Eskom skills crisis

Eskom faces a skills crisis as many experienced and qualified employees have left or are looking to leave the power utility. Due to its difficult working environment, it is no longer the employer of choice. 

Energy analyst professor Sampson Mamphweli told 702 that the resignation of former CEO Andre de Ruyter and COO Jan Oberholzer is a symptom of the underlying skills crisis at the utility that has been ongoing for over a decade. 

The loss of one individual from a company with over 40,000 employees is usually insignificant.  

However, the loss of an individual as highly experienced as Oberholzer is a considerable loss for a company performing poorly, Mamphweli said. 

Oberholzer was on a fixed-term contract to support the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station’s long-term operation and Kusile Power Station projects.

He told Nuuspod that he had a discussion with Eskom’s acting chief executive Calib Cassim where he said the time has come to leave the power utility.

“I feel I can add more value from outside of Eskom. There is nothing sinister behind it. Nobody cancelled my contract,” he said.

“I discussed the issue with Cassim in a mature and professional manner, and that was the decision which was taken,” he said.

Oberholzer explained that he had served as COO since July 2018, and the change to becoming a consultant was not easy.

“As chief operating officer, you could mobilise many things. Suddenly, you become a consultant where you only give your opinion. That is difficult,” he said.

Jan Oberholzer
Former Eskom COO Jan Oberholzer

“When you look at the skills required at Eskom, the utility no longer has them. The fact that maintenance runs overtime and over budget, while also being of poor quality, reflects the lack of skills at Eskom,” Mamphweli said.

Eskom currently does not have a full-time CEO, and its board made the position of COO redundant after Oberholzer left the role earlier this year. 

Mamphweli also pointed out that many senior employees at the utility are employed in an ‘acting’ capacity. This creates uncertainty within the organisation, making it difficult for Eskom to perform optimally. 

The exodus of skilled employees began over a decade ago when the utility underwent a transformation process. 

As part of this agenda, Eskom trained black engineers and pushed them into high-ranking positions within the organisation. 

“In that process, Eskom lost some good white engineers who chose to work overseas or in the private sector due to the increased political interference at the utility,” he said.

Even black engineers trained at Eksom have begun to leave the utility because of the deteriorating working environment, heightened political pressure, and low employee morale. 

This does not only affect Eskom in the immediate term but will have an even greater impact over the coming decades as the utility has lost the ability to train engineers and has lost employees with operational experience. 

“Eskom is simply no longer the employer of choice,” Mamphweli said. 


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