THE Engineers Registration Board says the country is facing an acute shortage of engineers that may hamper the achievement of Vision 2030. Engineering pundits and other people in authority including Engineer Kamau the cabinet secretary for transport and infrastructure have repeatedly said there is a shortage of engineers even a looming catastrophe. One even comes to that conclusion by themselves on account of the numerous infrastructure projects needed to change the Kenyan economy into a middle income economy and eventually a first world.

 

On the other hand it’s not hard to tell that there is very little Kenyan Engineers are doing compared to what they could do. A very few number are involved in the engineering sector, fewer still are involved in Engineering practice and for the projects that do count like the Thika super highway it’s easy to see that they are not in charge. It’s not a Kenyan firm that wins the major infrastructure projects like the standard gauge railways project or the southern bypass.

Engineer Gilbert Arasa of Engineers board of Kenya {EBK} said the country has only 6,100 engineers against a demand of more than 20,000. Arasa said the engineering sector will undergo far reaching reforms once the president signs into law the Engineers Bill which was passed by Parliament. All these happened and save the change of name of Engineers Registration board {ERB} to Engineers board of Kenya {EBK}, a lot more is desired.

On a close observance of the Engineering industry not much changed. With a skills gap apparently looming in engineering, the engineering graduates are more likely to be unemployed and branch into supporting roles to the engineering industry like engineering sales and marketing. It is common for graduate engineers to branch into other sectors of the economy like banking and auditing with firms like Price water house coopers {pwc} having a poaching field day.

The question of experience

It’s the inevitable question raised every time there has been an announcement on the engineering “skills shortage” in the last few years.

The employers claim that the talent coming from our universities is not mature. Some go ahead and label them raw.  It is common in engineering job adverts to ask for a minimum of two years experience. With so few firms offering to train engineers and give internship opportunities, where will this experience be found? If the job market for young people is so difficult, why is engineering struggling to attract the much-needed new talent?

The number of new engineering undergraduate students, despite a big rise in the last ten years, has not translated into an increase in the number of practicing engineers leave alone engineering output.  And recent engineering graduates are much more likely to branch into other pursuits like management once out of college.

These are difficult questions and though it’s easy to come up with potential answers – lack of engineering awareness, high expense in training engineers, non-competitive salaries, an education system that does not prepare perfect fit graduates – there isn’t strong evidence that any one of these clearly illustrates what’s going on.

Engineering companies

What are the roles of the engineering companies? Don’t they need to take more responsibility for training young people rather than expecting employees to arrive fully formed? ‘There is an element of truth, at each stage of the recruitment of engineers that the ideal is to recruit someone to slot in. The reality is we all know you’ve got to do some work. So when I hear companies say they want someone who can instantly be 100% productive, I’m skeptical about that.’

Certainly the difficulty young people seem to have in getting a job or internships points the finger at engineering companies, most of whom claim they find it hard to recruit experienced talent but could also be accused of not doing enough to train new engineers. Actually most prefer to do nothing at all. They want perfect fit engineers yet could not be bothered to train them.

Graduates after college soon realize it’s easier to get into university than secure an engineering internship or training program. The firms usually give a myriad of reasons which include; It is expensive to train, it’s risky to have young graduates in their companies because of potential injuries most just stick with the truth; they don’t have such programs.

On the other hand it can be financially difficult and risky for small firms in particular to take on trainees. However smaller companies can’t afford not to take part in training. The multi nationals coming into the country to mine oil and conduct other engineering practices however provide a wonderful opportunities and the government and other stake holders must cajole them to recruit and train local talent in their pursuits.

Back to EBK

Under the new laws, EBK has the mandate to regulate training, registration and practice of engineers. “The new laws will completely turn around the engineering industry for the better of all of us,” it was said.

The engineering body must be bold and find ways to enable it be more effective and efficient. It must come up will ways to make engineering an efficient profession not only for the companies involved but also for the professionals. This is not only beneficial for the members but for the economy of Kenya. Engineering is a sector that is capable of creating jobs and stimulates growth from the application of science.

The projects and processes that it creates and supports are integral to all the sectors of the economy. It’s time we started steering engineering right.

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