“Engineers as TOTAL SOLUTION PROVIDERS in the emerging Knowledge and Information Age”A speech by Engr Titi Omo-Ettu, FAEng; FNSE. To Graduating Engineering Class of Bells University of Technology, Ota October 31, 2017.
The Lecture distinguishes between the REALITY EXPECTATIONS of today’s KNOWLEDGE AGE engineer as against those of the engineer of the INDUSTRIAL AGE. It sees today’s challenges which, strictly speaking, presents tremendous opportunities as these challenges require the engineer to concentrate more on the SOLUTION PROVIDER aspect of his/her mandate in the face of relative insufficient training, tutelage, job opportunities and material resources. It highlights a few present-day solution strategies and argues that the future engineer will now necessarily create (not just provide) solutions, create (not find) jobs, train continuously and consistently in hitherto unfamiliar disciplines such as software, logistics, financing and a little about other disciplines more than was hitherto required. In other words, today’s engineer needs to be more eclectic in his/her studies than engineers of my generation.
The paper presents a guide to determining which solutions require specific challenges of society, and advises young engineers to determine their individual strengths and work in teams to provide original solutions to contemporary problems of society. Nothing changes in ENGINEERING, it says, but something changes in the ENGINEER that emerges in this present Knowledge and Information Age and especially in an economy that is weak and evolving, even if slowly.
In my brief for this Lecture, I was told that my audience would be mainly young men and women who recently completed a full undergraduate training in engineering. I was asked to consider that Nigeria, just recently, according to Government pronouncements, wriggled out of an economic recession and so I should imagine that there are no ready jobs into which a large number of these applied scientists (which, in my opinion, engineering graduates are) could be deployed in the manner my own generation of engineering graduates were deployed some 45 years ago when I completed my undergraduate training. I should therefore spend time to discuss with them on what my Yoruba friends would call ‘Ona Abayo’ or ‘Which way Forward’ in English language.
The first issue to resolve is who between me and my audience has serious challenges. It looks simple to see the huge challenge ahead of a young engineering graduate who is moving from class to a world that looks like he/she would not have a job to do because, after all, there are many out there who graduated several years now who are not employed. Some, I imagine, might not have even been ‘engaged’ (if you get what I mean). But it is not easy to see the challenges faced by an analyst who, himself an engineer, is being confronted with a study case which, on first analysis, looks like he has to end up asking that we suspend the training of engineers for a while, as we sort the economy out to be capable of absorbing these products. However, when I remind myself that the products we are talking about are ENGINEERING GRADUATES and not just any other graduates, then my burden becomes lighter.
For me, economic recession, in Nigeria’s case, is just a technical matter and nothing more. It does not have much to do with my analysis. If anything, my position is that Nigeria has always been in perpetual recession if ECONOMIC RECESSION is a period of economic decline during which trade and industrial activities are reduced, generally identified by a fall in GDP in two successive quarters.
In the early eighties, I remember that a contraption called National Supplies Company of Nigeria was established by the Federal Government to retail household commodities such as powdered milk, soap, beverages, sugar, stock fish etc. at so-called ‘control prices’ when Nigerians queue, as we see them doing in present day Venezuela for example, to buy the commodities in designated supermarkets, as a result of scarcity. That was HUGE ECONOMIC RECESSION, exacerbated by some unfortunate price control system usually found in socialist economies, but nobody called it recession then because no one was even measuring the nation’s GDP as an official responsibility. Even in my postgraduate life I experienced several recessions, some of which nobody cared to discuss. If somebody sits down somewhere and determines a ‘control price’ for things that we buy in supermarkets, is that an economy?
Again, the essential remarkable difference between my time and now is that the world was moving from the INDUSTRIAL AGE in the early-seventies when I left school, towards the KNOWLEDGE AGE we have now as we speak.. A weak economy, which Nigeria has always been, is an issue which I find more convenient to think about rather than the economic recession which to me is just sloganeering and politicking. Tell me: what has changed since we moved out of economic recession? Has there been a drop in the cost of basic goods and services?
If the way we did things in the INDUSTRIAL AGE is the same way we still do things in this KNOWLEDGE AGE, then we must be ready to accept that our problem has no solution. Or better still, that there are no jobs for our engineers. But the truth is that our PROBLEMS, which we agree are properly identified by us as CHALLENGES, have solutions. It is those solutions I have chosen to spend my time to discuss today.
I do not know if you have been in a class where “Engineering” itself, what it means and how it may be defined, has been discussed. The definitions in books are many I must tell you, but the meaning is simpler to explain. When you define it in scholarly terms, words that you must always find recurring in the different definitions are mathematics, build, design, improve structures, innovate, invent, machines, maintain, materials, organizations, processes, research, science, society, economics, solutions, systems, etc.
In my days in school, we once decided to give it one simple meaning and we came up with ENGINEERING IS SOLUTION PROVISION, PROVIDED YOU HAVE APPLIED A TRAINED SCIENTIFIC MIND.
What about Engineering and society?
One distinguished Nigerian engineer and scholar has said:
“Engineering is DEVELOPMENT; those governments that have come to this realisation have made the transition from under-developed, to developed, societies in relatively short time; those who have not remain in poverty and misery.” – Engr Dr. Edet James Amana, FAEng.
To me that is as best as anyone can put it.
- THE ENGINEER
However, even before I delve into the discussion proper, I want us to lay a foundation using the fundamentals between UNDERGRADUATE TRAINING in engineering; the GRADUATE ENGINEER; and THE ENGINEER. These are three different experiences of the same person, and understanding the unique requirements of each station will make it easy for us to sort out what opportunities exist, those built, those used, those missed or those lost.
The UNDERGRADUATE ENGINEER-IN-TRAINING is a vibrant mind, good in mathematics as he/she knows the back of his/her hand, and recognizes it as ‘the queen of all sciences’. He/she is about mastering how mathematics is pollinating his/her rich knowledge of physics and chemistry into building a mind that is inquisitive, searching, innovative, and smart.
The GRADUATE ENGINEER has tested out several of the laws of science, as in applied physics and chemistry, successfully in the laboratory and how they cross-pollinate with mathematics when it comes to finding solutions to man’s every day problems.
THE ENGINEER is a person already accomplished in testing the application of those laws of Engineering (which is an interplay of laws of physics, chemistry, economics and resources of thermodynamics, strength of materials and circuit theory, etc) and putting out a thought process while providing solution to man’s everyday problems. In addition to all the above, he has done all these UNDER THE SUPERVISION AND GUIDANCE of a registered, senior engineer and he/she has already presented himself/herself to the approving authority for registration as an engineer.
What remains common and constant to those THREE stations OF THE ENGINEER is that there is a vibrant, inquisitive, and innovative mind. The mind in the first station carries out his searches and researches in college workshops, laboratories and in and out of industry while his/her training lasts. The second station finds his/hers under supervision as he/she serves society while in the third station he/she has already put his/her name on the REGISTER OF ENGINEERS to be recognised, and charged with the responsibility of using his/her knowledge and training to solve the problems of society.
What am I saying? I am counselling that the brilliant, vibrant, innovative minds which constitute my audience, and who have just successfully completed their engineering training, should know that they become engineers only when their names are put on COREN register as engineers. And until then, they remain Graduate Engineers who by all means are already solution providers to society.
It is perfect and normal to regard engineers as INFRASTRUCTURE PROVIDERS and Managers. I am only going to add that the engineer of today can provide solutions that ride on infrastructure which he has not even participated in providing. This is the direction I admonish those who must operate in weak economies to tread, since they are, by my definition, SOLUTION PROVIDERS.
I want to emphasise that it is engineers that are commissioned and paid to find solution to human and society problems. Societies that use their engineers to solve their problems are known to march fast into prosperity, while those who do not use theirs, remain perpetually in economic recession. That is what Dr. Amana’s definition of ENGINEERING that I quoted earlier, says in simple terms.
Nigeria unfortunately falls in the latter category because she failed to use her engineers at a time of critical developmental requirement, because she stumbled on oil wealth which left her with so much money that a former Head of State was reputed to have said that her problem was not how to get money, but how to spend it. It has happened and we cannot continue to beat a dead horse. Rather, we should move on, making the best of a bad situation, and strive to change the system for a better future. Should anyone ask how Nigeria found herself in this sorry state, please tell them that several eye-witness analysts have reached the conclusion that CORRUPTION has been identified as the REAL PROBLEM of NIGERIA.
Ladies and gentlemen, my definition of the engineer is he/she who solves problems using the resource knowledge of laws of applied science, mathematics and economics and sociology. Looking at it from that perspective I see tremendous opportunities out there for your generation, and urge you all not to see the weak Nigerian economy as a problem but rather as a challenge, and in therein lies the opportunities.
- AN ANALYSIS
If I ask myself the question ‘are today’s graduate engineers deprived?’ I will provide different answers depending on the background and situation of the engineer I am using for analysis. If I am looking at a graduate engineer in the INDUSTRIAL ECONOMY, my answer is yes they are deprived. If however I am looking at the graduate engineer in the KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY the answer is No, they are not deprived. Indeed they have tremendous opportunities.
It is within my perspective of these tremendous opportunities that I want to situate our discourse today.
- THE DISCUSSION
The engineer is no longer the guy who leaves school, finds where to work and provides industry acceptable solution to problems that the industry throws up for him/her to solve. Today’s engineer looks right, sees a human problem, develops solution to it and sells his/her solution to the highest bidder who he must also find. He also looks left, sees a struggling compatriot who has a problem he/she does not even know he/she has, and the engineer goes to discuss that problem and solution with a view to giving him an invoice at the end of it all.
Why do we have a dirty environment and we say there are no jobs for engineers? Is it that Governments must clean them?
Why do we have traffic hold ups that persist and we say there are no jobs for engineers? Is it that Government must legislate them out of existence?
If Uber is moving commuters around the world without owning a car, can’t our engineers also trim all trees without owning a cutlass?
Our supermarkets use cash registers only when they are big the small ones which are 10 times the number of the big ones have none. What are our engineers waiting for? Government?
It is all about understanding the fact that the ENGINEER must CREATE SOLUTIONS to solve society’s PROBLEMS including problems which the society fails to acknowledge, or is not capable of recognizing as such. That is what makes the engineer relevant in a Knowledge Economy
- 10 THINGS
What are the things that a young graduate engineer must do to be relevant in a KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY?
- Please ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY THAT YOU ARE THE SOLUTION PROVIDER OF TODAY
I bet you no other trained minds are better prepared to solve society problems than engineers. It is no longer only in infrastructure but also in logistics management, which requires strategic and logical thinking, and understanding of properties and strength of materials.
- PLEASE READ WIDELY
Information are no longer kept in peoples’ heads and mouth. These days, they are kept, infact hidden, in books. It is only those who read that will find them. And information is power.
- Please TRAIN CONTINUOUSLY
In paid employment I advise that you prefer an employer who offers you a better training prospect to one that offers a fat salary. New ideas, solutions, thinking, processes etc. are being discovered every day. It is only those who train very well, often, and continuously, that will be best equipped to face the big challenges ahead. Your fat salary will provide you with a comfortable living, but your improving content will provide you with knowledge, even better earning prospect, power and access to wider resources. Knowledge economy requires that the engineer continues training all through his working life to ensure he is in touch with the fast-changing information world around him/her.
- Please BE A JACK (AND EVEN JILL) OF MANY TRADES. Why Not?
The engineer of today, apart from his core knowledge in engineering, must be eclectic is his knowledge-base to be successful. Software development, economics, finance, logistics, politics, IT applications and several other knowledge areas are very important to the engineer of the Information Society. The question may be ‘what has engineering got to do with all these other knowledge areas?’ The answer is that knowledge of all those areas of non-core engineering disciplines will help make the engineer a better solution provider. While software engineering is becoming very important, and useful, to the engineer in the information age, logistics management is developing into a must-have know;ledge area for the engineer. Many aspects of logistics management use the knowledge of physics, chemistry, and mathematics in the buildup to the fundamental principles on which they run.
These trainings need not be to EXPERT LEVEL but must be acquired to at least to AWARENESS LEVEL.
- Please WORK IN TEAMS (and NETWORK)
On a general note, what makes engineers SOLUTION PROVIDERS also impose leadership on them. Every engineer must be prepared to play leadership roles as you will have to work in teams having identified your individual strengths, which everybody brings to the table in finding solutions to human problems. Remember, TEAM = Together Each Achieves More
Start your networking with fellow engineers especially on the platform of your professional Association (NSE in the case of Nigeria)
You therefore have to accept the following as guiding principles in your continued development as professional engineers.
- Please SEE YOUR ENVIRONMENT AS YOUR CONSTITUENCY
Apart from all we have said so far, you must stay current about the affairs, the problems, strengths, and weaknesses, within your environment. You can only solve a problem if you know of its existence. And to know about the existence of problems confronting a people is to be involved with them. We also call that POLITICS. And so I am saying you must be politically alert, and indeed, seek to be entrusted with the solution to the problems of your people.
In my days in school, our teachers were so weird about our future role, that they prevented us from participating in student politics. Short of actually banning us from participation, they threatened that any of us who sought elective positions in student politics was bound to fail his examinations. Some of us knew they were probably wrong but a large number of us complied, and chorused their sermon at least to say we were too busy to seek leadership positions in student union politics. So many engineers of my generation came out of school with a disdain for politics, and simply played the PATHWAY TO STOMACH only. Today those who lead us, and from whom solutions to our chaotic infrastructural problems are expected, are ‘the others’; those who marginally passed through school. Whereas 9 of the 15 persons who lead China today are engineers and people with engineering background. There are 2 engineers in Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council of 42 men and women. I understand my fellow professionals are crying blue murder about today’s situation. They need to ask themselves how many engineers are available to choose from amongst the leading lights within the ruling party. Or are we saying we should stay out of the kitchen only to be invited when the soup is ready for consumption?
I admonish you to PAY ATTENTION to what goes on around you and to seek to VOLUNTEER and to LEAD. You are best equipped to find the best solutions to the problems of infrastructure, economy, defence, education, health and mobilisation of the people. To run away from politics therefore is to shy away from your true responsibilities and to voluntarily choose the backwaters in the comity of natural leaders.
Somebody will tell you politics is a dirty game. That was what my generation kept saying as we went about playing the “saints” leaving political power, and thus, “rulership” to the “sinners”. For my generation, it is too late. For your generation, it is not too early.
- Please COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY and For God’s sake BE WEBLITERATE
I charge you to learn to communicate effectively. It is often not enough to know how to solve the problems; it is also important to let those at the receiving end of the product of your solution have clear understanding of the problem you identified, and your proffered solution, and its application. Effective communication is your best campaign weapon for tomorrow and the day after. Ten years ago, I counselled that every University graduate must be able to build his/her own website and put information up on the web. Today I suggest every literate person is able to do that.
- Please BE FAIR AND ETHICAL
In situations where it becomes difficult to resolve problems between you and others, I advise you to resolve them against yourself, erring on the side of caution, for therein lies the quality of true leadership.
I am happy to tell you this story. It is my best example of how engineers decided to hold themselves responsible for a problem and how they led society out of decadence of a sort.
*Liberalisation of Telecommunications in Nigeria.(tell a story)
- Please CHOOSE WISELY
In searching for and choosing who to work for, I suggest you let your priorities be jobs that:
- Give prospect of continuous and consistent training
- Offer good professional development
- Provide big challenges
- Provide good environment to work and to train
- Offer fat salaries
Please make yourself RELEVANT to SOCIETY and you will be THE ENGINEER.
- I HAVE AN ASSIGNMENT FOR YOU.
I have already concluded that Nigeria will not get out of her quagmire until she takes her engineering and her engineers seriously. I also do not see that happening except her engineers carry out a coup d’état. And I have planned one ready for execution.
I leaked my plan to public in my address to the 26th Nigeria Engineering Assembly last August. I asked engineers to commence a revolution of building BIG PROFESSIONAL ENGINEERING BUSINESSES in order to take Nigeria out of poverty. I was actually addressing your generation, not mine. Infact my own generation cannot understand me and they need not understand me. I forecast that the first of such business I dream of will mature in about 20 years after its conception, while the second may just be coming up in 30 years. That shows that I can only be talking to your generation.
If you care, I will be available to discuss what is in my head.
The paper and Presentation are available at
We have discussed Engineering and the Engineer
We have agreed that the Engineer of the Knowledge and Information age has more responsibilities and opportunities than that of the Industrial age
We have also shown that The Engineer of today is a Total Solution Provider
We have equally stated that tremendous opportunities exist for the engineer, if only he applies himself to solving society’s problem, without waiting to be prompted
We have postulated that the engineer must necessarily play leadership role including, charging himself/herself with the responsibility of providing Total Solutions, as therein lies his/her relevance in today’s weak economy
We have shown that the engineer does not look for job, he creates it. He does not provide solution he creates it.
We have discussed “10 things”.
Many thanks to:
‘Niyi Adebisi Engr.
‘Segun Sorunke Chief
Dara Olaofe Ms.
Emma Adekoya Engr.
Isqil Najim Engr.
John Dada Dr.
Sola Alalade Engr.
Tolu Aderemi Mrs.
For their contributions.
Titi Omo-Ettu, FAEng; FNSE.
October 31, 2017