How to Become an Automation Engineer in South Africa

Discover the steps to become an Automation Engineer in South Africa. Explore qualifications, skills & career paths in this dynamic field.

Key Takeaways
– Automation engineering integrates various engineering fields to design, build, and maintain automated systems. Demand is rising rapidly in South Africa across industries.
– BEng/BSc in electrical, electronic, mechatronic, industrial, or computer engineering provides the foundation.
– Hands-on experience via internships and projects is critical.
– Engineers need technical skills (programming, controls) and soft skills (problem-solving, communication).
– Promising job market with competitive salaries and abundant opportunities.
– Global perspective and ongoing learning are crucial for competitiveness.
– Automation engineers are vital for South Africa’s economic and technological future.
– Automation engineering offers an impactful and rewarding career for tech enthusiasts.

Automation engineering is a rapidly growing field worldwide, and South Africa is no exception. With industries across the country looking to optimize processes and improve efficiency, there is a rising demand for skilled automation engineers who can design, implement, and maintain automated systems. This presents tremendous opportunities for those looking to enter the automation engineering field in South Africa.

As more companies adopt smart manufacturing techniques and leverage robotics, AI, and sophisticated sensors, automation engineers have become highly sought-after. However, the supply of qualified engineers has not kept up with demand. This talent gap means that becoming an automation engineer in South Africa today can pave the way for an exciting and rewarding career full of possibilities.

This article provides a comprehensive guide on how to become an automation engineer in the South African context. It will cover the required skills and qualifications, where to study, potential career pathways, job prospects, and expert advice specifically tailored for South Africa.

Whether you are a student exploring career options, or an engineer looking to transition into automation, this article will help you understand what it takes to seize the growing opportunities in this field. Automation engineering offers the chance to be at the leading edge of technological innovation while working in a variety of industries.

Read on to find out how you can gain the necessary knowledge and experience to build a successful career in automation in South Africa. You should also our earlier article “Where to Study Coding and Robotics Courses in South Africa“.

How to Become an Automation Engineer in South Africa

Understanding Automation Engineering

Automation engineering integrates various fields of engineering and computer science to design, construct, operate, and maintain automated machinery and processes. Automation engineers have expertise in controlling and programming technology to mechanize tasks and systems.

In their daily work, automation engineers perform a wide range of duties including:

  • Analyzing technical processes and mechanical equipment to determine automation needs
  • Designing automated machinery, robots, controllers, sensors, and systems
  • Developing control systems by programming PLCs, industrial computers, and microprocessors
  • Implementing automation solutions by integrating electrical, mechanical, and robotic components
  • Testing automated equipment and control systems through simulations and real-time operations
  • Troubleshooting issues with automated systems and performing repairs or upgrades
  • Optimizing automated processes by collecting and analyzing performance data
  • Maintaining automation systems by conducting routine checks and inspections
  • Ensuring safety, reliability, and efficiency in automated operations

Automation engineers are employed across many industries in South Africa including manufacturing, oil and gas, food processing, chemicals, aerospace, automotive, and mining. Their expertise is crucial for companies looking to streamline operations, reduce labor costs, and improve quality control and consistency. With the fourth industrial revolution in full swing, the work of automation engineers will continue growing in importance in the South African economy.

Educational Pathways

To become an automation engineer in South Africa, you will need an undergraduate engineering degree as the minimum educational requirement. Some of the top degrees to pursue include:

  • BEng/BSc in Electrical Engineering
  • BEng/BSc in Electronic Engineering
  • BEng/BSc in Mechatronic Engineering
  • BEng/BSc in Industrial Engineering
  • BEng/BSc in Computer Engineering

These programs equip students with knowledge of electrical systems, electronics, programming, robotics, and control systems needed for automation engineering. Coursework typically covers areas like circuits, microprocessors, signal processing, mechanics, PLCs, instrumentation, systems design, and more.

Many educational institutions across South Africa offer accredited engineering degrees suitable for a career in automation. Some of the top universities include the University of Cape Town, the University of Witwatersrand, the University of Pretoria, the University of Johannesburg, and Stellenbosch University.

Beyond a bachelor’s degree, automation engineers are encouraged to pursue continuous learning through certifications, upskilling courses, and master’s degrees. These help to expand your capabilities in automation programming, data analytics, AI integration, robot mechanics, and project management. Professional certifications to consider include CCST, CAP, and PE.

Gaining hands-on experience is also crucial. Paid internships and vacation work during university studies can provide automation engineering exposure even before you graduate. This practical knowledge will help you hit the ground running in your early career.

Check out this article we wrote earlier about “How Coding and Robotics is Changing Lives in South Africa“.

Skills and Competencies

To excel as an automation engineer in South Africa, you need to develop expertise in both technical hard skills and soft skills.

On the technical side, key skills include:

  • Programming languages like C, C++, .NET, Python, SQL, Ladder Logic
  • Proficiency in CAD, CAM, and simulation software
  • Understanding of industrial networks and communication protocols
  • Knowledge of sensors, actuators, motors, drives, and control devices
  • Ability to design electronic circuits, PLC systems, and robotic mechanisms
  • Project management and systems integration capabilities

Soft skills and attributes for success include:

  • Problem-solving ability and critical thinking
  • Attention to detail and quality focus
  • Teamwork, communication, and collaboration skills
  • Ability to troubleshoot complex automated systems
  • Adaptability to learn new technologies
  • Business acumen and understanding of manufacturing processes

Automation engineering is a field requiring exceptional analytical aptitude. You need the capacity to understand technical requirements and translate them into automated solutions. Having a passion for engineering combined with staying updated on the latest technological trends will help you remain competitive. Joining industry organizations and attending upskilling courses are great ways to continue expanding your competencies.

Gaining Experience

In addition to your degree, it’s vital to gain hands-on experience in automation engineering to become job-ready. Here are some recommendations for getting practical experience in South Africa:

  • Complete internships or vacation work at companies with automation departments during your studies. This provides exposure to real industry projects and automation systems.
  • Take on freelance or pro-bono automation-related projects to build up your portfolio. This demonstrates your skills even without full-time experience.
  • Enter student competitions like the Siemens Mechatronics Challenge which involves designing automated solutions. Success here highlights your capabilities.
  • Pursue co-op programs where you alternate between work and studies. The experience counts towards your degree and full-time work thereafter.
  • Apply for graduate training programs at major companies that rotate you across different departments and projects.
  • Consider a year or two in a technical support or field engineering role working with automation systems before progressing.
  • Attend industry events and join organizations like the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers to network and find mentors.

Gaining early exposure through such initiatives makes you a more competitive automation engineering candidate when applying for full-time jobs after graduation. It also helps you determine what specific field of automation you want to specialize in for your career.

Job Market and Career Growth in South Africa

The job market for skilled automation engineers in South Africa is quite promising. As companies push for greater efficiency and competitiveness, demand for automation talent continues rising across sectors like manufacturing, mining, energy, and transportation.

Reports indicate automation engineering is one of the top skills in shortage in South Africa, with not enough qualified candidates to fill open roles. This translates to excellent job opportunities and bargaining power for those entering the field. The average salary for an automation engineer in South Africa is between R350,000 – R550,000 annually at the start of their career. With 3-5 years of experience, salaries can rise to R650,000 or more.

In terms of career growth, automation engineers have many possible progression pathways. With experience, you can move into lead engineering, project management, or principal consultant roles. Some engineers transition into technical sales and business development for automation vendors and integrators. You can also progress into managerial positions overseeing teams or departments focused on automated systems.

Experienced automation professionals are highly valued for their ability to deliver a return on investment through successful automation projects. Keeping your skills sharp and pursuing ongoing PLCs and certifications will ensure your continued relevance in this fast-evolving field.

Advice and Tips for Aspiring Automation Engineers

If you are passionate about control systems, robotics, and improving efficiencies – a career in automation engineering can be highly rewarding. Here are some tips for getting started:

  • Get exposed early by joining robotics clubs or maker spaces while in high school. Basic programming and electronics skills are a plus.
  • When selecting your university program, ensure it provides a co-op track or the ability to take on industry internships.
  • Complement your technical coursework with project management and communication classes to bolster soft skills.
  • Learn in-demand programming languages like Python and C++ even if not required for your degree.
  • Work on personal automation projects you can showcase to prospective employers. A portfolio of hands-on experience stands out.
  • Attend job fairs and industry events to network and meet employers before you graduate.
  • Consider studying abroad or taking online courses to gain a global perspective. Automation engineering is a global field.
  • Join professional associations while a student accesses learning resources, mentors, and job boards.

With the right combination of technical expertise, practical experience, and soft skills, there are abundant opportunities to have an impactful and lucrative career in automation engineering in South Africa. It’s an exciting time to get into this growing field.


Automation engineering is poised for substantial growth in South Africa in the coming years as more industries adopt smart manufacturing and automation to stay competitive. There is already a strong demand for qualified automation engineers exceeding the current supply.

This presents tremendous opportunities for those interested in entering the field and building a career developing, programming, and integrating automated systems. As discussed in this article, by obtaining the right engineering degree, supplemental certifications, hands-on experience, and soft skills, anyone can become a successful automation engineer in the South African job market.

With automation transforming the industrial landscape in South Africa, automation engineers will be at the forefront of developing the factories and mines of the future. Their expertise in implementing the latest automation technologies will be crucial for organizations to optimize and future-proof operations.

For technologically inclined individuals, becoming an automation engineer can be the pathway to an exciting career where you can apply cutting-edge solutions to solve real-world challenges. The impact and value provided by automation engineers will continue growing for years to come.

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