*This is part two of a two part interview on the challenges facing engineering in Kenya featuring prominent members of the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) and the Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK).
Esther: Eng. Grace, what do you think these reasons preventing the transition are?
Eng. Onyango: As I had mentioned earlier, we as professionals need to make a clear path from the time you get into the university to the time you graduate and get into professional engineering practice. The graduates need to have clarity on how to join the ranks or the professional engineers. Engineering as any other profession, once you graduate you have to look for a job for quite a long time and also within our act by the time you get that training experience it’s a space of time. While getting the job, are you in the right path because there are certain stipulations and requirements that you also have to meet before you are registered as a professional engineer. A lot of our young engineers just because we want to get a job and earn some money, we end up in different sectors by the time you work your way into the right engineering profession it has taken a bit of time, say, about three to four years. By the time you fulfill the requisite experience it’s another three years now this is after you graduate. By the time you are coming to the board you’ve been out on the field for about ten years
Esther: Without practicing?
Eng. Onyango: Maybe probably six years give or take without practicing and probably four years practicing, and again was it under a professional or consulting engineer which is a prerequisite for you to come and register and this is why we are saying the numbers are against us because if we are graduating 8000 yet in the register of professional engineers we are just about 1900 depending on how they are distributed across the various engineering sectors, as a young engineers what chance do you have to come in and register within the time? The other thing is, even if they get into some of these engineering firms or they get a job in whatever engineering sector, does that employer have a structured training programme that will prepare this young engineer to become a professional. So, there has to be a strong link between academia, our professional bodies, our regulator and the employers specifically in the engineering sector that can prepare these engineers in the shortest time possible so that they can come out ready, do their professional exams and they get registered.
Esther: And I think one of the challenges that have been mentioned is that there are few places where graduates can intern for three years. Many organizations cannot accommodate this. The other challenge is the education sector. A way should be created to make them ready from the university before they get out so that when they get out they are fine, ripe and ready to practice.
Eng. Onyango: Yes and no. This is why I’m saying the world of academia has to link with the industry because when you produce somebody, this person is going to end up in the industry and the industry knows the kind of person they want. I know of forums that the industry holds in the universities and just share what kind of engineers they would like produced. I know of our professional body, IEK has also gone into the universities and are working with the engineering student bodies in the universities. There is a joint effort to be able to ensure these students know the expectations of the industry.
Esther: So, they are aware of the expectations?
Eng. Onyango: Yes, they know what is expected, and this is one of the ways of preparing them, once they come out they know what kind of jobs to look for, the career path that they have chosen and how long it takes for them to become a professional engineer and work towards that. I’ll use my own example, when I graduated I ended up doing tax income for a while as I was looking for an engineering job. Eventually I managed to get an engineering job two years after graduation. I was lucky enough to get into government which has a structured training program. This is what we need with every other employer.
Esther: Eng. Okonji. You work directly with these engineers and you are their voice. You mentioned that you are going to schools talking to engineers and preparing them for the future, what more are you doing in IEK?
Eng. Okonji: I don’t want to repeat to what my colleagues have said but I’d like to say that no country in the world develops without the engineers. Actually it is the driving force of an economy. Countries which have realized that lay a lot of emphasis on the engineers, their training, their experience and it is very important that we tackle the policy so that the country deliberately knows if we want to move into the next world we need engineers because for you to do well in the economy you have to deal with infrastructure. Engineers should participate very fully. What I’m trying to tell you is that engineering is a practical thing. You go to the university and come back with these nice degrees but convert that degree into something practical. The training is not something you’ll take someone into class and teach them. If for instance they come for the built environment they must go physically and practice the designs of the building. So that by the time someone says, look I am structural engineer and I did a 70 story building, it must be seen. So, we need situations for training and that we are lacking a lot because for instance you join an industry where they want to produce and make profits, they must have a structured training so that they have these engineers translate their theories from the universities to what is felt out there. After all, say if you are good engineer and you have your Bachelors with first class honors and somebody wants you to say that that building there, I’m the one who designed it and it is standing, not falling
Esther: So you recon that a lot more practical work needs to be added to the theory from the institutions.
Eng. Okonji: And that is why the transition from graduate to professional becomes more difficult because people are looking to see if you are ready, and can you demonstrate what you have done. If you are a roads engineer, show us the roads that you have done.
Esther: And I think the main issue, as you are speaking is that they need to be intensifying on the practical to make the process a lot smoother.
Eng. Okonji: Yes
Esther: But you still yet to answer the question on advocating and speaking out, which you are already doing in schools. But what more are you doing to be the voice of engineers, because I understand engineering bodies use a gentleman approach in issues, which maybe doesn’t work well in Kenya.
Eng. Okonji: We organize a lot of workshops and seminars to actually share knowledge amongst ourselves. On talking, engineers just don’t want to talk until they have facts. Say for instance if a building collapses and an engineer goes there, they don’t want to say it collapsed because something happened, they want to see and test and investigate and they can now say that well, it was an engineering fault or it was a contractual fault. But what we do really is bring engineers together, practical engineers who are practicing and we expose them to things that happen around, be it in roads or energy. So we share a lot amongst ourselves in terms of visits, exchange of ideas either in form of workshops, conferences or cocktails
Esther: Eng. Musuni, have you got policies that you think will improve engineering practice in Kenya?
Eng. Musuni: The board is really aware of these matters, and as a matter of fact the overall mandate of the board, besides the registration of the engineers and the firms is to regulate the profession and to oversee its development in terms of training in capacity building. So, what the board has done, with assistance from the international development agency of World Bank, we’ve come up with a graduate engineer internship programme, the policy for this is already in place, it specifically spells out what path a graduate engineer would take and for how long and what specific areas they need to be exposed to so that they are ready to take that responsibility and are ready to go for the professional examinations. Typically within that policy we are looking at period between two and a half to three years, 30 to 36 months, being sufficient to have an engineer who is well trained in all the areas they need to have exposure and therefore become a professional engineer. The next stage where we are working on is resource mobilization, because as Eng. Okonji had put it earlier, there is a cost element in the training of an engineer especially at the workplace. Training one at the workplace for two and a half years to three years has quite some significant cost element and that is where we are working with other bodies and with government to see how we can have an internship programme specifically to address the challenges that graduate engineers are going through.
Esther: What hope is there for the younger generation of engineers?
Eng. Okonji: I think one of the things, particularly at the institution which we are doing is to demystify engineering. Eng. Grace here, I think she was youngest engineer that registered at that time and she has been very helpful telling engineers out there, look I am a girl, I did it in the shortest time and she is excelling out there. Actually we are trying to demystify that right from primary schools.
Esther: Thank you very much Eng. Michael. How can we have more Kenyans doing the jobs that expatriates are doing? Let’s start with Eng. Nicholas and then Eng. Grace.
Eng. Musuni: I think it’s first to create the interest, the first step is to have the numbers, create the interest right from the lowest levels. We don’t need to wait until one is at the university, actually we should create their interest at the primary levels and I like what the Ministry of Education is doing, laying a lot of emphasis on sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas because those are the foundations of engineering practice and studies
Eng. Onyango: I think one of the things that the young engineers and prospecting engineers need to know is that we now have a new Act, Engineers Act 2011 which has protected the Engineering profession which is ensuring that the industry is actually adhering to the law which means there are jobs that are being created through this Act, it means that not anybody can come out there and take the jobs, the Act has actually created space within the engineering industry for these young ones to come in and grow within it
Esther: Has it had any impact from 2011 until now?
Eng. Onyango: Yes it has, in so many sectors. The biggest sector is education where now they have to be taught the right thing and taken through the right things based on the benchmarking we have done and according to the Engineers Act. So all universities or any institution that is teaching anything related to engineering knows that there are measures and they cannot just teach anything that they want. And also before we had too many quacks who called themselves engineers who have not gone through the five years and who haven’t gone through the experience and earned the title to call themselves engineers. So, what the Act has done and through our regulator and professional body is they’ve made sure that word is out there that engineering is a protected profession not just anybody who has not met the prerequisite requirements can come in and call themselves an engineer and practice. This also applies to foreign engineers. For them to get jobs now they have to go through the regulator and the employer of the foreign engineer has to show that they have looked around Kenya and not found an engineer who is able.
Esther: This is progress. However, the challenges also need to be reduced.
Eng. Onyango: Exactly, and that’s why initially we were alluding to the linkage. There needs to be a strong linkage between academia and industry.
Esther: Okay. Thank you so much for joining us and for a great interview.
Kenya Engineer is the definitive publication for engineers in East Africa and beyond. Kenya Engineer offers peer review publication as well as advertising platform. IPL has been publishing the Kenya Engineer Journal since 1972.