The Engineers Role in Infrastructure Development

Engineers play a critical role in the development of any country’s infrastructure. Therefore, it is incumbent on society to maintain its engineering capacity to engender growth and economic prosperity.

Engineers played a critical role in the design and construction of the Pyramids. The simple truth is these Pyramids were major public Imagework projects authorized by the Pharaohs. The Romans were able to extend their empire beyond the reach of Rome by utilizing engineers to build roads and bridges moving men and material to distant locations. Engineers were used in the design and construction of aqueducts that transported water from its source to Roman cities where it was needed.

Engineers were forefront in the Spanish Conquest of the New World when they constructed permanent settlements in Hispaniola, Central and South America.  Engineers were used by the British in their world conquest and in the creation of the British Empire, which according to Winston Churchill, the Sun would never set.  At the end of World War II, the role of engineers expanded beyond the narrow confines that it operated in centuries before, as they became the critical element in the Military-Industrial Complex.  The sole purpose of this Military-Industrial Complex was to ensure the elimination of military imbalance and by extension “peace” (as the Cold War was raging) through a concept known as mutually assured destruction (MAD).  At the end of the Cold War in 1989, engineers were at the forefront of transforming technology used in the Cold War for civilian use. Hence, things we now take for granted, such as the internet, GPS and encryption were all technologies used during the Cold War.

The evolution of engineers from the days of Pharaoh to now was certainly not by accident. The Pharaohs took the decision to undertake large public works projects, building Pyramids and by so doing ensured the engineering capacity existed to execute their vision. The Romans use of engineers to build and keep their empire(s) was no accident either. Caesar(s) ensured engineering capacity existed to undertake the projects.  The East and West during their enormous struggles during the Cold War ensured military capacity existed ensuring MAD was always a reality. They developed countries as part of their economic security program making certain that engineering capacity was maintained at a level sufficient to ensure sustainable economic growth. Brazil, one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) has embarked on a program to offer scholarships to aspiring engineers to study in foreign universities. Brazil is not a trailblazer in this regard, as the Japanese implemented a similar programme after World War II followed by the Chinese starting from the late 70s up to the mid 90s.  The decision by these countries to pursue this policy was no accident, but rather a deliberate strategy.

Lower to middle income developing economies such as Jamaica are paying little or no attention to the maintenance of engineering capacity, much to the detriment of the long term sustainability of the economic adjustment programmes being pursued. The existing Government of Jamaica procurement policies encourages fragmentation of the profession by its focus on obtaining the lowest cost. This is done without taking into consideration the capacity to undertake proposed consulting assignments, employment and training opportunities created for graduate engineers, or the need to keep these businesses viable as a part of the economic sustainable programme.  A simple policy change which could make the necessary difference is instead of using the quality cost based assessment method to procure architectural engineering consulting services for public sector projects, the quality based assessment is used instead.  Transparency would not be compromised in using the latter process as the evaluation would be carried out not by a single person, but by a panel, and possibly following an interview of all the short-listed participants in the bidding process. Pricing is therefore only considered at the negotiation stage. Another possible policy change that could be implemented is for the public sector agency to state the assigned budget for the intended services to be procured.  These two changes if enacted in the public sector will not be the panacea to current problems, but could go a far way in enabling the economic survival of architectural engineering consulting firms and the maintenance of critical engineering capacity that the country badly need at this time.

The solution to the capacity problem cannot be a one-handed approach, as the firms who operate in the sector must make the necessary adjustments enabling sustainability of the business model.  The opinion largely held by the public regarding architects, and engineers who operate in Jamaica is that they are expensive and affordable only to the rich and elite. As a consequence if someone wants to construct a house, the last person they would ever think to engage is the building construction professionals.  The roles and functions of architects, engineers, and quantity surveyors in the construction process needs to be clearly explained to the public via a structured public education campaign.  The various associations and Regulation Boards needs to collaborate on formulating, and financing this public education campaign, so that the public will have a better appreciation of the critical roles construction professionals play from the design to construction of a proposed project.

Failure to act will see the continuing migration of engineering capacity to the developed world thus jeopardizing the economic prosperity we desire as a country. Sustainable growth is nonexistent without the requisite engineering capacity in place.

 

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