Simon J. Mone
The engineering discipline, just like any other, constitutes the experienced and developing engineers. In my experience, the pupil (graduate) engineers take instructions from their superiors to execute work. It is, therefore, risky to let pupil engineers make decisions on their own.
This may manifest in collapsing buildings. The majority of experienced engineers are so taken up by the urge to optimise resources and reduce losses at the expense of learning. These almost solely take on the works from start to finish, including making decisions, which leaves little or no room for the pupils to learn. A few â€˜seniorsâ€™ often times, permit pupil engineers to try out things on their own, including making technical decisions, which, in some cases, are not followed up. This has not only led to a gap in the learning process, but also an increase in fatal accidents.
The Uganda Institute of Professional Engineers initiated an important learning process that should help hasten the development of graduate engineers. In this process, the graduates are given four years of practise under the mentorship of their senior. Afterwards, they are required to write a technical report about the project that they handled. This report is assessed by their mentors to ensure that the pupil learnt and can be entrusted with the engineering challenge.
The reward for this is promotion from pupil to corporate engineer. This initiative fills the continuity gap that was evidently lacking before.
Unfortunately, this, like a majority of other ideas, has been left on paper. Most times the seniors are busy doing routine work. Pupil engineers are, therefore, left to learn from proprietors who are only technically prepared through many years in the field, and not through institutions. And this means that they know the how of executing the works rather than the why.
That is why on asking some â€˜experiencedâ€™ foremen on site why some concrete columns are 230-square while others are 400-square, the answer often is: â€œThat is how we constructed Mr. Xâ€™s building.â€
Surely, how can a young engineer learn this way? They are in position to explain that right away because they have the experience, but cannot link the technical experience to paperwork.
The writer is the project officer for Water and Sanitation
The Lutheran World Federation