Nigeria must invest in local engineers to tackle infrastructural deficit, drive economic growth

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    African continent cannot fulfil its potential without training technicians to tackle its infrastructure shortfall

    But the reality is that African countries such as Nigeria need to invest simultaneously in recruiting, training and deploying skilled engineers to meet the UN’s sustainable development goals — and their own — by 2030.

    When, earlier this month, the Nigerian government forecast ambitious growth in its mining sector over the next five years, the targets were rightly met with mixed reactions.

    On the one hand, plans to diversify the economy away from oil and open up opportunities in an innovative and technical industry were welcomed.

    On the other, such high expectations only highlighted the gulf between Nigeria’s aspirations and the lack of engineering resources required to meet them, from insufficient geospatial data to weak infrastructure.

    The same can be said for many other African countries and their broader social and economic goals.

    Around two in five people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have a basic water supply while almost three-quarters do not have proper sanitation, challenges that require engineers to solve.

    The perennial problem is not simply a shortage of engineering talent. Closing the skills gap to deliver sustainable economic growth and development in Africa is something of a chicken and egg situation.

    We certainly need more engineers, and in particular, women engineers, but we are also failing our existing professionals by not creating enough viable and rewarding job opportunities.

    So, alongside this bold increase in mining activities, there should also be tangible commitments to upskill the workforce and guarantee new jobs for qualified engineers.

    Our leaders need to recognise that they cannot drive economic growth without skilled and experienced engineers, and those engineers will not gain skills or experience without ambitious and technical projects and opportunities.

    This requires political will, and there is a sense across African engineering institutions that African engineers must proactively engage with government to help drive better professional conditions and opportunities.

    But the reality is that African countries such as Nigeria need to invest simultaneously in recruiting, training and deploying skilled engineers to meet the UN’s sustainable development goals — and their own — by 2030.

    Investment in local infrastructure engineers and scientists
    In the meantime, the engineers, technicians and technologists of the future need support with scholarships, from primary school to university, for the brightest young people.

    More initiatives like the Digital Infrastructure Moonshot for Africa, which aims to deliver broadband for 90 per cent of the population, will help drive the skills and development agenda and support our future professionals.

    These efforts must focus especially on girls and women, not only in terms of recruiting more engineers but to encourage greater diversity so our problem-solvers have the broadest possible insights and experiences.

    Governments can also harness the support of professional bodies such as the World Federation of Engineering Organizations, and its international and national members, to build the institutions that will educate the engineers of tomorrow.

    And both the private and public sector can help fill the skills gap by encouraging innovation through initiatives like the WFEO’s Young Engineers Competition, which invites young people to submit their creative ideas for solutions to a current problem.

    Engineers have a great deal of unfinished business as we look ahead to 2030, from improving sanitation and water access to connecting renewable sources of energy and growing economies.

    These are the foundations of economic and social development for many countries in Africa and beyond, but they cannot be laid without first equipping enough skilled engineers.

    Mustafa B. Shehu is executive vice-president of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations.

    Letter in response to this article:

    African countries should look to other nations to enhance their own talent / From Rajiv Radhakrishnan, Pinner, Middx, UK

    beyondbrics is a forum on emerging markets for contributors from the worlds of business, finance, politics, academia and the third sector. All views expressed are those of the author(s) and should not be taken as reflecting the views of the Financial Times.

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