Tuesday, 6 December 2016

One Year Graduate Internship Program for Nigerian Graduate Engineers, a Suitably Qualified Alternative for the current Industrial Training Scheme

The significance of the engineering profession in the sustenance of the world economy is simply glaringly undeniable. Engineers better the standard of living for the human populace, and help to strike a harmonious balance between the activities of man and that of nature. In order to surmount the ever compounding intricacies of idea generation, system design
and analysis, monitoring and controlling of systems to maintain optimal performance, the teaching and learning of Engineering must be given more attention.

Placing the learning structure for the teaching and practice of the engineering profession side by side with other top professions- coveted medicine, respected law and admirable pharmacy, she is found to be topping the chart from behind. Not that these three are anything to write home about on their own compared to world standard though. After all, the Nigerian educational system is definitely not working properly. Whether that is a direct product of corruption is a topic for another day. All I’m saying is that the Nigerian Educational structure for Law, Pharmacy or Medicine is better compared to that of Engineering.

Let’s make a little analysis here: to be a Pharmacist in Nigeria, you have to read Pharmacy in the university for five good years. Where? At the pharmacy school usually situated far away from the general school campus and very close to working laboratories. My own school, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, have theirs situated at an entirely different town. The psychological effect of such approach to the general learning efficiency of the students is beyond the scope of this write-up. Then before observing the compulsory NYSC scheme, there is a compulsory one-year tense internship- with the interns on payroll. Some earn as high as 175k and above, after which they are immediately inducted into their profession.

Then to be a medical doctor is quite the same game. You stay for six good years in the university at an entirely different campus than the rest of the school bar Pharmacy. One of the reasons for the geographical situation is to be close to both laboratory and the Teaching Hospital. From the sophomore year up, practical at the hospital and cadaver becomes an integral part of the learning process. Set the 6-year in school aside- after which they are immediately inducted into the medical profession- and the graduate-student is faced with an entire 1-year of pure practical internship. That’s part of the qualification process for the compulsory NYSC. I don’t yet want to emphasize that these guys are well paid oo during their intern. Ok, my elder brother amassed above 100k per month. Even a level 8 civil servant does not earn half of what he actually earned in this same country.

Over to the Law Faculty. Five years in the university, and an additional one year in the famous Law School. Then called to bar- another induction into the Law profession- before the over-hyped NYSC scheme. Yes you heard right, absolutely over-hyped - and an entire art work will be produced on that.
One glaring fact is that a medical doctor who just graduated can treat simple diseases. Pharmacists when new out of school know which medicine to give. Same goes for the lawyer who’s just recently called to bar; he can tell you what is legally right or wrong. To a larger degree, with their little experiences, they can prove that they were trained well. My elder brother who’s a medical doctor deputized for another medical doctor who has two hospitals even before doing his intern. Was he competent? Absolutely! Will an Engineering school graduate do that? No, not in Nigeria yet.

Alright! Did I ever mention that these professionals are never posted to schools or outside their fields during National Youth Service? Never! Doctors are posted to Hospitals. Lawyers to Law Firms. Pharmacist to Hospitals or health Institutes. Somehow the mother bodies of these professionals and the government understand that there is no better way to produce after their kind if these young ones are not given on-the-job training. And there they are not paid the same amount of allowance with the rest of Corps members. In other words, that all Corps members are equal before the government is just a black lie. Some are more equal. And that has proven that.

Then over to the Engineering sector. They are all part of the professional courses, right? But they stay in the same campus, with no standard laboratory. Ok I’m an engineer, and I need use ‘we’ here. Five years in the university, theory-centred. I remember one of my lecturers once trying to prove and justify the fact that concentrating on theory and not practical is the best approach to studying engineering in the University. He even said that the Americans, Europeans and the rest of the developed world do same. Asi (lie in my mother tongue). I can say that the theories are helpful indeed, but having well over 95% of our academic meal, as future Engineers made up of that cannot be said to be a balanced diet.

Ok, within those five years, the second semester of the penultimate year is given over for SIWES- generally known as Industrial Attachment - program. That’s a total of 6 months dedicated to hands-on training. Students do whatsoever is their concern and fake written reports. Who cares? No one cares to make sure that students are attached to Engineering firms related to their fields of study. Are intern students paid? For where?  Any received bonus is due to the benevolence of the host company. What has Nigeria Society of Engineers (NSE) and the Council for the regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) done to make sure that Intern students are given reasonable allowance during their internship? I for one worked at former Egbin Power Plant, Lagos, a government-owned Generation Station, for a complete six months and not a dime entered my pocket.

I don’t want to go into the fact that I was taught in 2013 with a handout first printed in 2001. Twelve good years on, without any single editing of the original manuscript, it was used by that same old lecturer. Did I ever mention to you that two lecture periods apiece was enough to teach me Paschal and Fortran Programming language as an Engineering Student? Two outdated programs, simply because my lecturer refused to update and does not want to be replaced. I don’t need say here that many engineering lecturers do not practice in the fields.

Set aside that there is currently no regulation directing NYSC board to post Engineering graduates (serving Corps members) to related Engineering firms. All of us, except if you have long legs, or by sheer divine favour, were posted to schools to teach. If I had wanted to be a teacher, I knew Colleges of Education I would have applied to when I wrote my JAMB exams. That notwithstanding, one is treated like teachers for a full year and had to do much mental rehabilitation afterwards if one is to further as an Engineer. All these while, are you referred to as an Engineer? Not at all. You need an additional five years of working experience and an exam to pass before you are qualified. That’s quite ridiculous!

There are many more problems to highlight which the aspiring Engineer faces while on campus. The solutions to those problems are quite many, but today in this article, one is to be addressed. Replace the current structure for SIWES program with an entire one-year after-school Internship program. This approach, when compared to its effect on our sister professional courses, will certainly get us as a nation closer to producing quality engineers who can defend their profession, both in the field or academic sector. Yes, let’s manage 70% theory on campus if we are to experience a full blown year in related engineering firms practising what we love best. The merits are not far-fetched but far-reaching.

First, it will bridge the experience gap graduates in engineering sector face when they graduate. How many of such graduates will boast of in-depth practical knowledge after graduation just based on what the school curriculum provided? If we are to get engineers who do not need ‘further’ years to become competent like their counterparts in the rest of the world, then there is need to adopt this approach.

The ‘certificate’ while good, has a special way of producing mediocre. Students in the higher institution in Nigeria pursue paper certificates and not knowledge. I’ve mentioned how so many students skip the SIWES program entirely, doing business, and yet forge reports and defend. And you begin to blame them? Please don’t. if we are to be sincere, our lecturers and the government should take the lion share. Let the on-the-job training not be part of the certificate palaver, and a reasonable percentage of the interns will concentrate to learn.

This proposed structure will provide more jobs for good young engineers. We’ve seen several good engineering students who were promised to return for work after graduation by their SIWES host companies. Did that materialise? For where in this Nigeria? Who will leave an office vacant for you for two good years when relatives and friends are beckoning? With the one year intern after school, that distance is bridged. The company can simply write NYSC and request you and that’s it. They do not need to wait till you become a graduate, you are already one.

Finally you get a good pay. That monetary incentive increases your morale and desire to work and that reflects in your learning curve and productivity. Who profits? You the individual, the engineering profession as a family and Nigeria as a nation.

We can’t afford to keep going the old ways if we really want to get out of technological timidity and perpetual dependence on expatriate expertise. “If a thing is not working, change it.” Times have changed and this is the information age when everything is on the cyber space; traditional methods have eventually become archaic and obsolete. The time to readdress and improve the place of engineering profession in Nigeria is now. Practising engineers, governing bodies and the government of the day should build a working synergy aimed at improving the lot of engineering and the capacity of successive engineers for optimum performance.

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