Thursday, November 22, 2012

Professional Development of Engineers in India: Do We Need to Do Something ?

In many advanced countries, engineering can be practiced only by statutorily recognized engineers. It is a generally recognized fact that competence, experience and expertise of engineers have a direct impact on the well being and safety of the public at large. [You may recapitulate the background of the issue here in this Wikipedia article : Regulation and licensure in engineering ]

While going through this article you would come across the present status of engineering practice in India. Wikipedia states like this :

In India, Engineers with an engineering degree (BE/BTech/ME/MTech), from an accredited university, are allowed to practice as Consulting Engineers - there is no statutory requirement for any further licence or registration with any institution or body. However, there are several major bodies/ institutions of Engineers, the largest and most recognized being The Institution of Engineers (India), with Head Quarters in Kolkata and branches in every major city.

Note this : There is no statutory requirement for any further licence or registration with any institution or body.

With the experience of being associated with the Institution of Engineers (India) for many years as a corporate member and also being associated with the management of affairs of this professional body for a couple of years in a city with a very high population of engineers, I have been feeling the urge to write about the falling professionalism in engineering in this vast country poised to develop in a fast pace.

In India, nearly 1.5 million fresh engineers graduate every year after completing  their engineering degree examinations, every year. Thanks to the liberal policies of the central and state governments of India concerning engineering education. Regrettably, for a good majority of these young Indian engineers, the options for a livelihood actually is not actually in the core field of engineering. But in other areas like software development, sales and marketing, banking, IT enabled services, etc. A good number of brilliant engineers take up further studies in management and migrate to non-engineering type of works which are having better career opportunities.

A fresh engineer taking up his career in non-engineering fields soon gets dissociated from the nitty- gritties of engineering practice. All the academic inputs that she or he has been exposed while as an engineering student, soon get evaporated. The basics of engineering that was learnt are soon forgotten making it difficult for the person to refresh up later if he or she has to switch over to an engineering related work.

I do not say that such persons are not doing engineering related works. In reality many are employed and are in responsible positions of engineering.

Since there is no statutory guidelines for ensuring the the competence, knowledge or experience of a person in engineering related works, practically any one can do any type of engineering in India, provided she or he has a degree from a recognized institution.

Other requirements to ensure engineering competency and experience are conveniently forgotten.

Such a scenario has caused the professional bodies of engineering, including the Institution of Engineers (India) facing continuous degradation over the years. They are no more able to do justice in upholding the professional competency and ethical behaviour of their members.

The membership of these engineering bodies are not providing any direct benefit to the members because there is no statute that make it mandatory for engineering work to be regulated by these professional bodies, unlike in the case of other professions such as the medical doctors, lawyers, etc.

In India it is a common thing to make a hue and cry when some thing goes wrong.

When some thing of the Bhopal gas tragedy or a major rail accident or a factory accident take place some enquiries and reports are made only to be forgotten soon.

No one actually goes into the aspects of cumulative human errors on account of faulty or unethical engineering practices that ultimately cause such avoidable human disasters.

In India, design and engineering is a very neglected field. No one actually ensures the actual level of experience needed for an engineer to do a particular type of engineering work. Same is the case with construction, maintenance, operation and the like.

It does not mean that experienced engineers are not working or deployed in India. They are there every where. But there is a high likelihood of the right man at the wrong place or the wrong man at the right place ! Or a team made of experienced engineers linked with totally inexperienced ones !

Who is competent to certify an engineering work ? Who is there to testify before the courts if some legal issues are  involved ?

Due to the lack of statutes, it is a free ride for all. Any one can interpret things the way they like !

That makes working in engineering field is a highly risky thing in India. Remember the case some years ago in Bharat Aluminium Company, Korba, Chhattisgarh, where a trainee engineer was jailed by the police together with an Executive Director and some Chinese engineers when a tall chimney under construction collapsed causing many casualties. In the absence of clear rules, the engineering work becomes very risky for the practising engineers. It becomes more so, when there is no professional body to take up their collective cause.

This kind of situation in India causes experienced engineers trying to distance themselves from taking documentary technical decisions. Usually the less experienced become the scapegoats !

The Institution of Engineers (India) is the only statutory body (the statute being a legacy from the British Raj !) which can do some thing to work towards some proper solutions in this regard.

Unfortunately this body has been at loggerheads with the government of India for quite some years !
A very unfortunate situation for the fraternity of practising Indian engineers ! I remember taking up some of these issues internally within this body some years ago when I used to hold some position in this body of engineers. But let me admit it, I failed miserably due to the vested interests of a few people, while there was a large support from learned engineers from many quarters. Ever since, I too felt it wise to distance from this body for good.

When a serious rail accident happened some where in the north some years ago, the government of India drafted a bill called the ' Engineers Bill' and to control engineering practice and the engineers. It never got introduced in the parliament to become a statute. This draft bill contradicted the Royal Charter that governed the Institution of Engineers (India). In reality, this happened because of the bureaucratic ignorance coupled with the ignorance of those at the top management affairs of the largest professional body of engineers in India.

My only submission to all those connected with the practice of engineering in India is this: It is high time that some thing is done to safeguard the engineers and their jobs so that it is beneficial to the society in the long run. No work involving engineering should be a cause for any catastrophe due to negligence, ignorance or incompetency. At the same time engineers should not shy away from taking challenges in building, operating and maintaining major engineering and technological innovations that benefit the society. 

Competent and experienced engineers need to be professionally encouraged to take up challenges and take decisions fulfilling all essential levels of technical, commercial and ethical requirements. 

Succession planning has to be proper to ensure smooth transfer of experience and wisdom of senior experienced engineers and technocrats to lower levels.

Professional bodies such as the Institution of Engineers (India) should be statutorily strengthened to function well just as in some of the advanced countries. If needed, government should intervene to make it in order.

Practising engineers should be able to move to engineering academics and engineering academicians should be able to move to engineering professional practice.

Practising engineers from India should internationally acceptable for their competence, expertise and experience. 

How we do it all in the best possible and practical manner is yet another issue.

But it is time to think, lest this noble profession might degenerate further in this country !

Do we have to wait for such a thing to actually happen ?

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  1. NICE BLOG!!! An engineer is a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems. Thanks for sharing a nice information.
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  3. Most of the people practising engineering also even do not know, what engineering is. They are just doing the copy paste job and do not know the insight of the subject in which they work. Engineering is plunging into ocean of knowledge and learn as much as someone can. All "non technical" engineers should be filtered out who do not know or practice e of engineering.


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