Engineering capacity building

Engineering capacity building

Why is a shortage of engineering capability a barrier to growth?

Technical capability is needed for developing countries to engage effectively in the global economy and to ensure that international aid is utilised effectively and efficiently.

In developed countries, the role of engineers in contributing to economic development is well understood and utilised. However, in much of the developing world, countries lack the technical skills to address even important basic societal needs that rely on engineering, such as clean water supply and sanitation.

In many developing countries this shortage of technical capability is compounded by the brain drain of engineers from rural to urban areas and from developing to developed countries.

The table opposite, which shows the population per engineer (for all engineering disciplines) for selected countries, highlights the scale of the problem in some parts of the world.

In developing countries the populations served by each civil engineer in local government are vast, of the order of 33,000 in South Africa and even greater elsewhere (Lawless, 2007).


(* = registered engineers only)
Adapted from Lawless A (2005)

References and further reading


Lawless A (2005) Numbers and Needs: Addressing Imbalances in the civil engineering profession, SAICE, Johannesburg
Lawless A (2007) Numbers and Needs in Local Government: Civil Engineering the critical profession for service delivery, SAICE, Johannesburg
,RC, Past President of WFEO, papers on Engineering Capacity Building

Develop engineering capacity to achieve sustainable socio-economic development

A sufficient pool of engineers can enable developing countries to address the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) effectively.

Technical capacity building in developing countries can provide a major step forwards for sustainable economic development.

Case study: South Korea
In 1970 South Korea had approximately 6,000 engineering graduates. In 1980 these were increased to 14,000. By 1990, the figure had jumped to approximately 80,000.

When plotted against South Korea ’s per capita GNP growth, the number of engineering graduates almost directly parallels the growth of the South Korean economy, offset by a few years. This data suggests that investment in building a well qualified and sufficiently large pool of engineers can lead to sustainable economic development. (Jones, 2007)


Planners and government officials in developing countries must pursue effective economic development and job generation strategies in parallel with making the needed investments to enhance the quality and quantity of engineering graduates.

Planners and government officials in developing countries must pursue effective economic development and job generation strategies in parallel with making the needed investments to enhance the quality and quantity of engineering graduates.
Some initiatives to address infrastructure needs in areas where there are shortages of engineers include:
  • Identify skills gaps and prioritise and target skills shortage areas with training programmes
  • Encourage and incentivise young people into maths, science and engineering studies
  • Incentivise large engineering companies to train staff from smaller ones
  • Incentivise engineers with skills and experience to move to shortage areas
  • Promote virtual working methods to enable engineers to train and work remotely
  • Twin youth with experience
  • Deploy students and graduates on long-term workplace training contracts
  • Harness professional bodies to mobilise available or retired skills to coach and to advise on professional training
  • Second experienced municipal staff working in the private sector to run departments and rebuild internal capacity in needs areas
  • Implement an 'adopt-a-town' strategy whereby the private sector is appointed on a turnkey basis to address backlogs, refurbish and rebuild long-term structures and systems

An example of a successful engineering capacity building programme is the Ethiopian Engineering Capacity Building Program