Panel Discussion :
Responsibility of Senior Engineers Towards Developing Engineering Fraternity


IESL Library and Publications Committee organized a panel discussion on the topic “Responsibility of Senior Engineers Towards Developing Engineering Fraternity” on 06th April 2021. Following experienced, panel members were invited to share their experience.

  • Eng Jayavilal Meegoda (Past President of IESL, Additional General Manager of CEB)
  • Eng. Priyal de Silva (Past President of IESL, Retired General Manager of Sri Lanka Railway)
  • Eng. P. W. Sarath (Vice President of IESL, Retired Chief Officer of Sri Lanka Telecom, Consultant in Telecommunication Field)
  • Eng. Granie R. Jayalath (Vice President of IESL, Deputy Director of RDA)

The Moderator for the panel discussion was Eng. Thilak Jayathunga (General Manager of ICC)

Following is an edited version of the panel discussion.

Introductory Remarks by Prof. Ranjith Dissanayake – Chairman, Library & Publication Committee of IESL

Introductory remarks were delivered by the chairman of the L&P Committee Eng. (Prof.) Ranjith Dissanayake.

We have been in academia and the industry, and we see that the Junior engineers always have inquiries, worries and complaints of various aspects of their profession and their workplace. Now there are many challenges, such as COVID-19 and changes in technology, etc. thus we have to adopt best practices, ethics and so forth. To survive in society, they have to be innovative, and whatever they do, they have to sustain. When considering adaptation, innovation, and sustainability, we as seniors must guide them. That is why we have invited prominent, experienced members of the industry for this discussion, so it may be useful to young engineers to be part of the development of Sri Lanka.

Question: Could you explain the importance of senior engineers’ involvement in developing the engineering fraternity?

Eng. P. W. Sarath:

Engineering is a noble profession, not secondary to any other profession. Because we are dealing with the community, we provide various services to the community using the resources of this planet. Therefore, our senior engineers’ role; here the word senior engineers may be confused with seniority and experienced, yet I will use a blended meaning, here senior means experienced.

Experienced, senior engineers have come across many hurdles, over the years. Obtaining their academic qualifications, several trainings, facing many challenges. So they have been groomed by their seniors to certain positions. The engineering fraternity consists of engineers, technologists, technical officers, technicians and the general public on the other side. Junior engineers, follow the seniors. Therefore, a senior engineering role should be defined as a result-oriented leader. More importantly, he should be a role model, then only will others follow. Role model means being a self-disciplined, self-motivated person. Resource optimization must ensue. He should have many competencies and should take responsibility and accountability. For example, the recent bus tragedy, the Passera bus accident, no one has taken responsibility. The role of senior engineer, he/she should be a risk-taker, take calculated risks, and should be a person to never mend or bend rules due to external influences. He should be a flexible person, adaptive, but without compromising safety, quality.

Question– In terms of gaps in the current framework of engineers, how you see the current situation in Sri Lanka, in term of the operating framework of Sri Lanka?

Eng Priyal de Silva:

There are a few noted issues, gaps, during the last few years. Young engineers do not have a clear vision of what they have to do. They don’t know what they want to achieve when they enter the industry. They go with their friends without knowing what they are capable of. They should have a benchmark, such as in the form of a senior engineer back in the day, which is not occurring currently. For example, in the construction industry, someone could benchmark Dr. Kulasinghe, and on the road development side, they could benchmark Eng. Denzil Senanayake or Eng. M B S Fernando; in the railway side, Eng B. D. Rampala. This is absent in the younger generation. Senior engineers should advise this to the juniors.

Secondly, they do not fully benefit from the academic knowledge that they possess. They are happy sitting on the side and doing a lot of administrative work, that should not be the case, they should be involved in more technical work from the start.

Thirdly, the application of the correct blend between theory and practice is rarely seen. For example, in the case of irrigation engineering, I am not sure if they check irrigation slopes using the formulas they have learnt at university. Do RDA engineers go check the transition curves and curvature, etc? Senior engineers should direct the junior engineers to do these things. I personally was told to check the superelevation, etc. when I first joined. However, this is not done today. The majority of engineers are reluctant to investigate technical issues in the organization.

Next, the majority are reluctant to engage in major projects outside their home. We have to see that they are sent out so that they may get that technical experience.

They should develop hands-on skills. Workshops now don’t engage in these habits, learning from the craftsmen/supervisor, donning the appropriate kit, etc.

Some are backwards in taking on challenges. In the field, they are reluctant to recommend their own solutions on their own initiative. There is a fear psychosis that builds up after university. Senior engineers have to investigate what their problem is, maybe language, etc.

Question: The gaps that you have mentioned, are they relevant to the other members of the fraternity such as technologists, etc?

Eng Priyal de Silva:

They apply to the affiliated engineers as well, right up to the craftsman level. What I want to highlight here, is that the engineers at a young age shouldn't feel shy to learn from a craftsman, yet when they are more senior, they are shyer.

Out of the box thinking by engineers is rare these days. A lot also think only along lines of technical solutions without considering the economic and environmental aspects that are appropriate to our country. Senior engineers have to guide the juniors this way.

Question: Are the gaps previously mentioned due to the youngsters, due to society or due to the senior engineers not taking the responsibility?

Eng. P. W. Sarath:

It has happened over time. When a graduate is at a university, they have to undergo a lot of transformation. My personal example, when I was first appointed as an engineer to the telecommunication dept. my first boss, a chartered engineer, Mr. H. M. S. Fernando of Moratuwa, said, “Sarath, you have to be at the office for 2 days only, the other days you have to go to the field”. I was asked to go to Jaffna, everywhere and I had to brief him on what I had done. Seniors, as well as Juniors, have to take responsibility. When an engineer is placed under you, you have to supervise and watch him, at least for 2 years.

Moderator: Transformation has to be continued.

Question: As per your experience in CEB and others, has the Senior engineers’ involvement been sufficient or not? What more can be done to getting senior engineers on board with this?

Eng. Jayavilal Meegoda:

Societies have completely changed. We all are responsible for that. Our children have been brought up differently than we were. My experience is that young engineers are very good, but they should be guided strictly.

Clause 8 of code of ethics, engineers shall continue their professional development throughout their careers and shall actively assist and encourage engineers under their direction to advance their knowledge and experience. This is the prime duty of a chartered engineer. This point should be considered when their charter is renewed.

We need to have role models. Engineers work for society, so young engineers should see how superiors are working. First, the boss is very important. Senior engineers can do a big change if motivated. Characteristics should be cultivated in the minds of young engineers. Young engineers are millennials and are brought up differently. Teamwork, other skills are not instilled in young engineers. We had the fortune to learn communication, teamwork, commitment, honesty, handling disturbances, integrity, now with studying and tuitions, young engineers haven’t had the time to develop these.

The engineers joining the CEB, have been very good with good ethics. We just have to be a bit strict. Even at the IESL, my experience has always been good with young engineers.

Question: You talk about millennials, according to you, we have not understood their needs and wants. As a result, we don’t know how to develop them. Is that so?

There may be cases.

They have to be motivated. Some engineers give up after a few years. They have to be motivated, continuously. Social security is another reason for this. Benchmarking is very important. Back in the day, we had the ambition to rise to the standards of great engineers, the younger ones have given up this ambition. We see lack of transformation.

Question: How do you look at this situation with different countries. Is it a similar situation in developing countries and developed, such as India, US, etc. Is the situation the same or different?

Eng Granie Jayalath:

I want to start my focus, concentrate on moral development which is tied to the code of ethics. I have recognized in my career, that a young engineer passing out and going to a senior level, go through 3 levels: pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional.

Pre-conventional is more primitive. I have observed that engineers’ motivation is motivated by the desire to avoid punishment and to keep a job or enjoy the salary. Motivation is guided in modern society by acquiescence to power or seeking self-gratification.

A middle level (conventional) engineer gets motivated by the desire to please others and meet the expectations of family, friends, political groups. Internationally in some country, senior engineers are at this level.

Post-conventional level engineers, do an analysis instantly, they do not accept simply what others say. Motivation is self-morally, above self-interest. Therefore, a senior engineer should be an autonomous moral person. If we as senior engineers want to set an example, we must be an autonomous morality.

Simply put, today the model of self-interest, is the primary controller, motivator of people. Self-interest does have different dimensions, such as for the nation, for the country and that is okay. The dominant decision is the main problem.

Moderator: What you are trying to say is that engineers of this country, as compared to others is that, are static, not dynamic. That is why we do not reach the levels that you have mentioned.

Question: What kind of a mechanism do you suggest to improve the current situation?

Eng. P. W. Sarath:

Engineers have the best analytical skills among other professionals, unfortunately, the outcome and benefits aren’t discussed.

For example in the passport department or a bank, transfers of millions can be done so quickly yet only a few engineers are working in the bank. Example of how carpenters make chairs for others but not for themselves.

Therefore, the seniors should sit together and do something. We should have a structured programme when we see a young engineer, we should have the courage to tell them what to do and what not to do while becoming a role model. It is chartered engineers’ responsibility to supervise the non-chartered engineers, technicians, technologists. We have to assign realistic tasks. Our advice to engineers today, they will use the same advice to the young engineers in the future. If we go through our PR manual it explains everything that we don’t follow. We should drive engineers to be result-oriented people.

Question: We make the technology but don’t use the technology as you mentioned. Do you think this should be an organizational effort?

Macroscopically, it is an organizational problem. It comes to the senior general managers and above, it is time to apply the transformation. We must tell the engineers to visit the site and not be in their comfort zones.

Question: What is happening among other professionals such as doctors, architects, lawyers? Do they also have societies and working frameworks? How do you look at situations there and what examples can we take.

Eng. Priyal de Silva:

In the case of doctors, lawyers and architects, they have an internship, compulsory, under a senior for a few years. In the case of a lawyer, there is an understudy taking them to court, etc. in the case of an engineer in the past, there was a scheme like that. In the past, all government agencies had structured training. In the case of widespread departments such as irrigation, an engineer had to undertake training in all sectors, before being called junior engineers. so, when first entering they were called probation engineers initially. Upon training after 2-3 years, they called junior engineers.

Now, engineering standards are not properly adhered to. People try to achieve the target without maintaining a standard. Example of political jobs where a road is called to be made, but not made well initially.

Engineering ethics are not properly adhered to. Even the conduct of engineers and senior engineering guiding junior engineers, this is not done. We should put the country before self, because of the free education that we have been given – however, this is not the case. In the case of other professions, like doctors, they adhere to guidelines given by WBHO etc. engineers are not impartial in thinking, they get instruction from superior, they just say yes and implement it without questioning and discussing it. Involvement of IESL with younger engineers is a must. You will get to know how the profession is developing and you get to interact with more seniors in the profession when you come to meetings and discussions.

Doctors and lawyers have their systems in the university where at university they call each other by ‘aiya’, ‘malli’, but when they join the industry, they stop this and refer to each other by name. In engineering, however, this casual way of speaking continues in the industry, and this is not good for the status quo. At universities, they eat in the same meal pack, and they do so in industry, and this should stop.

Question: What about IESL involvement in the engineering fraternity development, by getting senior engineer involvement? Isn't it the IESL’s duty?

Eng. Jayavilal Meegoda:

This subject is under discussion with universities. In the medical field, they are ready to be a doctor once they pass out. Engineering training should be implemented for engineering undergraduates. Once they enter the industry they have to depend on the technologists and draftsmen, and this is not a good practice. A mentoring scheme is very important. We had that at the CEB and IESL. We listened to them and were guided by them, by the academic chancellors, professors, etc. I have seen a successful mentoring scheme at the University of Moratuwa, the undergraduates we were mentoring back then are still in contact today. IESL should have this, they have somewhat of a mentoring scheme to obtain the Charter, this should be extended to the juniors also. Juniors should always have a mentor, at IESL and the organization. They need mentors. IESL should take the lead.

Question: Can you propose some innovative networking methodologies to engineering communities? As we now have WhatsApp groups, Facebook groups and others, for engineering communities, do we use these updated technologies, how do we connect the youngsters and seniors?

Eng. Granie Jayalath:

For example, a group of engineers were told to construct a road and it failed. We must find out why these engineers were motivated to conduct themselves in this way. Maybe they had an ethical issue, they didn’t adhere to standards, didn’t utilize the public funds correctly, etc. We need to find the reason as to why the failure happened and to communicate this to younger engineers. This communication should occur to help young engineers.

There is now an ethics committee at IESL, they are to find out the truth and how engineers have gone wrong. Young engineers can now approach the Advisory ethics committee and give information about what went wrong. Moral decisions levels, the starting point.

Council paper was approved, making CPD mandatory for corporate members, which will reflect, represent in local and international panels, that senior members will partake in.

Engineering ethics will be included in the BSC. Eng degree courses such as at the University of Peradeniya and Moratuwa. Young engineers and Senior engineers can use the IESL platform to share experiences and communicate where junior engineers can ask questions and problems and the seniors can guide them. These are a few ways IESL is going forward with similar models.

Eng. Sarath:

Job rotation is not effectively managed, just as how district engineer stays in positions for 15 years or so, until promotion job rotations internationally. Should rotate engineers to different backgrounds and exposures.

Q&Q Session:

Dr Niranjan: Good senior engineers are needed to guide them, Can gender be an issue here?

Eng. Priyal de Silva: There is, definitely, a societal change, the younger generation requires more attention and love. Younger engineers must be welcomed by a senior engineer, and they should be given insight. Senior engineers should establish some sort of confidence with the junior engineers when they join the organization. Senior engineers should devote 3-4 hours a month, in addition to their normal hours overseeing work etc. This is the mentorship required. Recalls examples of how in the past, the senior engineer will have junior make a presentation of what they did during the month and sectional heads to keep tabs on call-up diaries. Not present today. These should be reimplemented.

Eng. Arjuna Manamperi: As the title says, what should be the role of the senior engineers? When I think of my responsibility as a senior engineer, I don’t go by what I did or what someone told me to do. I look back and see why I became what I am in the environment in which I grew up, at home, school, university, workplace. They never gave me regimented approaches. The role is in the hands of the seniors, not to be prescriptive, but what should excite the younger engineer and be a coach. A coach is different that of a teacher. A teacher applies a regimented approach, not a coach. The world is changing. In a changing world, seniors should be a part of the changing process. Seniors should take the role of a coach. We must engage with the juniors. Youngsters are lost with the lack of role models.

Audience Member: Present CPD course are mostly theoretical. We should concentrate on engineering problems and how they were solved by relevant specialists, where we can gain from these academic courses.

Panel Comments: CPD courses were delivered by experienced peoples not only lecture etc.; surveys were undertaken to focus on what the country requires and the specialists to be involved in CPD.

Mr. Ranjith Thapru: The quality of university engineering is high today. Undergraduates are made to think and undertake projects. Engineering ethics is part and parcel of engineering teacher. And the standards are comparable to the world. My grievance is that IESL provides poor support, they should set up forums with senior members, where junior members can interact. The institution is interested in running money-making CPD courses, which is not useful to junior engineers. The institution should not think of money when providing training to the juniors. The institution should collect the senior engineers and put them into different forums. Politicians are in charge, and the engineers are treated like dirt and are scared. This should be taken up with the IESL.

Closing statement by Moderator and Thanks to Panelists and all.

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