Eskom facing skills crisis

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa

Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa said Eskom struggles to recruit skilled employees since working at the utility has lost its prestige.

Ramokgopa told eNCA that there is a stigma that everyone who works at Eskom is corrupt or incompetent, making it less prestigious to be associated with the company. 

He said this perception follows employees outside of work, affecting how they are viewed in public spaces like malls or schools. 

This is a problem because Eskom has lost many skilled engineers and technicians over the past few years – people needed to combat load-shedding.

“The best way of dealing a decisive and fatal blow to naysayers is the resolution of load-shedding, and I’m quite confident that the men and women who are the exceptionally qualified PhD nuclear scientists are the ones who are going to help us to resolve this,” he said.

Ramokgopa added that South Africans will see significant changes in Eskom’s leadership.

“The incoming CEO, the head of generation, the head of transmission, the head of distribution, all of them, are exceptionally qualified black individuals who appreciate the resolution of this problem,” he said. 

“We are going to resolve this problem.”

This is not the first time Ramokgopa has lamented Eskom’s “people problems”.

In April last year, the minister said there are “people issues at Eskom” that relate to job security and nothing to do with the leadership. 

With Eskom’s ageing coal-powered fleet slowly being decommissioned, people are losing their jobs, and more jobs will be lost. 

Eskom closed the dilapidated Komati plant last year and will close another 5 of its 14 remaining coal-fired plants by 2030.

Thus, people are not incentivised to apply themselves at Eskom, Ramokgopa lamented. “The people needed to run these plants do not see their future at Eskom.” 

The minister also suggested last year that Eskom employees must be paid bonuses to improve staff morale and performance as the utility struggles with “people problems”.

Eskom has not paid out performance bonuses since 2017, and it is not clear where the money to pay bonuses will come from. 

Ramokgopa said he had asked Eskom’s management and board to re-introduce performance incentives for employees at power stations based on the station’s performance. 

Professor Mark Swilling

Professor Mark Swilling, co-director at the Centre for Sustainable Transitions at Stellenbosch University, said there was a problematic period of three years at Eskom – between 2013 and 2015 – when several key personnel, especially engineers, left.

Many of these skilled professionals and engineers were suspended and left through no fault of their own.

“Many senior Eskom employees like Steve Lennon, Brian Dames, and many others took early retirement or were retrenched,” he said.

“In the beginning, it was just good engineers who were accused of things they were not guilty of. Later, even strongly ANC-aligned professional staff started to be targeted.”

As word got out that even ANC-aligned professionals could get targeted, fear and paralysis within Eskom were created.

“Everybody retreated to their corners, resisting taking initiative and risk and not making creative decisions.”

This was because if anyone was seen as stepping out of line, challenging what was going on, or presenting unwelcome information, it could result in severe consequences.

“A former Eskom CEO was famous for holding unsigned letters of resignation by senior staff. All he had to do to get rid of them was to add his signature,” Swilling said.

That “rule by fear” environment destroys talent and pushes skilled employees, like engineers, out of the system.


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