/ 30 November 2023

Top experts urge young people to acquire water-related qualifications to help ease skills shortage in SA’s water industry

IIE MSA researchers and academics Vanessa Stippel and Linda Downsborough.

At this year’s IIE MSA Water Symposium the issue of the skills shortage in the water sector was raised by many stakeholders

Higher education institutions can play a critical role in addressing South Africa’s water crisis, which is one of the three major infrastructure bottlenecks that ranks alongside electricity and logistics constraints that the government is working to remove to stimulate economic growth.    

In February this year, the National Treasury tabled a budget in Parliament that showed that the government plans to spend R132.5 billion over the next three years to upgrade the country’s water and sanitation infrastructure.  The government is prioritising 11 strategic water-related projects with an estimated value of R115 billion, which are projected to create about 20 000 jobs during construction and 14 000 jobs during operation. 

This investment will ease the shortage of clean, drinkable water and tackle persistent water outages in South Africa that are caused by a wide range of factors including the skills shortage, droughts, ageing infrastructure and population growth. 

At this year’s IIE MSA Water Symposium, hosted in Johannesburg by the IIE MSA Centre for Water and the Environment (CWE) on 9 and 10 November 2023, the issue of skills shortage in the water industry was highlighted by several stakeholders including researchers, academics, policymakers and water resources management practitioners. The symposium was held under the theme Bridging the gap – Water Security, Climate Change and Resilience in the 21st Century.

Reports in 2015 by the Water Research Commission (WRC) and Energy & Water Sector Education Training Authority (EWSETA) identified significant skills shortages in water sector institutions such as the Department of Water and Sanitation, Catchment Management Agencies (CMAs), water boards and municipalities.

At the symposium, IIE MSA researchers and academics Linda Downsborough and Vanessa Stippel delivered a presentation titled Water in the Higher Education Landscape, which concluded that higher education institutions are producing a diverse range of water-related qualifications that can ease the skills shortage, but there was a shortage of people taking up the qualifications to pursue careers in the water industry. 

The IIE MSA Campus in Ruimsig, Johannesburg, offers two water-related IIE postgraduate qualifications, the Postgraduate Diploma in Water Management and the Masters in Integrated Water Management, which equip water professionals with expertise and skills in different technical fields such as river basin management, groundwater management, water resource planning, water resource economics and water treatment.

“Students interested in enrolling for our postgraduate programmes must be in possession of an undergraduate qualification. Ideally, prospective students must also have water industry experience and passion or interest to enter the industry,” says Downsborough, who is Programme Manager for Water and the Environment at the IIE MSA’s School of Engineering, Science and Health.

The IIE postgraduate programmes available at the IIE MSA campus have attracted students from some of South Africa’s major water institutions like Rand Water, City of Johannesburg, City of Tshwane, local and district municipalities, petrochemical giant Sasol, power utility Eskom and many others.

“The programmes take a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to managing water, to equip students with a broad range of technical skills from engineering, chemistry, water processing and treatment to environmental education. Our graduates are well rounded because our programmes incorporate training in soft skills as well as policy development and analysis,” explains Downsborough.

She also believes that well-educated and trained graduates are essential for the effective design, delivery, operation and maintenance of water infrastructure such as water treatment works and wastewater treatment plants.

According to Stippel, the IIE MSA is also contributing to policy development, research and innovation in the water industry.

“Higher education institutions are hubs for research and innovation. Researchers can work on developing new technologies, materials, and methodologies for water infrastructure construction, operation and maintenance. They are also able to contribute to knowledge on the perceptions of people which may foster the uptake of new technology. For example, at IIE MSA, a previous student investigated aquaponics as a climate smart agriculture in a rural setting,” concludes Stippel.

IIE MSA is an educational brand of The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE), the leading private higher education provider registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training. https://www.iiemsa.co.za/