Fri | Apr 12, 2024

Infrastructural decay blamed on ‘neglect of engineers’

Published:Monday | February 26, 2024 | 12:08 AMAinsworth Morris/Staff Reporter

Omar Sweeney, managing director of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) and a civil engineer by profession, believes that a lack of proper engineering was responsible for the recent flooding in Montego Bay, St James.

Two weeks ago, heavy rains on the western end of the island led to high tide and flooding of the West End main road in Negril, Westmoreland, and Harbour Circle in Montego Bay, St James. The popular Pier One and Knutsford Express businesses in the area were inundated as a result.

While delivering the guest speaker’s address during the launch of the Jamaica Institution of Engineers’ (JIE) Year of Engineering Campaign held inside the showroom of Audi Jamaica last Thursday evening, Sweeney outlined why he held his perspective.

“Climate change now is the existential threat to our planet. Jamaica remains one of the most vulnerable countries to natural disasters. Jamaica will continue to have floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides. Couple of weeks ago, you saw where a cold front ravaged our shoreline, and the question always comes after the disaster, ‘Where are our engineers?’,” Sweeney said.

“The persons in Montego Bay realised two weeks ago that you don’t just pack up the stones on the shoreline and you have shoreline protection. That’s not an engineered structure. And I really want to make that point to Jamaica because we continue to practise what we think are good practices and they’re not engineered practices … and the engineers with the knowledge and the expertise are right here,” he said to applause from the audience made up mostly of engineers.

Sweeney pointed out that gross domestic product from construction improved from $14 billion in the third quarter of 2023 to $18 billion, to which engineers would have contributed.

“It gives you an idea of how much impact the technical roles of engineering and other technical fields play in the contribution to Jamaica’s growth and economy,” Sweeney said.

With fewer than 500 engineers graduating annually from tertiary-level institutions, in all disciplines, he alluded to a speaker before him, Oneil Josephs, president of the JIE, noting that the root cause of a lack of youth wanting to take on a career in engineering is because science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses are not being encouraged in schools.

NO ENCOURAGEMENT

“Our brightest minds are not being encouraged into STEM subjects. As the president alluded to, because of the prestige of being a lawyer or a doctor or something else, the brightest minds are told ‘Go and do that’,” he said.

For his part, Josephs said engineering is the forgotten stepchild in Jamaica.

“I say that because my colleagues in medicine seem to get far more respect than us in engineering. My colleagues in law seem to get a little bit more respect than us in engineering. But all of us have a critical role to play in the value adding of our society,” Josephs said.

“I am strongly of the view that because of this kind of neglect of engineers, over several decades, that we have seen somewhat of a deterioration of our own physical infrastructure, but now is the opportune time to put back in perspective the role of engineering in driving development,” he said.

Josephs indicated that the JIE would be on a massive campaign to build the interest in engineering in Jamaica. The JIE will be going into 30 high schools with science gadgets, robotics and the message ‘Engineering is the driver for economic development’ with the hope of turning the minds of your people towards becoming engineers.

He said he recently went to a Career Day Expo at his son’s school, and only a handful of students sought information from him about engineering, which is a cause for concern.

For his part, Sweeney highlighted that the positive impact of engineering on nation building is something that has always been a tenet of development in Jamaica, but encouragement for the profession is lacking.

“The fact is that advancement in building methodologies, in mining methodologies, in other technology that we enjoy in Jamaica today, has come as a result of not only a foreign influx, but [also] what our local engineers have done,” Sweeney said.

The primary goal coming out of the launch was to have engineering unlock and capitalise growth and development in Jamaica.

The JIE has been at the forefront of engineering development in the island. The institution has promoted the highest standards of work in the engineering field, supporting continued education and ensuring the fostering of continuing generations of professionals of the highest level for the benefit of Jamaica and Jamaicans.

Over the years, the JIE has developed strong partnerships within both the public and private sectors.

During the week of the launch, the United States and Trinidad celebrated their Week of Engineering.

The history of the JIE dates back to the 1960s, with the establishment of the Institution of Engineers of Jamaica, continuing in the 1970s with the Association of Engineers and in 1977, both were joined to form the JIE, which has officially celebrated 46 years of existence.

During last week’s launch event, memoranda of understanding were signed among the JIE, the Jamaica Bauxite Mining Limited, and PROVEN Properties.

ainsworth.morris@gleanerjm.com