Defence, aerospace decry skills shortage


Companies are struggling to meet contractual obligations, says Aerospace Maritime and Defence Industries Association.SA`s defence and aerospace manufacturers are suffering from a lack of available skills, and it`s hindering some companies` ability to meet contractual obligations, says Aerospace Maritime and Defence Industries Association (AMD) executive director Simphiwe Hamilton.

He says the shortage has reached crisis proportions. “The depth of the crisis is illustrated by the experience of one of our AMD members, namely BAE Systems… [that] has for months been searching locally for engineering and technical personnel and then in desperation hired staff from outside of SA to meet contractual obligations.” Hamilton was speaking at the opening of the African Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2008 show in Cape Town.

The shortage, similar to that plaguing the global ICT industry, is worldwide, he says. “This has translated into a depletion of our local skills base, as pilots, engineers and technicians leave SA for better remuneration elsewhere.”

Furthermore, SA`s universities are struggling to produce enough graduates in these fields to satisfy current demand, “let alone supply increased numbers of graduates to industry”.

Michael Boer, associate professor in aircraft design and performance at the University of the Witwatersrand, says on average, about 100 first year students enrol for aeronautical engineering studies. Of that group, however, only around 14 students graduate the four-year course.

For this reason, Hamilton, who is also AAD director, says AMD, industry and show organisers have been encouraging and supporting science and mathematics programmes in high schools. One of the focal points this year was a science essay competition for Grade 9, 10 and 11 learners, sponsored by the state Air Traffic and Navigation Services.

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