Wanted – Greater recognition and better pay for local Engineers

Jamaica Gleaner, Wednesday, March 12, 2014

WANTED – Survey Shows Engineers Are Becoming Scarce As Demand Increases

A technocrat in the Ministry of Labour has signalled that engineers are becoming an extinct breed in Jamaica, while the demand for those with this qualification continues to grow at a rapid pace.

Speaking at yesterday’s Kiwanis Club of Kingston weekly luncheon, Shaine Palmer, director of economic and social research in the labour ministry, said based on labour surveys over the years and preliminary results in a survey being conducted at the ministry, there is an acute need for engineers of all sorts across the country


One big problem I have with Jamaicans especially when they complete surveys, is the lousy job the researches do in interpreting the results and forming some conclusion from the information that has been gleaned from the survey.

Reading the above, one would be quick to draw the following conclusions:

  1. There are not enough trained engineers in Jamaica.
  2. The country is not producing enough engineers.
  3. More students needs to be encouraged to become engineers.
  4. The SLB needs to put more of its funding towards those who are interested in becoming.

If you have  arrived at the above conclusion, not only would you have been not totally correct in your assessment of the true situation, you probably would have implemented the wrong action to fix the perceived problem.

So is there a shortage of competent engineers in Jamaica?

The answer is no, there is however a “shortage” of practicing competent engineers in Jamaica.  You may therefore ask is that not semantics , what’s the difference.

The answer is there are plenty qualified engineers in Jamaica, who are not practicing engineering especially in manufacturing, where the need is great.

There are a number of reasons for this.

Engineering in Jamaica and in particular manufacturing is not a job that is recognized and so is properly rewarded. A mechanical engineer for example is seen as a mechanic, whose job to to troubleshoot and repair a machine once it has broken down.

A financial controller in an organization for example would not be asked or expected to go and collect invoices, tally these invoices, prepare documentation for payment, no that job is done by the accounting clerk. (The FC may have to do it at times but only if his staff is not available.)

A mechanical engineer on the other hand is expected on a daily basis to go repairs equipment and get them back into production once the line stops running.  I am not saying he should not get involved, but if that is his major function in a manufacturing organization, then he really is functioning as a mechanic or let’s say a highly trained technician.

How does Executive Management see the role of the Engineer (Lets say Mechanical) in the manufacturing?

  1. React to and address issues affecting manufacturing.
  2. Complete troubleshooting and repairs of plant equipment.
  3. Address plumbing, lighting, building, HVAC systems in the operations.
  4. Complete welding and fabrication as required.
  5. Create work around, when no spares are available to effect repairs to equipment.
  6. Create temporary (long-term 🙂 ) solutions for  problems, when the company refuses to spend money for upgrades recommended by the engineer.
  7. Make do with what is available.
  8. Do preventative maintenance when the time allows for that to occur.

The true role of the Mechanical Engineer is (among other things) to do the following:

  1. Review plant operations and make recommendations on changes to improve the manufacturing process.
  2. Develop methods to improve equipment performance.
  3. Develop maintenance schedules and execute those schedules to keep equipment running at maximum Operational Efficiency.
  4. Reduce downtime through preventative and predictive maintenance.
  5. Design and develop projects to improve efficiency and lower operational cost.
  6. Improve energy efficiency of the plant operations
  7. Design or review upgrades to equipment that reduces maintenance requirement, while improving uptime and operational efficiency.
  8. Train and develop technical staff to improve their competences
  9. Assist in problem solving and teach staff problem solving techniques.
  10. Etc etc etc.

So what is really happening in Jamaica, is the role the engineer is being asked to play and what is true role is supposed to be, are miles apart.

Who is looking out ie who is looking long-term, then  ask yourself, is this not part of the reason why manufacturing is declining in Jamaica.

The fact that management see the role of the engineer as a non- managerial role ( even Technical Management) but more as a highly trained technician , his compensation package is no where close to what it ought to be given the true role the engineer is supposed to play in that organization.

This leads to frustration very quickly for the engineer who leaves and go where greater monetary compensation exist, after-all the thousands of dollars paid for his education, must be recovered and he must earn a good return on his investment.

A large number of Jamaica engineers can be found in the East Caribbean, where the compensation package is much better than Jamaica, coupled with the fact that many of these countries do not have personal income tax, which therefore makes their package even more attractive.

In addition to the above there are many well-trained engineers in Jamaica, who due to lack of promotional opportunities ( money follows promotions) have left the field and gone into main stream management, where a lot more money can be made, for less effort and less frustration.

This leaves the country with young engineers who have recently graduated, have very little experience and many manufacturing organization are unwilling to spend money to train and develop these folks, then bellyache about shortage of engineers.

If Jamaican senior manager were to change their approach to the field of engineering and was willing to pay engineer what they truly deserve, not only would you find engineers that have left returning, but many who are here and no longer practicing, would re-enter the field.

Until our approach to local engineers’ changes, the situation in this field will become gradually worse.

It’s easy  for Jamaican companies to pay an overseas based consulting Engineer US$100,000  for services rendered over a 3 month period, but paying a competent locally based engineer the same amount for an entire year, is “out of the question” , why ?

So truth be told, we don’t really need to train more engineers or need to steer more people towards engineering , instead what is required is a change in the mind-set of our executive management folks and the situation will gradually change .

One final point. I have seen the following in the manufacturing world.

An accountant joins a manufacturing organization in a very junior position with a BSc in accounting and an engineer joins the same organization as the Plant Engineer with a BSc in Engineering

At the end of year 2 the Junior account becomes Snr Accountant, while the Plant Engineer remains as Plant Engineer of course he would have gotten a little top up along the way.

By yr 5 the Snr Account become the Financial controller and his compensation package moves up significantly. In addition to the monetary gains, he also receives a car fully maintained by the company.

The Plant Engineer remains Plant Engineer and continues to get his little top up each year.

At the end of yr 10, the Financial Controller become General Manager and now is very close to the top of his game and now the Plant Engineer reports to this person.

The Plant Engineer finally gets frustrated with the lack of  upward mobility and opts to leave complete a masters  degree and lands a job as Operations Manager elsewhere , before becoming General Manager within 2 years.

The reason this occurs is due to our short- sightedness and lack of vision.

Where is the research and development ?

Who is looking out there for the next best thing in technology to improve the manufacturing process and efficiency.

We boost the most technologically advanced cars and SUV’s in our parking lots, but run with  the manufacturing process with 1960’s equipment and then bemoan the fact that we cannot be efficient, our energy cost is high and we cannot get competent engineers to keep the equipment going for another 10 years.

Tell me of 5 manufacturing Organizations in Jamaica, that have a Technical Director on board .

Lawd mi post dem long today sah,  but it’s because I am passionate about the two issues I posted today and hate BS !


15 Responses

  1. An excellent synopsis of the “Engineering Challenges” facing our country. Most of my engineering peers are working overseas, teaching or working in fields unrelated to Engineering. We do not know what to do with Engineers In Jamaica. I saw in the Gleaner a few weeks ago where Jamaica engaged an Italian (?) Engineering Consulting firm to perform hydroelectric studies, something our local Engineering Consultants could have done at a fraction of the cost we paid this external firm.

    I will always remember a visit to a Jamaican Chinese-Owned manufacturing company that a friend of mine worked at as a Production Manager/Chemist (no formal training in either discipline). The company made shampoo, among other products. They hand mixed the product in these large stainless steel Vats and hand-filled the final product into plastic bottles. The throughput couldn’t be more than 10 bottles per minute, where I’m accustom to production lines with rates of exceeding 400 (and up) bottles per minute. Often times the production worker would overfill the bottles and would have to wipe off the excess material off the bottles, which resulted in the pre-printed labels be tarnished and rendered unreadable. I left that plant questioning how this company could possibly be profitable with such a backward process.

  2. Substitute Engineer with Information Technology and the article is very relevant.

  3. Just to show the regard many Jamaican Managers have for local engineers.

    A few years ago I was called by a company to diagnose and correct a problem they were having with their control system. I left Kingston drove a little over am hr to the location, looked at what was going on and told the manager I could address the problem and quoted the cost per hr to undertake the job.

    He replied that he would not be paying that much, to which I replied I am ok with that, here is the number for the overseas company that did supplied the part and here is the person you should speak with. When you do tell him to provide you with a quote to undertake the task,

    I then went back into my car and started by journey into Kingston. On reaching Bull Bay , I received a call asking when I could start the job as they had agreed with the cost so naturally I enquired why the change.

    He replied , it’s ok you have the job just tell me when you can begin.

    What he refused to tell me was what I had already known having worked with that overseas company before, so here goes. So this was what the guys overseas told him.

    1. You will have to pay for the airline ticket
    2. You will have to pay parking for car the engineers drives to the airport.
    3. You will have to pay full cost of meals and accommodation, while the guy is in Jamaica.
    4. You will have to transport the guy from a hotel in Kingston to the location and back daily or pay for rental.
    5. You will have to pay hrly rate once the guy leaves Kingston and this ends at 5pm .
    6. You will have to pay for the cost of telephone calls and all faxes related to the project.
    7. 50% of the cost must be paid before the guys leaves the USA and before the leaves your plant he must get his US$ cheque.

    The overall cost to get the engineer from overseas in was almost 3 times what I had initially quoted to get the job done.

    Having now done the job, it took three full weeks to get paid and that was after numerous phone calls. So for the other jobs, I demanded a portion of the payment upfront and the balance on completion of the job.

    The general feeling is local engineers should not ” eat a big food” to coin a phrase.

    • A Friend of mine works with a local outfit. He put together his engineering plan to improve the efficiency at the factory. They ignored his advice and “imported” consultants from overseas to have them regurgitate the same plan. It is a general lack of respect for us as a people deeply rooted in the plantation system. Jay, you need to get out of the “woodwork”. JAMAICA NEEDS YOUR ANALYTICAL SKILLS!

  4. Maybe some employers do not have enough money to pay someone for the design and analysis and another to do the operational work.

    So they may prefer a cheaper engineer ( technician) , who can get a system running, but not the best design,. Than get a ‘paper’ engineer who only leaves you with recomendations

  5. In most countries manpower surveys are actually used to influence policies, but the problem is not that Jamaica lacks suitable engineers but that we have failed to plan properly. For example, what is the sense of doing labour market surveys if no attempt is made to ensure that our school curriculums are adjusted to suit the demands of the market. Another problem is that the Jamaican economy has not been diversified, in places like Japan and Sweden new fields in engineering are consistently being created, but Jamaica seems to be stuck in the past and the environment does allow young engineers to be creative

  6. Published in OBSERVER


    Work is no disgrace; it is idleness which is a disgrace — Hesiod

    The lack of adequate skilled employees is a growing concern for many in academia and the private sector. They fear that this paucity of talent may erode Jamaica’s ability to benefit from prospective investment projects, namely the highly touted logistics hub.

    But this situation should be seen as an anomaly, since Jamaica is known for engaging in labour market surveys, so if a skills gap exists it clearly means that no attempt was made by either successive administrations or school administrators to modify the education system in order to meet the demands of the labour market. Was all the talk just for sound bites?

    To make the scenario more untenable, the country’s CSEC results do not suggest that the labour market will become more competitive in the future, with the pass rates for both mathematics and English Language hovering below 60 per cent. And although some institutions are placing a greater emphasis on the acquisition of technical skills, this will not be enough to make a considerable difference.

    We do not want to be purveyors of doom and gloom, but judging from recent history, it can be concluded that when the present training programmes have achieved their goals, and if the logistics hub is developed, political leaders will conveniently forget that it is necessary to plan for future industries. Therefore, the labour force will remain uncompetitive and our schools will churn out graduates with skills that are no longer relevant in the new economy.

    Cynics may promulgate the view that policy inertia is actually a well orchestrated plan to ensure that citizens are unable to help themselves, thereby providing politicians with an opportunity to control a subservient population. Others may argue that an administration’s failure to execute policy is due to immature voters that are too easily distracted, thus reducing their ability to take anything seriously. No smart politician, who is interested in maintaining a fiefdom, would alter this state of affairs.

    But it doesn’t really matter which view is correct, because the end result is skylarking and this creates generations of paupers. Change can only occur when citizens become more demanding and less frivolous. We should bash politicians for failing to translate their rhetoric into policies, instead of elevating nonsensical issues to matters of great concern or rebuking a prime minister whose priorities are clearly misplaced. We must constantly remind political leaders of their substantive policies, if they had any to begin with. Maybe then the people of Jamaica will be accorded some respect.

    Lipton Matthews


  7. An image “make over” for engineers is now due,in Jamaica. This may be the role the JIE will need to champion.

    Similarly the universities that teach engineering will need to do more than add a few business courses to the curriculum, a course in “engineering culture, professionalism and practice” is needed too.

    Engineers simply need more “attitude” if they are to get the recognition they desrve

    • You are correct, but does the JIE see itself playing that role ?
      Right now the folks at the JIE is all about “profiling”, ” Oh I have a meeting with this minister or that Minister, or I just had a meeting with Minister X or Minister Y and nothing really gets done.

      The JIE needs a makeover and it’s role must be to help change the image of engineering in Jamaica.

      How can we sit by and watch millions of dollars in contracts go to overseas, while the work ( hand me down) is done by local engineers, this is madness.

      So yes to a make over of the image of engineers.

  8. Enough Engineers Being Trained, But Too Little Jobs

    Professor Morrison


    There is a problem with the headline the very first paragraph and the rest of the article and this writer needs to double back on what is written.

    eg. PRESIDENT OF the University of Technology (UTech) Professor Errol Morrison is strongly agreeing that there is a critical shortage of all modalities of engineering in Jamaica.

    Further it says …

    “We are training the individuals and actually producing enough engineers. However, the problem is for these graduates to get a job in Jamaica in their area of specialisation. So the question really is, ‘What happens to these engineers when they graduate?'”

    He said a good percentage might find engineering-related jobs, but a lot end up as science teachers, some in jobs non-related engineering jobs, while others go abroad to greener pastures.

  9. JayJayJa, Portia is off the Island this weekend to attend a major PNP donor daughter’s Wedding. Do you have anything to say? I’m sure PJ will be there. Portia will be bringing back more cash to make your head spin and oil the PNP machinery. The tire old JLP will be left in their dust as they come to the realization that they will be in the opposition for the next 20-years.

    • This is kinda off topic, but I have nothing to say. I suppose she is off on a private trip not paid for by the public purse.

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