Where there is work that requires accuracy, diligence, ethics and professionalism; where the task summons services of men and women of honour, the petition should be, “Find me a civil engineer!”
Our apathy for things that affect the moral integrity of the civil engineering profession is shocking. I am talking about corruption and inappropriate interference. Many of us claim to want to stick to our knitting. It’s a fallacy. There is an argument to be made for ‘what you don’t know won’t hurt you.’ The argument against it, I find, is much more compelling. Imagine climbing a steep, winding road up a mountain. Above the inside edges of the helicoid are rocky mountainous outcrops, and on the opposite outside edge, a drop of several hundred metres into torrential white water rapids, possessed by jagged rocks. In these circumstances, if one values one’s life, it is imperative to have (1) knowledge of where the edge boundary is, (2) understanding of the grotesque ramifications of gravity should that boundary be crossed, and (3) wisdom to navigate with tremendous circumspection inside those boundaries. One may even steer treacherously close to the boundary, but safely so, if knowledge of its position is clear. All the more on a cloudy fog-filled day.
It is the same with corruption in the profession of civil engineering. In both circumstances it helps if there is a light.
SAICE is currently undergoing an unprecedented metamorphosis, with self-governance of the profession on the horizon. The vision we have is outrageously beyond the confined geometry of tradition, but I believe it hits the sweet spot where objective faith collides with objective reality. SAICE, as the central hub of the civil engineering profession, wishes to integrate the various components of the profession to come full circle in accountable relationship. We seek to bring meaningful contact and alignment in and between the sectors we directly influence – public sector (national, provincial and local government), state-owned enterprises, manufacturing, contracting, consulting, finance (banking, investing and insurance) and education.
Granted the contact points are diverse, complex and integrated, a better image is that of multiple wheels within a wheel, with SAICE as a central cog of influence. Here are some possible outcomes.
Example 1. The industry needs to foster mutually beneficial support. Through the formal SAICE network, a metropolitan municipality sponsors the formation of new civil engineering knowledge through postgraduate research at a local university. The research feeds into professional work of consultants, which will be implemented by the traditional client, consultant and contractor contract, on real-life infrastructure service delivery initiatives.
Example 2. Children develop interest in civil engineering through related toys and games, e.g. the SAICE bridge building and water competitions. The learner progresses in mathematics, chemistry and science through SAICE’s academic excellence partner PROTEC, which was created by SAICE in 1982. The learner becomes a civil engineering student at an accredited civil engineering department, with professionally recognised professors who subscribe to learned society and technical leadership culture. The youngster joins a SAICE student chapter, thereby engaging immediately with the industry for mentoring, coaching and supervising. On graduation day, the new graduate recites SAICE’s Credo of the African Engineering Practitioner.
Example 3. The system for professional recognition needs to be constant and reliable, irrespective of the political regime of the day. Professional registration must have meaning and prestige. A graduate civil engineering practitioner enters the industry, employed by a preferred partner. The graduate undergoes a defined, internationally aligned training programme. At the end of the period of training, the candidate will write a portfolio-based exam. Upon passing, the individual will be deemed worthy to carry the PrEng suffix.
These are only some outcomes included in the SAICE reinvention process, but the possibilities are endless and will require resilient partnerships with industry bodies like CESA, SAFCEC, IMESA and others. SAICE’s systems and resources in relation to our administration, branches, divisions and other units will play a vital role in this undertaking. Most importantly, if we go this route, we need your support – the entire SAICE membership rallying behind a common vision for an ethical, sustainable and prestigious civil engineering profession.
Nobody has to expound to me on how audacious our aspirations are, but if I could summarise – it is to govern ourselves by honourable values and by setting distinct boundaries. More importantly, we do not want to be visionaries only, but shareholders of a generation of civil engineering practitioners who will be known for their moral fibre and incorruptible core.