Can You Rescue Your Possibilities From The Impossible?

By Achola Kevin

The Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK) has adopted a new constitution. The new dispensation will see the institution get its first president in April 2016. Amongst the many changes resulting from this initiative include, expanded membership classes, which now include engineering technologists and technicians. The new constitutional framework provides the chance for a more open and robust institution.

The process resulting in new officials is a political process in as much as within the engineering establishment, 'liking politics' is most times frowned upon. This is besides numerous accomplished politicians within the engineering fraternity. Politics is the art and practice of influence over people and events with the objective of influencing the distribution of power and resources within a given group usually hierarchically organized population as well as the interrelationships between different groups. The current demented definition of politics in Kenya is organising ones tribe against another's' tribe, then placing a cabal of corrupt tribal oligarchs at the head of such an organisation. This is a very narrow and dangerous way to look at politics and it is no way for an Engineer to look at the world.

The process of coming up with policies and drafting legislations are political processes. Engineers in Kenya have to be involved in the making of several policies in the country, which include the legislations on local content for engineering projects, capacity building for local technical labour and acts of parliament that influence how engineering is practised in this country.

Engineering professionals are expected to be responsible for proposing, designing, construction, and operating of all-important projects in this country. In most development blue prints for Kenya, Engineers are noted as vital participants in how resources are allocated and used. It would be naive for engineers not to participate in the politics that surround these projects.

A senior engineer always says, 'think of the world as a dining table where eating takes place. If you are not, on the table then you are part of the menu and there is no way to opt out.' Engineers cannot be blind to the processes that shape the fabric of the nation and heavily influence the environment under which they work. Consider Civil engineering for example, this is a profession that is heavily driven by public spending and policies. How then will the Civil engineer thrive in his career without engaging the public? Consider that the process of engaging with the society is politics. Besides this, consider the Institution of Engineers of Kenya. How is it organised if not politically? Many engineers view politics as something out and removed from them, most come to contend with the truth that even if you run away from politics soon politics finds you!

The question of Registration of engineers Whose responsibility is it to bolster the number of registered engineers in Kenya? The engineering numbers speak volumes. As at January 2016, we had Professional Engineers numbering 1,562, Consulting Engineers at 358 and Graduate Engineers being 7,682. This gives a Combined Total for Professional and Consulting Engineers at 1920. This is dismal considering that the recommended ratio for a Middle Income Country is 1 Engineer for 5,000 Persons. Kenya should have Professional Engineers numbering at 8,000. If we are to get serious, there should be a concerted effort to register as Professional Engineers all the individuals in the graduate Engineers category. A structured way to transition from being a graduate to a practising engineer should be put in place.

The most viable method to achieve this objective could first be to realize the structured graduate internship programme that is threatening to be a myth-circulated year in year out, backed by the government. This will see students sent to different organisations for a specified amount of time for predetermined training programs. On completion of these programmes, the graduates would sit for exams that lead to certification as Practising Engineers. The other alternative would involve the creation of a postgraduate institution like the bar school lawyers have in the Kenya School of Law (KSL). Those graduates who are interested in practising engineering would register in an engineering school and be trained for a specific period and graduate as professional engineers.

The final alternative may involve sending graduate engineers into the government projects currently in the country. For example, the Standard Gauge Railway project would easily accommodate 500 to 1000 graduates who would then work under the registered engineers in these projects gathering the competencies needed to be registered as engineers. On completion of these projects, these graduates would register as practising engineers and take part in the future development of the country. Who is responsible for your engineering practise?

There is this great book "Engineering Identities, Epistemologies, and Values: Engineering Education and Practice in Context" the book by an experienced group of engineering authors explores engineering self-understandings across the board and not limited by the region with local understandings. The book goes further to ask if engineers create their contexts or their context create them. This is a very important consideration to any engineering graduate in the developing world like Kenya. Around us exists several red tapes and potential excuses. The challenge is: Can you rescue your possibilities from the impossible? Will our limited context limit us, or shall we transcend it?

One of the definitions the book gives for who a professional Engineer is; 'A professional engineer is competent by virtue of his fundamental education and training to apply the scientific method and outlook to the analysis and solution of engineering problems. He/she is able to assume personal responsibility for the development and application of engineering science and knowledge, notably in research, design, construction, manufacturing, superintending, managing, and in the education of the engineer.

This definition does not feature a regulator or an institution, giving the graduate engineer the power to achieve all they can. In as much as many graduates may feel perhaps justifiably that they have to be recognised somehow or have their names in certain lists to be proper engineers, what the developing world needs is increased technical output and creation which transcends any kind of registration.