THE COST OF MAKING AN ENGINEER

For want of a better title, I have chosen this one. I know in the course of my discourse, you will get to understand what my inner thoughts are for which I have decided to voice out using this medium. I am a lengthy writer, so brace up and follow me slowly.

As I was about graduating from Secondary School being in a state owned Science School, I had two options before me: either to become an Engineer or a Medical Doctor, as is always the case for most science students. Upon a little inquiry into the contents of these two courses, I learnt that as a Medicine student you wouldn’t do mathematics, rather you will be inclined towards Biology. The opposite was the case for Engineering. For the love of Mathematics only, I opted for Engineering though many senior voices around me compelled me otherwise.

Going through Engineering for five years in a purely Engineering institution, I kept wondering at the shabbiness and lack of depth and seriousness attached to the Engineering Training. Though I saw all the Mathematics I thought I will see, there was no real life application of the concepts we were taught. Either the lecturers couldn’t apply the mathematical models to industry applications or what we were learning had nothing to do with what was obtainable in the industry.

Then it was time for Industrial Training. Wow! Finally we can make sense of all these dy/dx we have been hearing. We got to the industry and had the biggest shock: Classroom and industry operated in two different worlds. Before we could even find a place to perch, it was like looking for a paid employment. Industry owners felt we were unnecessary disturbances or incursions into their normal production chain.

Five years after we wrote our ‘final’ exams. I kept wondering why it was called final. I felt final should have incorporated all we had learnt in the previous 9 semesters, but no, nothing of such. In fact, as is the case with most courses, everything learnt in the previous semester is dropped or forgotten. So we were only examined by what we had learnt in the final semester. May be final exams actually meant Final Semester Exams. Results computed and we left unceremoniously. No Mobil PLC, no ABB, no Julius Berger, no NNPC, no Chervron and the likes waiting to receive the latest brains from the Nigerian University System.

Thrown into NYSC camps like every other graduate, we struggled to teach Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, etc with those that were Majors in these subjects. No Engineering Industry to be posted to. Two years after my NYSC, here I am in the office of the Secretary, Nigerian Society of Engineers to ask him what it will take for me to bear the title Engr before my name: he replied, 5 years post NYSC experience in an Engineering Industry. You couldn’t imagine my laughter. So all the dy/dx for five years is grossly inadequate to make me an Engineer.

This is 18 years since I chose to study Engineering against Medicine, I have the Engineering qualification, I have registered as an Engineer and I work as an Engineer. Here is the paradox: looking at what I have been doing in the last 7 years, overseeing the safety of hundreds or thousands of lives flying over the Nigerian airspace into and out of my territory, I wonder at the shabby, non-chalant, lazy, undemanding nature of Engineering training in Nigerian Universities.

Comparing with a medical student, suffice me to give an abridged version of how medical school looks like since I have never been there. A young chap gets into medical school and from day zero, he is being told how tough it is to graduate because it is about Saving Lives (Saving Lives! I will come back to it). He is introduced to several big names, anatomy, pharmacology, physiology, clinical sciences, etc. He is told to buy big textbooks. The textbooks of course are very intimidating in size. The guy wonders will I be able to cramp all these? Then he begins to hear 1st MB, 2nd MB, if you fail, you resit, if you fail again you drop out. He is shown some students who started in Medicine but couldn’t cope and had to take ‘lesser’ courses like Biochemistry, Medical Lab Science, Anatomy, etc. So from inception, they build into him the spirit of “I MUST SUCCEED”. The guy goes through and after some years maybe in year 3 or 4 or 5 (I don’t know, of course I have not been there before) the guy is whisked out of the school and sent to A Teaching Hospital where he begins to interact with the industry. He sees patients, works with consultants through medical procedures and all that. Then its time for him to graduate. He plans for the graduation: calls friends, family, well wishers and the whole community. He provides souvenir, hire reception venues and becomes the celebrity of the moment. The ceremony is not just graduation ceremony, it is not convocation: it is OATH TAKING CEREMONY and conferment of title as Dr. He is taking oath to protect and preserve lives. He obtains his license and off he goes.

The industry welcomes him with open arms. He had spent the last 3 years within the industry so he understands clearly what he will do.

Now this is the part I like to point out. What does a doctor do when he gets to the office? Let’s take it in the angle of a patient by name Felicia.

Felicia wakes up in the morning with the usual pain she has been feeling for about 1 week is back. Now the pain is so severe and she decides to visit the hospital. On getting to the Out Patient Department, she is told to purchase a card so a folder can be opened for her. She does that quickly and a nurse calls her, initiates conversation to tell her all is well, you have come to the right place. The nurse takes her vital signs: blood pressure, heart beat, pulse and temperature, records in her folder and takes it to the doctor.

The doctor calls Felicia in and start asking questions, ranging from symptoms, history, etc. He tries one or two physical examination here and there and come up with a suspicion. To confirm or be very sure, he orders for laboratory tests. Meaning the doctor needs guidance (after all that rigorous training?).

Samples are taken, maybe urine, blood, faeces, cough, etc. The uncelebrated Medical Lab Scientist carries out the test and sends the result back to the doctor who now from the result gives the ‘correct diagnosis’. Depending on the severity, Felicia is either admitted and handed over to a nurse or she is sent home but not without drugs.

Doctor writes out a prescription and Felicia goes to a pharmacy, meets a pharmacist who gives her the drugs and write out the dosage clearly for Felicia.

If Felicia is admitted, she lies on the bed and it becomes the duty of the nurses to administer the drugs, keep checking the vital signs and report any thing seen to the doctor who comes in for ward rounds. If Felicia needed surgery, of course, that’s a whole procedure on its own. Felicia or her relative must sign a consent form to protect the doctor. Sense!

Why did I go through all these? Everything the doctor, nurse, pharmacist, lab scientist, etc did was to protect and preserve the life of just about ONE PERSON- FELICIA.

If at anytime, any of them gets a procedure wrong, only Felicia will be affected. So all the fear, seriousness, concentrated training, big text books, mighty exams and glorious oath taking was just for one person at a time. That is what is bothering me. If a doctor makes a mistake, most likely, only one person may suffer directly – maximum of one death on the average.
Now let’s paint the same scenario with a typical Engineer, and I want to use one common engineering activity we see everyday – building.

Mr. Mbayo is a business man who is into real estate. He wants to build a three-storey shopping mall. So he calls an architect who discusses with him and gives him an architectural design using the survey plan gotten from the Land Surveyor. The architect hands over the design to a structural engineer who gives a structural design, an Electrical engineer who gives electrical design and a Mechanical Engineer who gives the mechanical design. The structural engineer hands over his document to a quantity surveyor that does the costing.

All designs are ready. Approvals gotten and the document is handed over to a ‘Builder’ who most of the time studied Building Technology or any Civil Engineer. Work starts and people are moved into the construction site – men, women, young boys and girls, machines, and all sorts of things.

Assuming there was an error in the chain and during construction, the building collapses or the building is completed and people move in, business starts and it becomes a beehive of enterprising activity, then the building collapses, or catches fire due to poor wiring, etc!

Please just pause and answer this? How many people will most likely be affected by such an error? What will be the geographical and economic effect of such an error? We can’t attach a number! But it is certainly NOT going to be ONE as in the case of a doctor. I can’t talk about aviation, drilling, road, rail and bridge constructions, power, etc.

So if what I painted above is the cost of training a doctor whose goal is to save one life at a time (as important as that one life is), what should be the cost of training an Engineer?

As important as Structural Engineers are in this country, no University I know of graduates Structural Engineers. We only graduate civil engineers, who decide on their own to become structural engineers. Government cannot pay attention to the one single sector that if there is an error, a whole generation can be wiped out in an instant. Engineering profession is where quackery is celebrated the most. That’s why most heads of Engineering projects or parastatals are not Engineers. In Nigeria, the Minister of Works, power, housing, mineral resources, water, etc must not be an engineer. The same goes for commissioners in states. Yet, you can’t do that in finance, health, law, etc.

Our professional bodies are also aggravating issues. The Nigeria Society of Engineers and COREN have refused to place value on the title and degrees acquired. When you also cast aspersion to the degree you give to us in the university (many university dons are Fellows of NSE) you tell us we need additional five years to qualify, how will outsiders think well of us? Like I told the University of Lagos don who interviewed me for my COREN exams, I am not against the written examinations, projects, and oral interview conducted before we register as engineers. But why can’t all that be incorporated into our five years in school? Why should we offer courses that have no bearing with us in year one in the first place? Even if you want to make Engineering 6 or 7 years, you can make it. Just make sure the degree has value. We need to graduate having a good grasp of the industry. If doctors take oath to protect one life, how much more an engineer?

Why can’t we replicate what happens in medical school in our engineering schools? You will say we don’t have engineering organizations like hospitals do. But all states of the federation have Ministry of Works at the least. Why can’t we have a policy of allowing engineering students to do some kind of housemanship programme in these places before they graduate? Why should individual students go out in search of IT placement when their counterparts in medical school just walk into the teaching hospitals? This is simply a matter of policy: for any school to offer engineering, you must have an industrial Centre where students will have monitored exposure to industrial experience.

Looking at the certificate NSE or COREN gives which gives us license to sign off a project, in the event such a license is revoked as a disciplinary measure, what does the bearer stand to loose? He will no longer be involved in any project or his stamp or seal are confiscated and so he can’t sign again? How does not signing off a project exclude someone from a project when there are several non professionals involved already? So no one gives a thought to whether his stamp is revoked or not. In fact, its just that government establishment requires registration at a particular level of work, that is why most people are even going for it. Of course as we know, government is not the only employer of engineers. The private sector has more and they don’t need that. They require skill and competency. So if I must take the registration serious, then add value to it. Is it possible to make sure only registered engineers or professionals are involved in engineering projects no matter the level of involvement? Then you are beginning to talk about adding value. Compare with a doctor, his license is his life. Without which, he is finished. He can’t imagine his license hanging in the balance.

There is yet another concern about my NSE. With all the way our government treats engineers and engineering projects, can NSE decide to take any industrial action such as downing of tools? Can my President come up one day and tell the federal government and all state governors that all engineers are downing their tools! Meaning no flight, no water, no power, no oil production, no communication, no media, etc. Please don’t say most engineers are working for private institutions and it will not happen. I know a lot of people in PENGASSAN and NUPENG work for private establishments, yet when they decide to down tools Nigeria quakes. Of course I can’t talk about when Nigerian Medical Association or National Association of Resident Doctors decide to down tools, even with the number of private hospitals spread across Nigeria. Our problem is basically VALUE.

I cannot understand why Nigerian universities that produce Doctors, artists, pharmacists, accountants, architects, lawyers, etc and all these guys leave the university and begin to practice immediately; nobody is interested whether they are trained here at home or abroad; this same university cannot train engineers to practice as soon as they are out and addressed as such. The problem is not the university, the problem is definitely the manner or kind of training.

Let us stop all these commission of enquiry that we set up every time there is an accident or incident looking for who to blame and scores of lives are lost. The government knows what to do, they just refuse to do it. You can’t be spending all that resource to train a medical doctor who only handles one life at a time and shabbily train an engineer who will handle projects that affect scores of lives spread across diverse tribes, races, geographical location, religion etc. Let us know this: if you fall sick and you think you cannot be treated in Nigeria, you can be flown first class to any hospital in the whole world and you receive the best care. But if that building decides to cave in, or catches fire, or that aircraft crashes, or that drilling well gives a blast, such disasters does not know if you are the governor or president or minister. If it happens and you are there, you die or get injured like every other person.

Let’s decide today to give value to this noble Engineering Profession._

This is me voicing out my own concerns. Hope no one feels abashed.

~Anonymous Writer.

1 COMMENT

  1. Actually; the years of pupillage or professional experience is important and worth it, not really a problem. This is due to the importance place on the profession and because of its critical but somewhat silent role as a difference between life and death.
    It is now left to us to make the most of it. We the professionals; how do we regard it? Are we that strict in ensuring standards? We are so confused that we can’t define the job our profession places on us. Our bargaining power in welfare negotiation is so negligible.
    Ingeniering (Engineering) is the only profession where a lecturer would want to prove to his/her student in terms of superiority. We boast unnecessarily and for the wrong reasons. Everybody claims and wants to be regarded as a Don, even when such is not important.
    Our traditional monetization of professionalism enstranges the students in schools and trainees/pupils on professional experience from the professional bodies. Only your financial standing and type of certificate makes you competent or otherwise.
    Fellowships awards are granted as fundraising strategy, not the level of contribution to improving the way the profession is practised.
    Even if you have workable ideas, nobody hears you out for the benefit of the general body of ingenious professionals. People who graduated from the same classroom and studied this profession under the same or similar tutelage practises the profession in desimilar ways.
    You had written your professional examination and notification was sent to alert you to collect your seal of practice. You put a call across to enquire the preparations you need to make on how to get your seal, a voice shouts on you like you have committed an offense to study this profession. Infact, the shouting starts the first day you visit your department to begin course registeration. In essence, there is no comraderie or such acceptance and welcome you get in courses like medicine and law or among Technologists.
    We are not committed to knowledge but money, how can the profession progress? A very senior colleague and one time registrar disappointed me when he pronounced to be singly responsible why we have no professional salary scale. How can there not be compromises when there are no standard definitions for the profession? Those who had used this profession to innovate several things of global acclaim would say it is ingenious but others would argue there is nothing ingenue about it.
    Wrong contextual usage, within and outside the country, is not helping issues.
    Medicine that is not as far-reaching would expel students for not measuring up academically but we would waive failed courses in the name of let-my-people-go and several other anormallies.
    The result is mediocrity and cluelessness. We have Ingeniers who can’t stand disputation with other professions because we know how to cut corners.
    Such quacks, have no content except their brandishing a piece of paper, would go behind and compromise ethics – no thanks to the fact that the professional bodies are not pro-active but only reacts when things go wrong.
    Recall that mechanics and artisans have more or less eroded our place in the mix of things, since we have rescind to an all-comers profession. There is more entropy in the system with time and the centre can no longer hold. If there is no decisive step taken, the result can only be better imagined than experienced.

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