in a closer look by SAACE at qualified engineering professionals who emigrate to other countries. "I believe that the solution to the dwindling numbers lies in government intervention and a strong focus on our South African identity. We have amazing potential here and it is fantastic to have industry experts like Vincent Bester from Knowledge Base speak about the success of South African design software AllyCAD and Civil Designer. "
  "The programs are on par with world standards and the fact that they have offered AllyCAD to South African schools at no cost as part of their social responsibility plan means that industry players are becoming more pro-active in helping to promote civil engineering practice."

The role of a SAACE professional seems never ending and far reaching but Johan's tireless commitment to the process is steadfast and unwavering. Among the many initiatives that he has helped to put together is an exchange program through the Young Professionals Forum (YPF). According to the newly created memorandum of understanding, a group of South African professionals will work in Mozambique for 3-4 weeks to help with infrastructure projects and in exchange selected Mozambicans will work in South Africa to acquire much needed experience.

Another initiative is the Human Resource forum. "HR is usually not the highest thing on the agenda when it comes to consulting engineers, yet it is vital. Our forum members consist of HR professionals who discuss issues that could make or break a firm. Information is then relayed via a bi-weekly newsletter that has proved to be an invaluable resource to companies that do not have an HR department. One of the current topics that we are discussing, is the process to follow when employing an engineer from overseas and the SAQA procedure required to assess qualifications against industry requirements."

But where does this mover and shaker get his endless supply of energy when tackling the many diverse issues within a changing environment? "I believe that our course of action is correct and I am confident that engineering as a discipline will flourish. It will not be easy but if we stand together and join hands, we will be able to push through the boundaries and start to make a difference." This dynamic self starter has led the way to great things and has succeeded in getting industry players to keep the channels of communication alive, a process that is proving to be invaluable in the transformation process.

image Johan van Schalkwyk: first joined the South African Association of Consulting Engineers (SAACE) in 2004 where he occupied the position of Manager for the School of Consulting Engineering. Since then, Johan has volunteered to be a managing member of SAACE's youth wing (YPF) and has launched a satellite education channel for engineers, a workable QMS model for SMME's and a dedicated HR forum.

 
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