‘NSE Will Build Capacity of Engineering Students, Engender Innovation’

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Mr. John Audu is the Manager for Gas and Facility Engineer Capital Projects Relations, Chevron Nigeria Limited and the new Chairman, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Victoria Island Branch. In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, he highlighted the efforts that will be made by his administration to bridge the gap between the academia and the industry so as to build the capacity of engineering students and engender innovation, among other issues. Excerpts:
Looking at the achievements of your predecessor in terms of projects for young engineers and organizing technical trainings, how do you intend to complement and improve on such efforts?
One of the things that I have agreed to do is to continue from where my predecessor and her EXCO stopped. They did a fantastic job initiating an annual job fair for engineering graduates. We are not going to continue to do that because I was part of the effort at the time and it is very laudable. It attracted more than 3,000 applicants and we also had many employers of labor coming to recruit talents. Though it is a very difficult job trying to surpass my predecessor, but my strategy is simple. I will make sure that we continue with what the former chairman did and with her help, we are going to be a vision-driven branch. Our vision is; to be the engineering hub for homegrown technology and industrialization. Arising from that vision, we have the following mission; to proffer engineering solutions to key societal problems while ensuring the welfare of engineers, and to diligently follow up with government through advocacy campaigns.To accomplish our mission, we have four enabling strategies: first is human capital development. We have noticed a tremendous gap in the capacity of some of our engineers, so we are going to embark on a massive training via workshops/seminars, foreign trips to gain exposure and several other mentoring/coaching ideas. Secondly, we are going to engender pervasive innovation. Traditionally, engineers have not been well known in Nigeria for being very innovative, we want to try and change that to the best of our ability. So, we will be setting up innovation fairs/challenges where we will be challenging ourselves to come up with solutions to some fundamental engineering issues in our society. Our third enabling strategy is enhanced welfare. We want our members to appreciate the fact that they belong to a body that really cares about them and come up with packages that will improve their wellbeing and attract more members into the branch through the programmes that we will be introducing. Lastly, but certainly not the least, is  Service to Society (SoS): This is central to what engineers need to be doing to create a better image for themselves in the society serve our society. The purpose of engineering is to make life more comfortable for the citizenry and let them know that there is a place that they can come to when there are issues that require engineering solutions. We intend to set up a help desk where people could call about issues. We will catalogue and prioritize these issues and send them to the appropriate authorities; be it government or private sector. Through relentless advocacy, we will follow through to ensure that we bring those issues to fruition. All hands must be on deck.
The training of young engineers in Nigerian tertiary institutions has always been faulted as not fit for the workplace, what are you going to do differently to reverse the trend?
We have an initiative that we have come up with tagged ‘Adopt-a-University’, which we will do within our catchment area. For instance, we will adopt Lagos State University (LASU) and serve as interface managers between its engineering department and the industry. There is a lot of research that is going on there and a lot has been done before. What was done with all that? Not much. We need to bring it to bear by cataloguing it and making it available to the industry, while encouraging them to work on industry-relevant research efforts. It can also engender innovation. But we are not going to throw it away. When we serve as interface managers between the academia and industry, the industry will be able to influence them to produce the kind of people they need and respond to the issue that they have. For instance, if a paint industry is looking for a new way to increase local content, we can bring a chemical engineer on board who will work towards finding a way to proffer the solution  the industry needs. There are going to be mentoring and coaching opportunities for the students. So whatever deficiencies they have, we will try to bridge it through the mentoring and coaching opportunities. We are also going to be encouraging them to do better final year research projects by giving a prize for the best innovative projects. These are some of the things we are going to do.
How do you intend to promote STEM education for the girl-child in your branch as is being done by the Association of Professional Women Engineers (APWEN)?
I look up to APWEN and they are trying to brush us up somehow, APWEN members are also members of my branch. We have constantly been trying to support each other. We are going to look for opportunities to make it better going forward and look for mutual programmes that we will work on together. I am already talking to the incoming president, so we will keep working together to ensure that we make our own mark in STEM and training of the girl child in general.
Are there plans to provide solutions to some of the engineering challenges confronting the country?
We will be having several workshops where we will be talking about solutions to key societal challenges such as the Lagos traffic jam, power and infrastructure; after which we write white papers to the government to bring their attention to  the solutions which we will be developing.
What effort is your branch making to develop the capacity of members in emerging application of innovation in engineering and technology?
In the past, NSE, Victoria Island had not paid enough attention to the ICT sector, but recently, we started visiting many prominent ICT firms. We visited Airtel to collaborate with them. We also visited MTN so that we can incorporate ICT into what we are doing. We are thinking of how we can contribute practically into that sector as well.
What have been the contributions of your branch in ensuring best practices in infrastructure?
There is a desperate need for a robust infrastructural governance model in the country. The way we are going about it is too haphazard to be sustainable. A lot of the solutions need to be homegrown so that we can build capacity in the country, more so, it will be more cost effective because the money will be retained. We need to focus on building capacity of indigenous contractors to deliver the infrastructure, not only using western form of technology, but also indigenously developed technology. If we don’t do that, we get very far. It will drain the very limited resources that we have. We don’t have a lot of money, yet we are spending so much to build infrastructure using technology that we have not internalized. We can use some of the funds to build capacity and support local contractors.
How do you intend to support SMEs in Lagos branch and activities of APWEN?
Recently the branch and APWEN initiated a plan to engage the Bank of Industry (BoI). We have visited them before and they have given us guidelines on how to go about getting loans from them, but we have not been very successful with the BOI. Hopefully, APWEN will be more successful at supporting SMEs through the BOI. We are still going to go beyond that to shore up our financial base, and support SMEs.
Where do you see the branch in the next five years?
The branch has been on an upwardly mobile trajectory since inception. So far, we have been able to make a mark. In five years time, we will have our own secretariat because in the next two years, we should have acquired our own plot of land. But the most important achievement is that we would have projected ourselves within the society to the extent that they will see us as valuable to them. I want people to know that we exist and value us for our contributions to the society. I want to see that we have been able to build the capacity of a good number of our engineers. I also want to see this branch as self-sustaining, independent and we should able to have come up with business models that will make us self-financing without having to go cap in hand to anybody.