Exodus of engineers at Eskom

Eskom engineers and technical staff are leaving the power utility because of affirmative action, a lack of career prospects, cadre deployment, nepotism, and a toxic work environment.

This is according to an article in Rapport, which highlighted problems in retaining skilled technical employees at Eskom.

The report said there is now a much higher resignation rate among engineers, craftsmen, and technicians than before.

Apart from the abovementioned problems, further contributing factors include Eskom’s traumatic restructuring process and uncertainty around splitting Eskom into three units.

Staff morale has hit an all-time low, partly caused by the general negativity around load-shedding and the general negativity around the company.

The increase in resignations of engineers and skilled technical staff should not come as a surprise.

In October last year, Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer said he was “absolutely horrified” by the number of experienced staff lost at the Koeberg nuclear power station.

He said what was particularly alarming was that Eskom employees were prepared to resign without having alternative employment.

“After resigning, they get opportunities to go to Europe or the Middle East,” Oberholzer said, showing the demand for their skills.

He said the loss of skills and experience is a significant challenge for Eskom.

Skills exodus at Eskom

The exodus of skills at Eskom started more than a decade ago.

In 2008, trade union Solidarity highlighted that at least 346 engineers and artisans left Eskom in twelve months.

Solidarity said 72% of its members in Eskom — mostly people with critical technical skills — wanted to leave the company. 99% of respondents said Eskom did not do enough to retain talent.

Instead of focussing on retaining technical skills and training new engineers and artisans, Eskom drove away many white engineers and technical staff.

In 2015, media reports revealed that Eskom was planning to cut the number of white engineers and managers and decrease the number of white tradespeople.

Cutting skilled white employees was needed to comply with South Africa’s strict provisions of the country’s Equity Act.

The Department of Labour required Eskom to set numerical targets so that the makeup of its workforce would more closely match that of the country at large.

Eskom had to submit a plan to reach the demographics targets by 2020.

In 2019, another report surfaced that Eskom was planning to drastically cut the number of skilled white engineers and managers to meet its affirmative action targets.

The white employees who Eskom allegedly targeted included engineers, tradespeople, academically qualified staff, and middle management.

Although Eskom denied it had a plan to get rid of white staff, many white employees resigned as they felt affirmative action was limiting their career prospects.

Trade union Solidarity stated in 2019 that Eskom struggled to recruit and hold onto skilled engineers — particularly white employees.

“Eskom’s recruitment policy, promotion policy, EE targets and AA appointments, and procurement policy has made the environment in Eskom impossible for white engineers and artisans to get promotions and excel in their careers,” said Solidarity.

It added that regardless of race, Eskom desperately needed to keep its skilled engineers and staff if it was to turn the company around.

In February 2021, the trade union even presented Eskom with a list of experienced and skilled experts to help with its turnaround strategy.

Eskom declined this help, and a year later, the power utility continued to struggle with an exodus of skilled engineers and technical staff.

Solidarity blamed affirmative action for Eskom skills shortage.

“Many of the experts on the list are white, and Eskom merely don’t want to appoint them because of their race,” the trade union said.

Now read: Eskom CEO André de Ruyter answers the big question — What went wrong?

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Exodus of engineers at Eskom