Deconstructing the Features of Nigerian Engineers and Technicians

By Umar Farouk Ahmad

TECHDIGEST – Many people, especially in Nigeria don’t know what the word ‘Engineer’ connotes. I’m sorry to say but including some in the engineering field.

Based on what I observed, it’s not that people don’t understand the meaning, but rather they usually get confused between the roles of an engineer and a technician.

Most people, the moment they hear the word engineer, will start thinking of someone who repairs a generator, car, television, and fan, among others, which in reality, it’s far beyond that.

So, whenever people see an engineer who cannot repair the above-mentioned, they will begin to think that he is an unskilled or unprofessional engineer.

The most painful aspect is, that they will begin to question his certificate and will even say that those uncertified roadside technicians are better than him.

This is quite worrisome and I believe it transpired as a result of a big misconception about the word Engineer.

What people need to get straight first is the correct description and the roles of an Engineer and a Technician/Artisan.

Engineer and Technician/Artisan

An engineer is a professional who designs, analyzes, and invents different types of machines and data systems. They apply their understanding of math and science to research and design complex solutions to specific problems.

Engineers work largely within theory as they develop new concepts and designs. Engineers typically work in a specialty niche.

Technicians/Artisans are most often employed in service jobs. The work typically involves equipment installation, troubleshooting, and repair, testing and measuring, maintenance and adjustment, manufacturing, or operation.

Based on the above definitions, Engineers are simply designers and technicians are maintainers. This means if an engineer doesn’t know how to repair/maintain machines, but he has a sound knowledge of engineering designs, and developing accurate solutions, indeed, he will be called a Professional Engineer.

Similarly, no matter how good a technician is in engineering designs, but lacks the knowledge of repairs and maintenance, of course, he would be called an unskilled or unqualified technician.

The primary responsibility of an engineer is to develop solutions and concepts and the technician turns the concept into an actual item and as well maintains it.

Engineers have more theoretical responsibilities while technicians have more practical responsibilities.

Engineer Vs Technician/Artisan

Above is the topic of a heated debate regarding University vs Polytechnic graduates. What people need to know first is, that Poly-technics colleges train Technicians and Artisans. Universities train Engineers.

There is a difference between these two people. They have different roles in both Service and Manufacturing Industries.

For instance, in an Electrical and Automation Service Industry, the Engineer is responsible for problem conceptualization, and solution design i.e network configurations, system integrations, drawings, and bills of materials.

Then the Technician will come in on assembling the components, hardware installation, and networking these according to the Engineering design.

The Engineer will be responsible for software design, programming, and testing this software in the office. After the technician has completed field installations, the Engineer then comes in to test and commission the hardware.

He then loads the software that he has designed and programmed into the hardware and then together with the Technician they commission the system.

These are the two different roles of these two people. They complement each other as I have explained.

In a Manufacturing Industry setup, the Engineer is responsible for setting up maintenance schedules.

The maintenance plan according to the Engineer should clearly state what needs to be done on each machine during maintenance.

A maintenance checklist is also created by the Engineer. The Artisan/ Technician should then adhere to these Maintenance procedures.

The Engineer is a chief whip who ensures that this is done and certain standards are being followed. The Engineer is also responsible for coming up with projects that can improve plant performance and productivity.

The Engineer is responsible for making sure that the plant’s Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE) is maintained or improved.

He comes up with solutions to resolve critical breakdowns which Technicians have failed to rectify that is by being on the ground or outsourcing a specialist.

The Engineer is responsible for looking up potential opportunities that can enhance productivity. They must oversee the plant.

In a nutshell, the Engineer and the Technician are there to compliment each other. These two depend on each other for them to maximize their potential.

Whenever you find an Engineer working as an Artisan or vice versa, then there is something wrong with that organization. You cannot hire an Engineer where the nature of the job requires an Artisan. I will put the following in bold.

AN ENGINEER’S JOB IS NOT TO SPEND HIS TIME ON THE PLANT FLOOR. Engineers are hired for managerial and supervisory roles whilst Technicians and Artisans are hired for technical roles.

Finally, With a functioning economy, these two people would be different. This entanglement is a result of a dilapidated economy. Our standards have been eroded. It’s now spontaneous. It’s about survival hence the standards do not exist anymore. Labor dynamics in a country without jobs give you wrong perspectives.

My advice to my fellow engineers is that we all need to go and equip ourselves with the technical knowledge of engineering, not only by focussing on design and theoretical aspects.

A person cannot become a good engineer without the practical and technical aspects of engineering. And I believe learning so would be the best way to prove to a layman that you are a professional, skilled, and competent engineer.

Farouk, a graduate of Electrical Engineering, wrote from Wuye, Abuja, via: [email protected]

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