Eng. Mwangi is a Registered Consulting Mechanical Engineer by the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) and a Corporate Member at the Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK). He is the Chief Executive Officer of Kurrent Technologies Limited, a consultancy firm that provides complete energy solutions. He is a retiring  chairman and council member of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Kenya (ACEK), Secretary and member of executive committee of GAMA (Group of African Member Associations) comprising of associations of consulting engineers of African countries, and a Director, Petroleum Institute of East Africa (PIEA)

Q. What is your assessment of the state of the engineering profession in Kenya?

I think to me the state of the engineering profession is wanting.  Starting with the statistics, the number of registered engineers is less than 2000. For a middle income country like Kenya with its infrastructure and industrialization agenda this is not desirable. With our current population and needs we ought to have a minimum of 8000 engineers. The fact that you have very few registered engineers points toward a very serious gap. We also have a very high number of graduates who are not registered. The question is why are they not registered and practicing engineering in accordance with the law? This low rate of conversion points to the fact that those who are not registered do not see the need to register or cannot register. This opens the way for foreigners to take up local jobs.

Currently I see very little synergy and networking amongst the engineers. I do not see engineers form strong partnerships to take on the foreign firms. These lead to lost opportunities within the profession.  As we speak we have a very fragmented profession that does not speak with one voice and articulate its issues loud enough. The profession continues to be seen as extremely laid back and it’s becoming a second class profession. It is no longer the respected profession it once was. The lack of pride by engineers in their profession has led to engineers losing out on the opportunities in a country that is rolling out many projects that could benefit them.

There are so many gaps that the profession need to re awaken and fill. The profession is not in a good state at all.

Q. Above you mention lost opportunities, what are some of the lost opportunities you see in the profession apart from participating in the major projects?

To me even issues of running and maintaining the infrastructure, fighting for funds to maintain the infrastructure present opportunities to engineers that need to be taken up. Young engineers also have the opportunity of getting internships in major and small projects to gain experience. Those who graduated from unaccredited courses also loose opportunities because they are not registered. It is taking so long to correct this disjoint between the learning institutions and the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK).

We also find very many foreigners handling engineering jobs in Kenya. To secure their work permits there are always provision for locals to understudy these individuals for a period of not more than 2 years with the intention of developing the ability to replace them. Is this happening? Are the locals replacing the foreign personnel do we have the statistics to show this? What has the Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK) and EBK done toward ensuring jobs go to the locals?

The other lost opportunity is driving the industrialization and infrastructure agenda for the country. The more engineers do not speak out and these agendas are driven by others the more engineers lose out. We are losing out because we are not claiming our space in a structured manner, repeatedly and loud enough.

Q. I notice that foreign professionals come to share with us skills, I have however noticed that they never leave, they just keep coming and even overwhelm us. Should this be a concern for the local engineers?

Firstly, we recognize that we may not have certain specialized skills that we need at this moment in our development for example in oil and gas or the railways. I however agree that we should come up with a structured well monitored manner to engage them. There should be a clear cut schedule on how these individuals will pass over these skills.  You are right; they come and do not leave. I however attribute this to the lethargy within the profession.  I also attribute this to corruption, people getting work permits in irregular ways and nothing being voiced against it. It worries me because once they come in and they establish themselves it’s very hard to compete them.

Q. Let’s talk about engineers voicing their concerns.  Engineers have very poor visibility, the two bodies associated with engineers, that is EBK and IEK rarely comment on topical issues.

The two bodies must reassess themselves; they must ask themselves how they drive the agenda of engineers. I think traditionally IEK has tended not to want to be visible; it has tended not to take a stand on critical issues. The Institution has taken a silent and gentlemanly approach to issues. To me you cannot drive an agenda in that manner; you need to be visible and loud enough; you need to be present when your issues are being discussed.

The institution should be more inclusive and engaging. IEK has an out dated strategic plan which it has hardly implemented. To be visible IEK needs an updated, vibrant strategic plan with concrete agendas and means of monitoring progress. IEK needs to engage the youth more, include them in running the affairs of the council and assist them transition to full corporate members. IEK will also do well to embrace modern electronic means of communication.

Q. Why do you think most engineers do not feel included in the two main engineering bodies? Most do not feel they are getting value and only join when compelled through laws.

I think there are few issues here; first some do not feel they are getting value in the two bodies, secondly they do not feel the bodies are inclusive, thirdly, the leadership of these two bodies has always been from older engineers leaving the younger people feeling left out.

The limited movement of younger individuals from graduate to corporate membership is also a barrier to inclusion. It means they cannot participate in the Institution affairs; they can neither vote nor vie for positions.

The council needs to create an atmosphere of reaching out, inclusivity and openness. They need to allow engineers to articulate their issues freely. The council must be open to criticism, very important, criticism is very helpful. The council needs not to be scared of it. The issues IEK needs to tackle affects the young and middle aged engineers more than the elder engineers as such they should be trusted with running the affairs of the institution.

Q. Apart from including the young engineers in running the institution what more can be done to assist the youth?

One of the most important things for the youth is the Professional Interviews Preparation seminars (PIP) run by IEK. We need more of them and we also need to reduce the cost; we can also have the PIPs held in a regional manner. IEK needs to encourage EBK to enforce the requirements of the Engineers Act including the Graduate Internship program and deterring unqualified persons from taking up jobs meant for young people.

Q. The Engineers Act 2011 came into force five years ago; however it’s yet to be felt, young engineers are still waiting for internships and their graduate development program. How comes things take very long to happen in the engineering profession?

To me it’s wrong. I know that EBK presented a strategic plan some two years ago personally I am yet to feel its effect. If there is any problem they are experiencing they need to share, this is why openness is important. They need to let us know what they are doing, where they are and whatever challenges they may be facing. We also need to challenge the leadership to come out and demonstrate the vision. Leadership is very important for any organization. We need to know what is happening. We can for example organize for an open forum to engage with the Cabinet Secretary for Transport and Infrastructure who is responsible for the engineering profession. Through such forums we will find out what is happening in our profession.

Q. The president has just signed into law the Engineering Technicians and Technologists Bill that seeks to regulate these two groups of engineering professionals that were excluded by the Engineers Act 2011. How do you see this Act affect the practice of engineering in Kenya?

First of all the exclusion of engineering technicians and technologists from the Engineers Act was very wrong. It was a misconceived idea and sent a very bad message to these groups. The engineering technicians and technologists Bill has added value into the profession, engineers need technicians and technologists. The Bill will help develop engineering technicians and technologists.  It would be better if they were included in the Engineers Act, we would have a larger number for purposes of collective bargaining.

Q. Why does it take averagely longer for an engineering graduate to transition to a Professional engineer compared to the time it takes other professionals say doctors and lawyers? Is it a problem of the quality of engineering graduates or an attribute of the profession? 

I think there is a misalignment as far as opportunities are concerned; the rate at which graduates are coming up does not align to the opportunities available. Internship opportunities and training opportunities which are very important to graduates should be made available. This is one of the areas where EBK and IEK should be very active in. We need a national survey to determine how many graduates come up from our learning institution and where they go to. If training opportunities are not enough, we can create more through the government in the various mega projects that are being undertaken in the country. These projects should afford graduates 2 to3 years of training while also offering students the required months of internship.

Currently I see no guidance offered; IEK should not wait to be approached but get out of its way to reach out to the students and graduate engineers.

We need to make our institution friendly.

This is the first of a two part interview, the final part will be posted next week {Click here for the second Part}

4 COMMENTS

  1. The Registration process of Engineers especially certain categories leave a lot to be desired-there are those who look after their own, like the Quantity Surveyors, Architects, Electrical Engineers and few others, however in the case of civil engineers, there is a problem. The registration should not be on the basis of “know people”, but rather know the profession, with a view to growing the pool of Engineers in the country and also spread training opportunities and increase the value of the Engineer and same time enable them make use of the opportunities available.

    • Hi Joseph, we are working very closely with the IEK council and we will let them know of your views. Have you visited IEK lately?

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