Competition entices youth to pursue engineering career

Ntadonkazi Baxana (18), Sonwabiso Nyanga (18) and Litha Nohashe (17) show off the bridge designs of their teams during the third annual SANRAL bridge building competition hosted in conjunction with leadership development and youth accelerator iGEMs.

The South African National Roads Agency (SOC) Limited (SANRAL) presented its third annual bridge-building competition in Port Elizabeth during the July school holidays.

The event was hosted at SANRAL Southern Region’s Road Materials Testing Lab in Struandale. It partnered with Unity in Africa Foundation’s Incubating Great Engineering Minds (iGEMs), a leadership development incubator and education to employment programme.

The programme promotes engineering career fields among youth in high schools who have potential to go on to undergraduate engineering studies at a tertiary level, and then enter future engineering fields after graduation.

Holiday programme

The SANRAL bridge-building competition was one of a series of workshops, site visits and projects during the July school holiday for the iGEMs learners. The holiday course is an integral first phase in a four-stage leadership development programme, which incubates incumbents for about seven years.

Around 34 academically-deserving Grade 11 and 12 pupils from 18 schools in the city – who are from disadvantaged backgrounds – participated in the competition. The event offered a glimpse into the world of civil engineering and also allowed learners to put their creativity, team skills and future engineering skills to the test.

Based on the format and rules on the South African Institution of Civil Engineering’s (SAICE) bridge-building competition, learners had to design and then build model bridges using only wooden sticks, rope and glue in a limited time frame following functional specifications and construction methods.

The bridges were judged on aesthetics, weight and structural strength. In relation to the latter, suspended weights literally stretched the bridges to breaking point in an ultimate showdown between the 10 teams.

Learners appreciate the experience

Motherwell resident and Woolhope High School pupil, Litha Nohashe, is eager to become an entrepreneur to help reverse his family’s dire financial situation one day, he said.

“Civil engineering is interesting and I strongly recommend it to those who think it is boring. The bridge-building competition surprised me because I am not a creative person. The event opened my eyes in terms of understanding my character and the way I do things.

“As the world goes on, things have to be developed to keep with [the] times. Engineers are the ones responsible for that. Everything revolves around engineering if you think about it. We are the people that make everyone’s lives easier,” said Nohashe.

Sonwabiso Nyanga, a student from Newton Technical High School and resident of Kwa-Dwesi, implied that the competition helped her find a career.

“For me, the event was an eye opener because I was not sure which career to choose.  So, by doing things practically it was fun to actually see what goes in when building and materials you have to take into account.

“Engineering is a very vast career field because you can see how things are developing now. More technology is being used and engineering guarantees that there is something to do and something to look forward to, because we are moving the world forward,” she said.

Awarding excellence

SANRAL announced that later in August it will host an induction event for the scholarships and bursaries that will be awarded to pupils in the Eastern Cape.

In the past financial year, SANRAL awarded 180 bursaries to learners in various schools and 300 scholarships for engineering-related studies at a tertiary level with an estimated combined value of approximately R8-million.

Mbulelo Peterson, SANRAL Southern Region manager, said: “The first question would be: why is SANRAL channeling funds in scholarship and bursary programmes? There is a simple answer. Engineering is a high-level scarce skill in the country. If we don’t invest in creating talent pipelines from high school and university for the future, we face the risk of not having engineers building and maintaining South Africa’s national road network.”

He went on to explain SANRAL takes an integrated approach at development of South African youth for future roles and careers in engineering.

“We begin with initiatives like today’s iGEMS programme which supports the development of youth in high schools. In addition to this, we offer scholarships and a maths and science programme for high school learners. When high school learners enroll for formal studies, SANRAL offers bursary options.”