May 31, 2007

Engineer Crisis Hits Africa

Kenyans missing out as engineer crisis hits – Published in the Business Daily Africa

Written by Mwaura Kimani
31-May-2007: As the country ramps up preparations to start mining titanium at the Coast later this year, a glaring shortage of mining engineers in the country could mean prime jobs will go to non-Kenyans.

Like oil exploration jobs, which have largely gone to expatriates, Tiomin Kenya Ltd—a titanium exploration and mining company—is set to give its 25 existing vacancies to foreign experts. Most are likely to come from South Africa and Australia where there are established mineral operations.
According to Peter Ndaa, finance director at Tiomin, the shortfall of mining engineers could hamper their plans to employ local skilled workers.

“We have to develop our own people before the project kicks off since there are none trained locally,” he told the Business Daily.
Tiomin Kenya Ltd, a subsidiary of the Canadian-based Tiomin Resources that is in charge of the $155 million Kwale titanium project at the coast, estimates that the planned permanent workforce at the mine will be 330.

Though, up to 1,000 people could be employed during the two-year construction phase. The Kwale mineral sands are estimated to hold about 3.2 billion tonnes of titanium, or 14 per cent of the world’s known resources.

The mineral that is used in space-craft manufacturing and, for making parts for missiles, ships, paints, sunscreen, plastics, and textiles, is a potential foreign exchange earner.

Despite being licensed 10 years ago, Tiomin Resources has yet to start operation due to financial difficulties and legal setbacks.
The evident engineer shortage demonstrates how Kenya has for long ignored the need to train mining specialists in local universities.
Statistics from the Engineers Registration Board (ERB)—the local professional regulator—show an estimated 1,261 registered professionals practise in the country and 193 registered consultants. However, none of them is a mining engineer.

Of the local universities that have engineering courses, none offers mining courses. Some blame the failure to get more specialised engineer training to bigger problems in Kenyan education system. Retired lecturer Martin Nyaga said most students perceive math and sciences to be “boring” and “too hard.”
“The declining performance in mathematics and science education in lower grades coupled with the mind set cultivated by the general educational establishment makes students unwilling to tackle anything that is difficult,” he said.

Exodus of trained science professionals is another challenge, as many from developing countries such as Kenya prefer to work in Europe or America, where jobs are more common and pay better.

A UN study shows more African scientists and engineers work in the US than in all of Africa, leaving the entire African continent with just 20,000 engineers and scientists.
The potential for oil finds, as exploration picks up all over East Africa, could also be hamstrung by the engineers deficit.
Kenya needs 100 petroleum engineers should oil be found at the coast. But with only four known local oil experts, and just one working in Kenya, the chances of hiring locals are slim.

Telecommunications firms have also struggled to hire locals, but usually come up short.

Leading mobile operator Safaricom Ltd, has hired about 130 telecommunication engineers and experts, but most come from the UK and other parts of the world.


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