Engineering Council needs to play a bigger role | Sunday Observer

Engineering Council needs to play a bigger role

30 August, 2020

The Engineering Council of Sri Lanka was set up in 2017 under Act No. 14 of 2017. The Council which is now the regulatory authority of engineering practice, has a vital role to play in the country’s development. Although the Bill was passed in Parliament in a rush by the previous Government without giving it the total effect to yield the maximum benefits gained by other countries in the region by passing of similar Acts, there is room for improvements and amendments to make it an instrument to develop the engineering practice to a higher level.

In coinciding with World Youth Skills Day, of UN International Days of Observance, which fell on July 15, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has declared 2021-2030, the “Decade of Skills Development in Sri Lanka”. The President’s vision behind this declaration is to develop a generation of “Future Fits”, who will become “Principled Sri Lankans” capable of becoming world leaders in any sector of choice and will drive the development of the nation and inspire a sense of pride for all Sri Lankans.

The Engineering Council, Sri Lanka (ECSL) has to align its objectives and functions in line with the President’s vision and support the skills development in the field of engineering during the next decade.

ECSL Act No.4, 2017 had avoided giving it a broader purpose. It says that “ECSL shall be responsible for the maintenance of professional standards and conduct of engineering practitioners; registration of different categories of engineering practitioners; and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.

This Act has no clear vision and mission and has been passed by a group of people with vested interests. One engineer has said during a recent event that the ECSL’s only role is to register engineering practitioners. The new Government can make ECSL the “Mahagedara” of engineering practice in Sri Lanka.

ECSL’s role

Since the ECSL Chairman’s announcement that the ECSL has been in force since August 2018, they seem to have made no progress under functions and powers vested to them by the Act. They have started registering the engineering practitioners, while the Institution of Engineers (IESL) paid the first annual subscription for 2019 for their members out of their funds and likewise the Institution of Incorporated Engineers (IIESL).

The ECSL needs to understand the country specific details and nuances of engineering practice, the construction and other local engineering industries, trends in the engineering education and the ambition and dreams of the people who are involved in the related industries, professions and practices.

Engineering practitioners are the frontliners of the construction companies. The ECSL should understand its role in the construction companies.

The Engineering Practitioners in the construction projects work under many constraints. Unrealistic project timelines, disturbing weather conditions, safety and quality challenges are some of them. The lives of engineering practitioners in the construction industry are physically demanding and psychologically stressful. Under such circumstances, except for a few, many graduate engineers of IESL recognised degree programs do not like to work in the frontline jobs of the construction projects.

Although these graduate engineers prefer to work in support roles, such as Planning Engineer, QA/QC Engineer project sites,majority of them decline to work in Project/Site Engineer roles which involve wider responsibilities and extended work hours.

Under such situations, many Major Contractors use the Engineering Diploma holders and Engineering Graduates of IESL non recognised universities, as valuable resources to develop their front line engineering force.

A similar scenario applies in the manufacturing sector as well. There are many talented people who have risen to the position of the engineer in such organisations through on the job training, high level of commitment, creativity and following in house and external training courses.

The ECSL should study the industry before they determine the terms and conditions of engineering practitioners, which they are supposed to do as per the powers vested with them by the ECSL Act. Engineering practice has wide diversity and way far different to the medical practice. It is mainly the university academics, design engineers and consultants who use some part of their university education in practice.

There are many engineering practitioners in construction, manufacturing and maintenance, who have mostly learned engineering through on-the-job training, irrespective of the degrees and diplomas they hold.

There are talented people who have been promoted to the position of engineer, but have not studies in universities or technical colleges. This fundamental phenomenon needs to be understood by the ECSL to bring regulations or amendments to the Act to accommodate such people who are practising engineering with required competence,but cannot be accommodated in the present four engineer categories identified in the ECSL Act.

Requirements of ECSL Act

The ECSL Act had been passed without consulting all those who might be affected by the proposed Act to air their grievances and without getting adequate feedback from the stakeholders of the engineering profession.

The graduates of several engineering degree programs which were set up under the University Grants Commission Act No. 16 of 1978 will not be able to practise engineering after they complete their four year degree programs.

The ECSL has the powers to reconsider its role as the regulating authority of engineering practice in Sri Lanka, seek the views of those who are affected by the Act and prepare a road map to implement the Act in stages in consultation and under the guidance of the Government. The Government should closely monitor the activities of the ECSL and ensure that they would rectify the defects of the Act to protect the rights of all those who are affected by the Act.

Sri Lanka is the only country in South and East Asia where higher education in certain professional fields is only limited to state sponsored free education.

While Washington Accord Standards are set as a higher level standard for those who aspire to work abroad,realistic standards should be set as the national standards for those who will work and serve in the country. As the Engineering Council (ECSL) is now established, the task and the responsibilities of developing engineering education should be entrusted with them.

The Government should appoint expert committees with wider stakeholder participation to review the Act and introduce control mechanisms to promote equity and fairness in the activities, deliberations and decisions of the ECSL.

Amendments to the Act need to include: broadening its purpose, including statements of mission and vision; a road map for full implementation; broadening the ECSL’s scope to develop engineering education and entrusting them with powers for the accreditation of engineering education institutions of all levels; and making other positive amendments. With the proposed amendments to the ECSL Act, the ECSL should play a leading role in developing skills of the engineering practitioners to support the declaration by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that 2021-2030 will be the “Decade of Skills Development in Sri Lanka”.