Shortage of engineers pose challenges to Kenya growth

A power transmission sub-station. The Kenya government has admitted that shortage of engineers is a major threat to its development blueprint of achieving newly industrialised country status by 2030.  File
A power transmission sub-station. The government has admitted that shortage of engineers is a major threat to Kenya development blueprint of achieving newly industrialised country status by 2030. File 

Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (KETRACO) MD Joel Kiilu would have wanted to see the state company perform much more work than it has done since 2009 when it started operations.

Preliminary data indicates that so far, the company has completed 311 km of transmission lines across the country, with the length of transmission expected to more than double in the next three years.

"The challenge is that we have are facing shortage of engineers. The market is not providing enough, when we advertise for engineering jobs, we rarely get the number we require," he said in an interview with Xinhua.

This is in contrast with most other jobs in Kenya, where when advertised for, the organisations get overwhelmed with applications.

The problem has been attributed to the capacity of the universities and colleges to provide enough engineers to the market.

"We are forced to share engineers with Kenya Power and Lighting Company -- the sole electricity distributor -- and even then, the engineers are not yet enough," said Kiilu, demonstrating how bad the situation is.

KETRACO is not the first company in Kenya requiring engineers that has complained of the shortage. In 2011, Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Kenyatta University to train geothermal exploration engineers.

A similar challenge is also facing the Geothermal Development Company (GDC), a state company that exclusively works to exploit geothermal resource. The company has had to send about 40 engineers to China for further training to meet its demand for the talent in Kenya.

KenGen and GDC are both working to scale up geothermal generation in Kenya from the current average output of 250MW to 2, 000MW by 2020.

One of the solutions companies have sought to this problem is to set up internal training mechanism to build specialised talent in areas of focus and for the private sector, to use community social responsibility model to build a pool of qualified engineers.

Companies like Huawei Technologies and Samsung have established specialized training centres funded through CSR model where graduates are released to work in any company.

Kenya government has admitted that shortage of engineers is a major threat to its development blueprint of achieving newly industrialised country status by 2030.

Data from the Kenya Engineers Registration Board indicates that there are 1,323 registered engineers. There are a further estimated 5,000 graduate engineers, meaning that the country has about 6,323 engineers serving a population of 40 million.

It translates thus the ratio of an engineer to the population is 1:6,328 or one engineer serves 6, 328 people, nearly three times the recommended ration of one engineer serving 2,000 people by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation agency, UNESCO.

It also means that Kenya needs to triple the number of its engineers to meet the recommended ration, but that effort is lowed by the fact that only about 700 engineers graduate from universities every year.

But the problem of shortage of engineers manifests itself even more in the East Africa Community (EAC) putting new pressure on Kenya because on average it has a higher number of engineers compared to other EAC members.

It means that if offered better terms in those countries, Kenya will face further pressure.

Statistics released in December 2012 by EAC engineers meeting in Arusha, Tanzania indicated that one engineers serves 65,000 people in the EAC, a ration that is 10 times worse than Kenya's.

During the December 2012 meeting, engineers from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania signed a Mutual Recognition Agreement for Professional Engineers in the East African Community. Rwanda and Burundi did not sign because they are yet to constitute their professional engineering bodies.

The agreement is meant to facilitate the movement of professional engineers and maintain the diversity of the engineering service providers that come onto the EAC markets, increase availability of greater consumer choice of engineering, and increase opportunities for mutual learning and the transmission of regulatory experience among other benefits.

The situation in Kenya, EAC and indeed most of Africa regarding shortage of engineers is the same, yet Africa's economic growth is increasing the need for engineering services.

According to Calestous Juma, the co-chair the African Union Panel on Science, Technology, and Innovation, African countries must urgently start education reforms that focus on expansion of engineering education.

He said this is because while most of the technologies needed to address unique African challenges exist around the world, it will take knowledge of engineering and entrepreneurship to put them to effective use.

He recommends that a new generation of engineering schools that are directly linked to the productive sector be started across the continent. (Xinhua)