For engineering education to produce the type of graduates that will move us forward, we must re-design our education system

Jude Abalaka is the Managing Director of a Nigerian engineering and manufacturing company, TRANOS. At Tranos, the company focuses on creating and adding value for customers by focusing on growing and applying knowledge and technology. He spoke to members of Nigerian Society of Engineers Ikeja Branch via electronic platform where he shared insights into Engineering, Manufacturing and Nigeria’s Future.

“I don’t think there is a need to talk so much about how important engineering is. As a group of engineers, I believe that we all realise the importance of engineering to individuals, corporate organizations and countries. Whenever you see a device, a machine or a structure on TV, in a movie or while travelling abroad, always remember that it was designed by an engineer.

“First, let me confess that I am one of those that are not happy with the current state of engineering in Nigeria. So, I will be speaking today from a position of pain and sadness of unrealised potential.

“I have been fortunate to travel across many countries, and one thing that keeps shocking me is how very simple solutions have been implemented to solve problems using engineering and technology. And the phrase I keep repeating to myself is: “they don’t have two heads”.

“But the question then is, since we realise the importance of engineering to manufacturing and development, why do we find ourselves in our current situation as a nation, where we have very little evidence of the impact that engineering can make to manufacturing and the general livelihood of citizens?”

“Whenever I am asked this question, the things that consistently pop up in my mind are KNOWLEDGE, and MINDSET.”

For engineering education to produce the type of graduates that will move us forward, we must re-design our education system“After many years of working with and managing engineers, I have consistently noticed that a lot of young engineering graduates do not come out of our universities with the requisite knowledge needed to make their contributions in the industry. Experience has also shown that in most cases, the issue is not the young engineers, but the education system in which they have been trained. So here we find our first and possibly the root problem – an education system that is not designed to meet our desired output.

The keyword is DESIGN. In engineering and technology, the design is the process used for achieving a desired end. For our engineering education system to produce the type of graduates that will move us forward, we must design an education system that will produce that expected output. I think the current output we get is what the system is designed to produce.

One clear evidence of how a lack of knowledge has deprived our engineers of the opportunity to break barriers is the emergence of several Nigerian software engineers and designers. My theory is that because of the ubiquitous nature of software knowledge and training, young engineers are able to train themselves using online resources and provide solutions comparable to the best around the world.




So why haven’t we been able to achieve the same in electrical, mechanical or other engineering disciplines?

One obvious reason is that setting up a learning environment for most engineering disciplines is expensive and cannot be readily achieved like the case of software development. A lack of such modern learning environments in tertiary institutions leaves engineering graduates without the required knowledge.

We have seen engineering graduates who have acquired skills in the use of CAD software by watching YouTube videos and joining online communities, now imagine if those engineers had adequate opportunities to learn and be tutored by experienced instructors.

These are concerns that we should all share because our abilities to grow as individuals, as companies and as a nation would always be tied to these issues.

I will share some ideas on how to begin to improve on this situation.

1. We must take knowledge and its acquisition serious. As professionals we must begin to exalt meritocracy. In fact, we should overdo it. If we do not reward knowledge and excellence, people will not value the acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge and the ability to create value must supersede a certificate. Certificates are supposed to signify possession of knowledge, but now we acquire certificates without the knowledge.

2. There is an urgent need for industry and academia to begin to collaborate. Academia ought to be the feeding industry with the most important resource of all: Knowledgeable personnel. But there is a huge disconnection. For example, the curricula used by universities should be developed based on the requirements of the industry. Because knowledge ought to be applied, and the people applying the knowledge must determine what the students are being taught, otherwise you come out of school with knowledge that is either obsolete or out of demand..

3. We must understand that our competition is global. So, when we talk about engineering design, knowledge growth or value addition, we must think global. We must, therefore, approach the development of products and solutions trying to be the best in the world.

4. Government’s attention needs to be drawn to the need to invest in human capital development. Apart from health, there is no other area that takes precedence. But as companies and individuals, we must commit ourselves to play our part in growing knowledge and its application..

5. As engineers, we must understand that learning never ends. We need to form the habit of continuous learning. Choose your field and set a goal to be the best in it. A personal commitment to continuous self-development will be a worthwhile investment. And this is something everyone can do; you cannot blame the government or your company or the university for failing to develop yourself.

There are lots of other ideas that can move us forward, but these are foundational. We cannot build without getting these right.”

“There is an urgent need for industry and academia to begin to collaborate. Academia ought to be the feeding industry with the most important resource of all: Knowledgeable personnel”.




Reactions and Responses

Engr. ‘Paimo : “How do we override govt.policies as it affects Technical education most especially the root of Engineering academy from where production and designs could be emanated. E.g our Technical colleges.

Jude Abalaka: I actually think we can do both, and we should. For development, we need both types of engineers.

Engr Clement: Many thanks Mr. Jude. Don’t we need industries for training of Engineers?. As at today all known industrial estates are gone. How do we get them back to give value to Engineering education,?

Jude Abalaka: I think there is a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation here. Do we have industries before we train the people, or do we train the people to develop the industry? Personally, I think we need to develop engineers, and those engineers would build industries. A lot of companies (mine included) continue to seek for cutting-edge engineers.

Mikky Anifowose,: This is a very key area. Sir, permit me to share this by referencing you.

1. One of the major problem in Nigeria institutions is that not all that lectures/instruct are Academia.
2. Many of us that lectures don’t bother about the industry and still believe in old theories.

Jude Abalaka: This is why collaboration between the two (industry and academia) is vital. Without collaboration, it’s like a doctor treating a patient he does not know.

Orekoya Oresco Oluwaseun : Thanks for the wonderful insights Mr. Jude, my addition is not really question but a personal observation, I’ve noticed over the years several ideas, inventions and innovations are being made by our engineers in and out of the country, but instead of our government to create an enabling environment for the ideas,inventions and innovations to flourish, they do the opposite thereby pushing our best brains outside of the country…




Jude Abalaka,: This situation seems like a misalignment of interests. I don’t think government will deliberately push our best brains out of the country, so how do we make government realise that it is in our collective interests to build and grow inventors?

“After many years of working with and managing engineers, I have consistently noticed that a lot of young engineering graduates do not come out of our universities with the requisite knowledge needed to make their contributions in the industry. Experience has also shown that in most cases, the issue is not the young engineers, but the education system in which they have been trained.”.

Emmanuel: As you stated in your presentation that it’s only health sector that has government intervention in terms of human capital development, what can engineers do to get government support to reposition engineering, especially actions that are backed by laws

Jude Abalaka: This is a difficult question. First, we must understand that Nigeria is not a wealthy country, so there are lots of interests scrambling for financial attention. But I think since we have engineers in various positions of influence, we should consider getting them to support engineering education and putting that at the forefront when budgeting. The problem is that when investing in education, the harvest takes time.

ADEYEMI OLUWASEUN,: I think we should make effort too as the professional body concern to develop and come up with a workable model we can push forward to the Government

Abu Ozigi: I guess the place of practical training need to be emphasized.
Engineering graduates had get appropriate placement during NYSC, talk less of students on IT (SIWES)

ADEYEMI OLUWASEUN: I suggest that like our medical counterparts do, engineering curriculum should also be in the industry and four walls of the classroom ( University teaching industry) throughout the study years like it happen in medicine ( University teaching hospital ).

Engr. ‘Paimo,: Going back to the training rcvd at d degree level, it is obvious that the curricular is embedded to train high level man power. Rather than emphasizing more on the Trade centers from where our graduate engineers could bring out the best that was taught to the lower cadre and from where they could learn and access a continuous acquisition of knowledge both in production and economic way.
How did China came to their position?




Jude Abalaka: We must propose better alternatives, and do the work of pushing them through.

Ogunola Oluyemi: If you attended a university, the level of practical been taught is not enough to boast of when you graduated.Many of the engineering graduates will be talking about welding without holding a tong for once.how can a graduate be proud of his profession practically when he/she is our of school.

Compiled by Isqil Najim follow on twotter @isqilnajim

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