Skills shortages in South Africa


Roula Inglesi-Lotz, associate professor, Department of Economics, University of Pretoria and president of the South African Association for Energy Economics (SAAEE), discusses skills shortages in the sector .

Through my experience over the years and discussions with colleagues from all spheres of the energy sector, the need for a platform to exchange new ideas and knowledge, networking opportunities and promoting and encouraging energy research was a frequent topic.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 2-2019.  
Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here .

Colleagues and energy enthusiasts, we all came together, with the support of the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE), to make an effort towards creating a national forum for energy specialists from all professions and spheres of the energy sector (academia, industry, government, private and public sector). It intends to build intellectual capacity and thereby improve energy policy propositions and implementations.

SAAEE aims at providing a suite of benefits for its members (such as access to the IAEE publications) as well as a continuous involvement with the current affairs of the local and international energy sector, through a calendar of energy events nationally, panel discussions on current energy and environmental topics where energy specialists debate and exchange ideas and perspectives, experts’ talks and presentations, technical workshops where energy specialists present a variety of modelling and quantitative methods used in the energy field nationally and internationally, members’ database including not only contact information but also, topics and work in progress, and a student chapter with activities that provide expansion of skills and networking opportunities.

In 2018, SAAEE organised discussions regarding topics such as the South African energy supply mix, the carbon tax and also, a technical workshop on Energy Modelling where experts presented their quantitative and qualitative approaches for energy analysis.

The contribution of energy economists to Africa’s power sector

The lack of skills and more importantly, skills aligned with the needs of the South African economy and the entire African continent is a fact that we have to change soon to assist the African continent develop in the future. Regarding the energy field, its multidisciplinary nature is more demanding in the combination of skills needed. How can an energy report be complete if it does not consider engineering or environmental or economic (and many more) aspects?

Shortage of energy economists? I would say that economics is a field with so many different sub-fields that indeed most economists follow mainstream fields
such as monetary and trade economics.

However, I would say that this fact changes slowly but surely.

In general, the energy field is characterised historically by gender biases, primarily due to preconceived linkage of energy only with engineering fields. Thus, certain graduates have not been exposed to opportunities in the sector – this reality also is changing slowly but surely.

In my experience, young economists are curious, interested, and sensitive on topics of climate change and energy security and their connection to developmental issues. To do so, we need to promote quality research and energy role models so that we attract and train the new generation of energy economists. This can be achieved with awareness programmes, active participation in energy policy discussions, and general open debates on energy issues.

Message to AUW/PGAF attendees

We need more collaboration in the energy sector; we need to be able to know what other researchers are busy with; we need to know who the experts are and how to contact them. To promote knowledge, to produce better quality research, to propose and implement evidence-based policies, the sector needs to talk energy. I find the AUW/ PGAF one of the best examples of what I am referring to, but still the sector needs more avenues for interaction opportunities.

Hopefully, SAAEE will provide this platform and promote integration amongst the various professions within the energy field while facilitating the building of intellectual capacity and exchange of ideas. SEI

More about Roula Inglesi-Lotz

Roula Inglesi-Lotz considers herself a curiosity-led economic researcher with particular interest in energy and environmental issues seeking answers to pressing issues associated with traditional ways of consuming and generating energy; as well as investigating new and alternative solutions for higher efficiency in the consumption of energy and renewable fuels for generating energy.