AN ANC plan to enlist engineering graduates in compulsory community service could flounder if not properly thought through, according to a Wits engineering professor.

Dr Stephen Ekolu, a lecturer at the Wits school of civil and environmental engineering, said students will not gain experience recognised by the engineering fraternities if community work is not a thought-out process. “Graduates won’t get recognised experience if the community service is based on cosmetic projects,” said Ekolu.

The plan to compel engineering graduates into community service for at least one year was discussed during the ANC’s policy conference in Midrand last month and will be voted on in Mangaung in December.

The Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, was reported at the time to have said the plan would help students who cannot find jobs and it will give them experience before entering the formal job sector.

Ekolu said community-based projects have to be done in two stages in order to be considered experience which a graduate can put towards being a recognised engineer registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA).

Ekolu said there should be a design process, a construction process and professionals who will oversee the work in order to fulfil experience requirements.

Ekolu said: “I doubt that the community work has all these components but if it is planned with the involvement of engineering professionals at every stage, from an engineering perspective it can be a success.”

Engineering students see their skills as being in high demand in the country and think the prospect of not finding a job, as pointed out by Nzimande, is minimal.

Zunaid Areff, 4th year BSc civil engineering, said: “It’s a good idea but we are in demand because the private sector gives us bursaries. They want us to work as soon as we graduate. The government will need to work together with the private sector to avoid complications.”

Tshepo Lethea, 4th year BSc civil engineering, said the lack of government involvement in producing engineers. Lethea said: “There is a shortage in the first place because people drop out as a result of financial issues. The state should get people through school and to the point where they can be involved in community work. It’s a good initiative but they must pay to get us to this point.”

Ekolu spoke about similar community projects that have involved engineers on the African continent and said those that succeeded were structured as community-based projects instead of community work. “In Uganda, women’s groups make construction materials, provide labour and involve professionals through the building project. If we can identify similar projects in South Africa and then retain professionals to make sure it adheres to municipal requirements it can work.”

Published in 17th edition of Vuvuzela