Esther: Kenya has come a long way in development with the quest to becoming a middle-income country. However, a lot of the rural areas are yet to become industrialized. There are many graduate engineers who are yet to become engineers. These are just some of the challenges that we will discuss here with the three prominent engineers we host. We tackle the questions and come up with possible solutions for these challenges. Let us start the introductions from Eng. Nicholas.
Eng. Musuni: My name is Eng. Nicholas Musuni, I’m the Registrar and Chief Executive Officer of Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK). Thank you for hosting us.
Eng. Okonji: My name is Eng. Michael Okonji. I’m the President of Institution of Engineers in Kenya (IEK). Thank you also for having us here
Eng. Onyango: My name is Eng. Grace Onyango. I’m a board member of the Engineers Board of Kenya. Thank you for your invitation.
Esther: Welcome to this interview. And so, even before we delve into the state of engineers in Kenya, probably you could share your work experience in the various capacities your serve in. Have you all always wanted to be engineers or it’s something that you just got into?
Eng. Okonji: I had always wanted to become an engineer, and that has always been my vision and I’m glad I became one. Basically, I am an Electrical Engineer by profession. I have practiced a lot in the government and now I do my own consultancy as an Electrical Engineer.
Esther: So, it is a dream comes true?
Eng. Okonji: My dream has come true and I’m very glad I did what I always wanted
Esther: Very well. So has it been the same case for you as well?
Eng. Onyango: For myself, I think my parents knew I was going to be an engineer even before I knew, I broke the first TV that they had because I wanted to see what was inside. I have 13 years of experience in a wide range of engineering fields from consulting to contracting. I’m currently in the education sector where I work for a company that impacts skills in the construction industry, trades, masonry, and the different trades in the built environment. So that’s what I do currently
Esther: Okay, great job.
Eng. Musuni: For me, it’s more or less the same story, I love engineering. The beauty of engineering is that you see it every day. You’ll see buildings come up. You’ll see roads being built. And if you have some interest in that area it naturally comes your way and if you have the qualification. It was just a natural
Esther: I think this now leads us to the next question and will start with you Eng. Okonji, what is the state of engineers and engineering in the country at the moment?
Eng. Okonji: I’ll start off with engineers as you cannot talk of engineering unless you touch on the engineers themselves. One thing that you probably want to know is that in the institution we take care of the welfare of the engineers. But the engineers must be brought to us from the Engineers Board of Kenya for that is the regulatory body that licenses engineers. But in terms of numbers, we are not doing very well and particularly the engineers who are allowed to practice in terms of gender; we have very few female engineers. We are dealing with this. We are aggressively going out, starting with schools. In fact, we have programs that go to secondary schools where we try to encourage people to study engineering. We go out to the universities where we try to explain the benefits of being engineers. We have also tried to deal with the gender issue, we have a women wing of IEK which goes out deliberately to convince the young females to become engineers and we hope in the long run we have more female engineers. As far as engineering is concerned, the engineers that we have are very able and capable and they are doing a wonderful job be it in roads or elsewhere, all the infrastructure that you see around here are done by our own home grown engineers, they may have people coming out as consultants from outside but we have home grown engineers in roads, and building services, you see big structures coming up and you’ll be surprised they were all done by our own engineers and they are doing very well.
Esther: So you are saying that majority of the projects that are being done at the moment are mostly being done by our engineers with expatriates?
Eng. Okonji: Yes, but the people who are hands on and on the ground are our own engineers and they are doing a wonderful job.
Esther: Okay. We’ll still get into that because I think the understanding in the public is that the expatriates are doing a lot of the work.
Eng. Okonji: That’s not true
Esther: Very well. Eng. Grace, what do you make of the status of engineering and engineers in Kenya?
Eng. Onyango: I think the state of engineering is wide as there are different sectors within engineering which are completely independent but they have to come together so that it makes up the world of engineering as we know it. There is the sector of education where everybody starts in, then there is the sector of employment, whether it’s professional, whether you end up in the engineering field or not there’s also that specific sector we need to look at, training, post training, and employability. So, I think there is so much involved in these various sectors and the engineers are needed in every specific sector. As it is right now a lot of policy is needed for every single sector that is coming up in the world of engineering, for instance we have the agricultural sector, mining sector, built environment, education sector which I think we’ll delve into and the Registrar will talk more about it because all these areas need to be streamlined and brought together. I think we are at a point where policy needs to be a very strong issue in the world of engineering so that it can guide the paces that are set in every specific sector. As Eng. Okonji rightfully says, we have different numbers in the different categories of engineering. On the gender issue, we will share some numbers with you later on and also share how we encourage the ladies to come into the world of engineering. On education, at what level do we start introducing engineering? Do we start it at the kindergarten through to primary or at the high school through to university so that the young ones know what to expect in the world of engineering even as they are coming up?
Esther: As you do the training, have you noted an increased or declining interest towards engineering?
Eng. Onyango: There is a lot of interest. What we need to do as engineers give the ones who are behind us path to follow.
Esther: Thank you. I think we’ll still follow up on that conversation, it’s very interesting. Now let’s have Eng. Nicholas Musuni sharing on the state of engineering and engineers in Kenya since they actually pass through the board he manages.
Eng. Musuni: Thank you very much. I think the state of engineering largely reflects the state of an economy. If an economy is very vibrant you’ll also see the engineering sector being vibrant. Because engineering is supposed to meet the needs of the society so that if the economy is growing at a high rate then the economy will also be demanding for these professional services and really not engineering alone. We are talking about other professions that work with engineers and therefore we find ourselves in a situation where the economy is growing too fast in relation to how fast we are producing the engineers to serve that economy, now we have a situation where we would be saying we have a challenge in terms of meeting the economy and that’s where the board and government come in to look at how well we can address the issue of giving the professionals for the economy. So as vibrant as it is now we’ve looked at our statistics and as a matter a matter of fact, a third of the engineers that we have in our register have actually been registered as professional engineers in the last ten years. We’ve been having to register engineers for very many years, but the last ten years account for a third and that tells you then that the last ten years have been so vibrant to have this opportunity for engineers to register and become professionals. So, in a nutshell, the state of engineers you can very easily relate it to the state of the economy be it at the education level as engineer as pointed out, massive expansion of engineering, education the last ten years, reflecting the larger state of the society and the economy
Esther: And I like what you have mentioned that there is need to increase the number of professionals that you produce into the market.
Eng. Musuni: Precisely, because as we are going into new fields, it also means that we need new engineers in those fields, the challenge to us is how to get these engineers to address those new needs that are coming up.
Esther: So you must admit that the fast development has sort of caught the engineering world a little bit off guard, and now we need a lot of engineers yet we have very few at the moment.
Eng. Musuni: I wouldn’t say off guard, but making an engineer calls for a lot of resources. Tuning an engineer in Kenya for instance would take a minimum of five years, so if we are going into a new field today you can only have a graduate coming out from that field in the next five years and after that they will also need to be given hands on experience for them to become professional engineers.
Esther: Don’t you find this process of training engineers a bit slow in Kenya; we only have 2000 registered engineers?
Eng. Musuni: 2000 are professional engineers. To get the statistics right, we have 1988 professional and Consulting engineers, against 8300 plus graduate engineers, the total engineering fraternity within our register could be 10300. It is taking too much time for us to transit from the graduate engineer level to the professional engineer level. There are very many issues to be addressed and reasons behind this. This is what we are trying to address.