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INFLUENCE: Re-engineering our professions

South Africa’s apartheid legacy left many sectors and professions with skewed demographic profiles. After twenty years of democracy, the shift in demographics in most cases has been miniscule, and transformation clearly needs to be accelerated. By Yuven Gounden

The Human Resources Development Council (HRDC) was established in 2010 to advise the Deputy President on issues relating to human resources development and to oversee the implementation of the Human Resources Development Strategy (HRDSA). The purpose of the HRDSA is to meet the development needs of South Africa through addressing challenges related to economic growth, social development, job creation, poverty and inequality.

South Africa’s then Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe, said at the HSDC Summit in March 2014: ‘Furthermore, the Council has provided space where a common agreement has been reached amongst the various professions, including engineering, the health profession, social work, and few others to explore the implementation of a model similar to the Thuthuka Programme in their respective fields. Thuthuka has achieved tremendous results in expanding access to the field of chartered accountancy. The role of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) has been an example worth emulating by other professions.’ His remarks stem from an HRDC initiative in 2013, according to which SAICA was mandated to lead the way in transforming the professions. Chantyl Mulder, Executive Director: Nation Building at SAICA, is represented on the HRDC and has embarked on such a transformation strategy.

Thus far the focus has been is on the engineering and the actuarial professions, and the transformation efforts are showing encouraging results.


The Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) has embarked on a journey of transformation in order to ensure maximum efficiency in the delivery of its core mandate and consequently improve its service to the engineering profession and the public at large.

In accordance with the Engineering Professions Act 46 of 2000, ECSA’s core mandate comprises the accreditation of engineering programmes, the registration of engineering professionals, and ensuring that registered professionals adhere to the code of conduct.

The fact that South Africa is a developing economy places ECSA in a critical position as key role-player providing well-equipped engineering professionals with the necessary skills. The ECSA is aware of the significant challenges that are associated with its role in the national development agenda. Paramount among these is ensuring a critical mass of registered engineering professionals, whilst striving to meet the set equity targets.

Currently, South Africa has one engineer for every 3 100 people, compared to Germany with one engineer for every 200 people. In countries like Japan, the UK and the USA, this ratio stands at about 1:310. Therefore, South Africa needs to produce ten times more engineers in order to compete favourably with developed economies.

In addition, according to the ECSA database, the current profile of registered engineering professionals is not balanced in terms of gender and race. There are approximately 34 000 registered professionals in the database, of which more than 14 800 are registered professional engineers with a degree from a recognised university. Of this total, females constitute only 3%, while blacks comprise less than 12%.

In order to deliver efficiently and equitably on its mandate, ECSA has had to revisit its processes, systems, culture, infrastructure and even the legislation that governs it. The necessary interventions are being managed through a joint implementation committee and transformation task team.

ECSA CEO Sipho Madonsella says that ‘ECSA has been myopic in its approach and change was necessary, but I am glad that ECSA can play a developmental role. I agree with the decision to make ECSA adopt a robust approach to the industry.’

Edgar Sabela, Executive: Strategic Services at ECSA, says: ‘We have a programme called Engenius, which targets high school learners to create awareness in rural areas, especially girl learners. We use young engineers as role models and run roadshows to educate learners on the various routes to follow to become engineers. We have registered the Sakhi Mfundo (‘Building Education’) Education Trust, which will mirror the Thuthuka model. We launched a pilot project in October 2014 with the University of Johannesburg (UJ) with 23 participating students.’

Madonsella says targeting disadvantaged learners and students will go a long way to bridge the divide that still exists. ‘The programme has all the ingredients to make it successful: incorporating elements such as life skills will certainly add value to the programme. I want to also attract females, especially those from rural areas, to the profession.’

Makotsene Makgalemele is a 30-year-old civil engineer who recently won the Young Engineer of the Year Award from Consulting Engineers South Africa (CESA). She hails from Temba, Hammanskraal, and attended Iona Convent School and Pretoria High School for Girls before graduating from the University of Cape Town (UCT).

‘I enjoyed being a part of something tangible and to also give back to communities. I wanted to see a convergence of lifestyle and access to infrastructure and engineering made this possible. I began interacting with ECSA and the South African Institute of Civil Engineers (SAICE) during my third year at university, and it is so important to be a part of a professional body. I currently work at HHO Africa on transportation and roads, and I have worked on SANRAl projects as well at the City of Johannesburg Rea Vaya rapid bus transport system. Engineering offers a rewarding career that also demands commitment,’ says Makgalemele.


Various research projects indicate that the slow rate of transformation in the actuarial profession emanates from a number of complex structural issues. Apart from the high levels of proficiency in mathematics required for qualification as an actuary, a general lack of awareness of the profession, the length and difficulty of the course, a scarcity of professional role models, and various socio-economic factors all constitute major obstacles to accelerated transformation of the actuarial profession.

Taking into account the various factors that have an impact on the supply and demand of actuaries in South Africa, the Actuarial Society of South Africa (ASSA) strives towards a sustainable increase in the number of black people and women who are active in the profession, and has set targets in this regard.

Mike McDougall, the CEO of ASSA, says: ‘The level of school mathematics in the country is dismal and interventions are necessary if we want to be globally competitive. It is for this reason that the ASSA forms strategic partnerships with bodies such as SAICA and the Maths Foundation of South Africa (SAMF). We also believe on focusing on training teachers as well as learners, because many mathematics teachers need to be given more skills in teaching the subject.’

There are approximately 1 000 fellow actuaries as well as 1 950 student actuaries in the country. Of these, 17% of ASSA Fellow members are black (African, Indian and Coloured) while there are 49% black student members. Of the total ASSA membership, 23% of Fellow members are black, while 47% are black female members.

Addressing the transformation issues requires a sustained combination of strategic interventions that cover secondary and tertiary education, and also provide support in the workplace.

ASSA has entered, or intends entering, into formal partnerships with other stakeholders to ensure the optimal utilisation of resources and to avoid duplication of effort. Its main partners in these joint ventures are the Association of South African Black Actuarial Professionals (ASABA), the South African Actuaries Development Programme (SAADP), employers of actuaries, and universities offering accredited actuarial science courses. The three accredited universities are the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), University of Cape Town (UCT) and University of Pretoria (UP).

Refilwe Lehobo is the SAADP coordinator at the University of Pretoria and has been involved in the programme for the past four years: ‘Previously I worked with troubled schools. My job was to re-engineer the performance system into the schools’ management systems. I had to work with teachers as well as Grade 11 and 12 learners to develop their life skills,’ she says.

‘I then got involved with SAADP. I had a great interest in the programme, and I have worked on addressing the issues that required attention. The programme started in 2009 and when I arrived, I found the students to be “lost”. I had to sit in on the tutorials to ensure that all the students passed.’

But things did improve. ‘In 2012 we had 19 students, of whom 15 passed (79%). One student passed honours cum laude. In 2014, 37 enrolled; one dropped off the programme and the rest passed. In 2003 the target had been eight actuarial scientists, but we had 18 in 2014. In terms of actuarial graduates we had 165 in total,’ Lehobo explains. ‘We do well academically and have an informal mentorship programme. We also have fun, but there is always a learning activity linked to a social event. Things continue to change, but we gradually approaching a stage of normality.’

Amogelang Kgaladi (21) comes from Rustenburg and attended Hoërskool Bekker. He completed Grade 12 in 2011 with a 83% pass mark in mathematics: ‘I liked mathematics all my life. I did research on actuarial science, and my uncle, Patrick Kgarume, an IT specialist, got me interested in this career. Then my mother, an educator, got me involved in an actuarial programme at UP, and in the process I even declined a bursary from Sasol to study chemical engineering. My mentor was Victor Nkwana, who assisted and supported me.’

Kgaladi is currently a tutor in actuarial mathematics for second-year students and active in the mentorship programme. ‘This involves assisting first-year students. I am on the programme for three years now, and I am glad to be on it as it offers a great transition from high school to university, including social and emotional support. Refilwe’s door is always open to guide and support us. I would like to complete my MBA, and then venture into management or my own business. I would also like to lecture part time to students.’

ASABA has developed a vacation work programme for university students, which will enhance their exposure to the actuarial workplace and will assist them in planning their careers. ASSA has been providing extensive financial and administrative support to ASABA for the past few years.

The Actuarial Society Development Trust supports actuarial education at accredited universities. This plays an important part in attracting appropriate lecturers, but also helps to reduce increases in course fees. ASABA is in the process of developing a comprehensive support scheme for post-university students.

While funding is available for some of these initiatives, ASSA is aware that more is required for meaningful medium- and long-term impact. In particular, financing is required for student mentorship programmes and for an academic support programme for students who have completed their university studies and have to sit the professional examinations.

Secondary education

At secondary education level, the Actuarial Society launched a joint venture with Metropolitan Life (now the MMI Foundation of MMI Holdings). The aim was to enhance the mathematics, science, English, and computer proficiency, as well as the life and study skills of talented township learners at selected schools to such an extent that some of them may be admitted to tertiary studies in actuarial science. Vocational guidance forms part of the programme to ensure that learners are aware of career options that may suit their talents and areas of interest. The nature of the programme was changed in 2012, when more institutional partners became involved and technology was utilised to a larger extent.

‘In 2013 and 2014, ASSA funded the establishment of a website from which support material for mathematics and science may be downloaded free of charge. The success of this initiative prompted a review of the approach to ensure optimal utilisation of resources and better coordination of related initiatives in order to enhance sustainability of this kind of programme,’ continues McDougall.

As a consequence, ASSA is entering into a partnership with Paper Video, a recently established company that provides solutions to past mathematics papers, with video links to explanations embedded in the written solutions. The offering is being expanded to other subjects and grades. A team of online education providers has approached ASSA to participate in a larger collaborative initiative. This will cover ten subjects, also at pre- and post-school level. Negotiations in this regard have reached a fairly advanced stage.

The Paper Video material will also be used to train teachers. ASSA regards teacher training as an essential part of improving education at South African schools, and sponsored 40 workshops, involving 712 schools and 1 273 teachers during 2013 and 2014. Feedback from teachers who attended these workshops has been overwhelmingly positive.

ASSA established the Actuarial Society Educational Trust, a registered public benefit organisation with authorisation to issue certificates in terms of Section 18A of the Income Tax Act, as a vehicle for funding related interventions.

Other initiatives aimed at learners in the secondary education phase include the Bona Lesedi Mathematics Enrichment Project in Mamelodi, and sponsorship of the interprovincial mathematics Olympiad for high schools. ASSA is represented on the board of SAMF and is considering involvement in other initiatives of the foundation, especially relating to teacher training.

The South Africanisation of the curriculum, which came into operation in 2010, should assist students in qualifying as actuaries, as it aligned the curriculum with South African regulatory regime and practice. Previously, local students had to study the UK regulatory regime, while applying South African law in their daily jobs. Localisation of the education initiative also aids in the preparation of graduates for the workplace by means of the planned inclusion of normative skills training in the curriculum.

ASSA explores collaborative initiatives with the Department of Basic Education and also supports the mentorship initiatives driven by ASABA and SAADP. The society collaborates with ASABA to participate in careers exhibitions to increase awareness of the profession among previously disadvantaged communities.


Not all learners with an aptitude for mathematics will want to become chartered accountants. Among the career options open to them are actuarial science and engineering. With the necessary programmes in place, these professions can successfully tap into the very limited number of African learners who achieve 60% and above for core mathematics.

The synergy among the three professions, and the determination of the bodies representative of the practitioners of these professions, will help to streamline career paths for learners and to ensure that the pool of especially black learners are shared by all three professions. After all, the shared intention is to provide learners with rewarding careers, so that they can ultimately contribute significantly to the economy.


Go to the link below to listen to the CEOs and other stakeholders such as beneficiaries:https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLuG9AdcCxNguzDNAwzWcM-PEONGby8PUO


Yuven Gounden is Project Manager : Communication and Marketing, Communication and Marketing at SAICA