The greatest challenge these days is not access to technology or capacity. The challenge is getting “relevant Professionals” to do their duties and go that extra mile to promote, practice and preach the capacity of the profession.
If you look around you, it is very likely you can decipher engineering marvel of a kind. In reality, as engineers we need as an entity to ask ourselves how we can “improve” on what is existing around us and how we have been practicing our profession.
Just reflecting on olden days, our fore-engineers (fore-fathers, for reference) strived to improve the way we communicate: travel, voice, message. These days the electronic age is really growing at a phenomenon speed and the relevant group benefiting from it has not shied away in embracing it and even looking for ways to leap using the same avenues.
To avoid using metaphors and theories, as an engineer I will try to simplify it to the grassroots.
2. Today’s world
a) Let’s start with what we all see every day….
To me, this is an industry trying to capitalize on all opportunities to grow and achieve its goal: – reach as many people as possible at all times with minimal costs.
If you look at their behaviour and how they operate, it is clear MOBILITY in TECHNNOLOGY is their second name. My appeal in this paper is to “kick start” ourselves and look upon ourselves and EMBRACE that we have not reached the peak of ingenuity to improve our work method by making it simpler and more friendly. This we cannot do by ignoring that “experienced 30+ engineer” but by integrating the “new” and the “old”.
Most of the “old” is foolproof and has been tested and passed with flying colours over time in respect to STRUCTURAL DESIGN. But in most cases the process of information and calculating to arrive to arithmetic and analytical results is repetitive and tiring. However, with PROKON software, the results are faster, neater and when there is need to adjust certain parameters because of changes in design, the adjustments can be made at will, saving a lot of time, and computation is fun. This type of marriage we should strive to have these days.
b) Let’s look at another area, in road design, there are several that are repeated and it would make life a bit comfortable and easier if standardization was made in the way we number the standard items in the tender documents. It would be even more wonderful to spread the format in the region and if not we may even borrow from such existing set ups. The idea is to make engineering life more comfortable. We need to welcome “change” for the better in the way we do things. It is a question of us engineers when given an opportunity to improve our surrounding, to embrace it and champion it as and when necessary.
3. Real life examples of where we need to get involved
As an indication that engineers need to contribute more in uplifting the living environment and making work easier. I have selected a few areas that can benefit enormously if we contribute:
i. Computerization of institutions-
Several institutions in the country including our Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK) have taken long to fully computerize. As engineers, we should be in the forefront in campaigning and championing computerization of all sectors in health, university, public offices etc. The benefits accruing would be very significant in our economy.
ii. Computerization of land plots
I have put this item on its own because I “hear” that computerization of land data is in progress but we all know as engineers especially in Civil discipline as well as our sister professionals-Surveyors, many areas of land are surveyed and data captured electronically. It’s mostly a question of agreement between various government arms to ratify sharing and use of such data. These days GPS technology has even made it easier to capture data instantly and with great accuracy.
iii. Electronic parking meters
I need not expound more on this one as again the idea keeps on coming and going. We never ever go wrong when we computerize and upgrade our system. The traffic signals have not disappointed from time they were introduced. It’s up to us engineers to introduce them. The examples are several but let’s turn to the profession itself.
B. “OUR” Profession-Engineering
i) Individual advancement
As engineers we should strive to “improve” on the way we do our duties when mandated to perform engineering assignments and be seen to advance interest of the profession. This is opposed to “personalizing” the responsibilities for self interest.
As a way forward, I am of the opinion that we look for ways to stick together as professionals and not individuals. It is apparent that as professionals, if we work as a team we are sure of the fact that if there any accrued benefits on account of sticking together; they/it will be shared by many. As an example of working for “individual” gain, is like when IEK leadership is given an opportunity to pay a courtesy call to a relevant Government Minister to advance challenges that need addressing and the first thing the Minister will hear is something like:
a) We need more slots for nominees for commissions of enquiry,
b) We need more slots for nominees for boards in parastatals in the field of engineering
c) We need to be in university boards, etc (which is ok)
But, when and if IEK is accented to their pleas, the beneficiaries of the requested “nominees” are “distributed ” in a “club” way starting with forwarding the names of the “chairman” followed by other senior office bearers either “present” or “past” or “immediate past” holders. It appears to be the “logical” choice… but closer evaluation would yield a more flamboyant and “acceptable” candidate to all members.
Without prejudicing the application of Continuous Professional Development(CPD) as a “start” point, efforts to advertise for such positions should be intensified though I agree it should be within the IEK media fora and it should be seen to be open and if need be, interviews conducted.
ii) Professional/Institutional Advancement
For the same IEK leadership, if advancing Professional/Institutional issues, the request I would have expected something like this:-
a) We need support to develop “uniformity in Design and Tender Documents” so as to speed up work and there is need to appoint consultancy on this service.
b) We need to standardize ways in which the road reserve is inhabited by many parties such that road signs are obstructed by advertising boards.
c) We need to create awareness to government and local authorities that dual carriageways and Grade separated junctions (fly-over bridges) can help reduce traffic jams exponentially if constructed early in the life of projects.
d) We need to revisit completion of seven Forks dam as it was designed a long time ago as only five have been built.
Surely, such presentations to the Minister would benefit the institution and engineers more than the “nominees” idea…Just a thought. As engineers, we need to pursue their construction.
4) Success/challenging events
a) As an example of success in “institutional” advancement, some group of “organised” smart professionals came together and campaigned and trumpeted hard that Nairobi River needs a face lift and in the process billions of shillings were availed or promised. As a compliance or publicity excellence, regular and monthly progress is being availed in media both electronic and newspapers. It does not matter whether you call it political will, personal drive, hidden agenda… or whatever, we need to be proactive in development of the economy where it involves engineering profession,- like Environmentalists.
b) Challenging events
Simple arithmetic tells me as little as Kshs. 100 million may be adequate to provide a separate grade junction (Fly-over bridge). (I could be far from the actual figure but example will demonstrate what i mean).
With say seven junctions… i.e. (1) Westlands, (2) Museum, (3) University Way,(4) Kenyatta Avenue, (5) Haile Selassie Avenue, (6) Nyayo Roundabout, and (7) Nyayo/Langata Junctions, we need only 0.7 billion Kshs or there about to make Mombasa- road-Uhuru highway-Waiyaki Way a free-flow traffic road.
My self-criticism on us engineers is that after 1970’s; very few separated Graded junctions have been built. The question is Why, Not? The reality is that lawyers don’t know, doctors don’t know, politicians don’t know… but engineers know it.
It’s only us engineers who can do it and campaign can only be done and championed by us. An example of “we can do it” is the Rigid Pavement Road (concrete road) on Mbagathi Way is a practical living example and engineers know it. They approached politicians’ and other stakeholders and it was constructed.
As a reflection of what we were taught during our engineering training, we were taught a mathematical phenomenon called “mathematical induction” which means that if you can proof a thing works when applied in a certain way, and if adjusted in a certain way it works as well, then we can use the same tactics that have worked in the past to achieve so many feats in engineering field that we can be more proud about it.
5) Philanthropy in engineering
Again as example of what I feel we need to contribute on wellbeing of mankind, i will highlight two cases though there are several…..
i) In the early 1970’s, there was this “gifted” man called Wa-Gachamba. He made a feat by managing to “fly” an improvised motorcycle twice. I recall very clearly what happened after that. Though I was young then but I “hear” he was threatened with a potential charge of “endangering his life” if he flew again.
If engineers then had identified Philanthropy as an item in the operations, he could have benefitted as engineers would have tried to understand why he could fly easily and technology applied then could have been improved and flying made safer. We should always remember that most of the innovative things are originated from accidental events; it could be there was a thing he did that made flying easy…. but not considered, pursued and evaluated then.
ii) The second example is the “technician” who could monitor the speed of a car by use of phone technology and “cut-off” the engine for one hour before allowing continuity. This could be taken over on philanthropy basis and be developed for even “export” to transport industry. These are only two examples but I am sure there are many more examples where such scenarios are known but not pursued. There is no limit to such opportunities and potentials to expand them to business ventures could even have grown with time.
As engineers, I would be encouraged if we avoid being counted as another “spectator” and ignoring the innovative minds behind technological advancement.
6) Immediate areas of interest
As a way of recognizing that we can act immediately on certain areas, I mention areas where if immediate action was taken, impact on the engineering institution would be instantaneous.
a) Road Reserve controls
As road engineers, we can champion that uncontrolled encroachment of road reserve is the thing of the past. HOW??? As engineers we are always consulted when an infrastructure is being developed, we should take charge ‘tuchukue control’. No obstruction of road signs by advertisers- For every advertising board, there should be a corresponding approved road sign and no advertisement in proximity of less than 30m from a road sign (or something like that) . all parties given authority to provide advertising boards within the road reserve should be bound by a rider that “Traffic signs” falling or expected to be within the said area should be in place and be maintained at all times in the duration of that advertisement session. We must encourage, remind, beseech and TRUMPET that where there ought to be road signs should be there.
b) Computerization of public information
Where some information that can be availed to public in digital format, it should not be treated like a privilege but only appropriate fees should be set up to get such information. As an example, all roads designed in Kenya have co-ordinates at centreline. If somebody wants such information, it should be readily available at a fee. Opponents will say “security” breach, wrong use… But information these days is available more easily and those who can make returns on such data are better off in generating resources. Right now, Roads Department can make a lot of money if they joined hands with Road map developers for countries for using GPS system. As they have coordinates of the roads or even commission a “mapping” service by GPS.
In future, Roads Dept. Could pin point the road they want to improve without physically moving as coordinates are known.
c) More participation in control in the Building Industry
As engineers, we are aware that for buildings within municipal buildings to be given “occupancy certificate”, there must be check points to be adhered to. It is the degree in which the engineers want to be involved and practice that participation that is necessary to be driven. In a nut shell, the engineers need to be seen to be involved in planning, design, and supervision and issuance of occupancy certificate.
For that to happen, we must be at the forefront of “legalizing” the process and more importantly defining “who” monitors the process by ensuring that where registered engineers are involved. It’s only by the designated Council engineer as practised by lawyers. They use the Judges/Magistrates to ensure only Advocates of High Court appear in court to represent clients. It should be a legal requirement that the engineers do that and if they find themselves in a case where they are required to look for engineers there should be a register to use.
As an inspiration to us, we need not look further than how encouraging innovation and change can bring benefits. Look at IT industry and how they are growing. (e.g. Safaricom with many ideas… But one at a time and then add another.) Imagine if as Water engineers we came up with water cistern which is of less capacity. Cisterns are there in the market that are more efficient and use less water.
d) Making rules for our operations
Just a thought… How we as engineers have to prepare proposals to be given engineering jobs. Doctors don’t, lawyers don’t, we should look for better ways to use in award of government projects… but it cannot be intiated by doctors or lawyers … it is us engineers who can do it.
e) Instil discipline in the profession
We rarely hear cases of discipline being publicized as compared to publicity made on collapsed buildings on River Road (Nairobi), Statehouse Road (Nairobi), Kisii, Kiambu …etc (And by the time of writing this paper…another 5-storey building in Kiambu collapsed killing at least five so sad…)
We should be seen to both support our profession and condemn or discipline the necessary cases. If the excuse is its not “our” engineers, then just like Lawyers, City/County/Town Council, engineers should have a way of ensuring only Registered engineers present designs and supervise engineering projects in councils. We should encourage that route of monitoring thereby making sure only registered engineers practice engineering.
f) Nurturing and encouraging development in engineering
I am bringing this issue on account of the need to accept that what has been working so well in the 1970’s and 1990’s cannot be ignored. But we can introduce more advance ways or simplify the way the same things are done.
Using examples, The Standard Specifications for Road construction of 1983 were very good even today but would be much better to improve them e.g. by identifying Bill items as practiced elsewhere these days. Same with Manuals, we can continue to provide standards that are known to have worked like we have done in “small drainage structures” and life could be even better if we were to upgrade to “medium size” and even “large size” To support my ideology, Microsoft did not say that Operation windows System 3.1 in 1990’s is the ultimate, they continued to “improve” with time “modifying” and “simplifying”. That’s the spirit am looking for.
g) Giving back to community
This is the era of CDF. Recently, I saw a news item that LSK would like to have stake in CDF as there are some legal issues that can be addressed in the vote. It is such kind of “professional” benefit that we could advance. Most of the CDF projects require engineering inputs and it’s the high time we joined hands and sensitize the MPs of this need without delay. And when it comes to balancing the profession and politics, we should not condone “lies” being given to public when we witness it.
h) Legacy one leaves after vacating office
Whenever one is appointed to a position of responsibility, it would be appropriate if one looked for what legacy one leaves office and in particular what goals one sets and which are achieved. Whenever one wanted you and what you can say you achieved and what you can be told by members you have achieved.
And to sum everything as it relates to legacy, our IEK leadership should identify the need to be in our own premises as a challenge to be conquered. I have contributed several “Development” funds and it’s reasonable that contributions should not become a “fatigue” by ensuring we start building and see what we have been contributing for.
I hope the self criticism has gone a long way giving opportunity to see how we can improve the welfare of all once given an opportunity to serve in responsible positions for the better of the profession. Let’s not be complacent with what we achieved a long time ago.
God bless you all.