Cultivating partnerships between larger, established firms and smaller organisations in the various sectors, is the best way to drive sustainability in South Africa’s consulting engineering industry, says consulting engineering firm Malani Padayachee & Associates (MPA) CEO Malani Padayachee-Saman.
MPA is participating as a “new entrant” in partnership with larger organisations in some of the South African National Roads Agency projects. This has provided an opportunity for the company to be involved in a market in which it has not participated before and grow its skills set, Padayachee stresses.
“We are also using this opportunity to ensure that we develop skills in specific areas that will sustain MPA into the future. Government’s Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act is affording us the opportunity to participate in other sectors, although it would be advantageous to have more private-sector entities open up their procurement regime or, as a minimum, encourage partnerships to further grow the various sectors.”
Padayachee stresses that, even with a proven track record, there are major challenges associated with the growth of smaller consulting engineering organisations. She notes that, unless the company has the right professionals on board, it is very difficult for it to sell its skills set, particularly to new markets.
“In a professional services sector, the largest budget item is salary costs and if you do not have a firm order book – which is also a challenge for small businesses – you cannot afford to have expensive resources on your payroll.”
As a result of having all their energies focused on ensuring that they remain in business, smaller organisations are further struggling to keep abreast of the latest international trends, while international associations continue to offer their employees exposure to these advancing technologies and methodologies.
Padayachee notes that this is particularly critical in attracting young graduates, who actively seek to migrate to larger companies to satisfy their need for growth in new trends.
“Although it does appear that there is a move towards favouring partnering arrangements in South Africa to ensure that projects are implemented effectively, a grave concern for smaller companies is that larger organisations will certainly dominate this space, as a result of established business relationships. Opportunities for new companies or smaller organisations will rely heavily on their ability to market themselves and secure partnering arrangements.”
In a market rendered heavily competitive by a lack of government spending on infrastructure projects, Padayachee says the reality is that, unless smaller companies have a well-thought-out marketing strategy coupled with a strong balance sheet to ensure exposure, “they will not stand a chance”.
She highlights that the South African economic environment is not an enabling one for growing businesses, leaving start-up companies very much at the mercy of larger organisations.
“Unless the larger partner is genuinely interested in fostering a long-term relationship, the rewards will always be skewed. Fundamentally, open dialogue and a genuine commitment to growing skills in South Africa is what is required to sustain the industry and contribute towards meaningfully growing the sector.”
In turn, Padayachee notes that smaller businesses can offer established businesses new perspectives on old problems. MPA is, for example, actively promoting labour-enhanced construction methods, without compromising on quality. The company has also been considering toolkits to promote such methods, as well as provide meaningful reporting in this area.
“Smaller organisations tend to be very innovative in their thinking, but lack the capacity to take these products to market quickly.”
In addition, MPA uses the skills of more experienced professionals in the sector to ensure that the information it issues is credible and of a high standard. This model is further implemented through MPA’s offer to train their clients’ graduates.
In the past, the company was involved in training graduates from State-owned entities and municipalities to ensure that they obtained the requisite skills for professional registration.
“Partnerships between companies with shared values can be mutually beneficial and go a long way towards fostering growth in South Africa’s consulting engineering sector,” Padayachee concludes.