AfricaLive: Please tell readers a bit about the DNA of the Ghana Institution of Engineering, and your motivation for starting the enterprise.
Ing Leslie Alex Ayeh: It all started about fifty-one years ago as a professional engineering body until two years ago when we made some changes. We realised that there are four groups in the engineering profession that all needed to be acknowledged. We have professional engineers, technologists, technicians, and artisans. All these people are needed in our work to make the whole space work, so we became the Ghana Institution of Engineering. The changes made us more inclusive so that we all read from the same page.
We have a membership of about five thousand people and are hoping to reach eight thousand plus soon. I am glad that we have an act of parliament now that makes it mandatory for everyone practising, to register with our institution. We serve as an advocacy group as well as a regulatory authority. Our job is to push excellence in the profession while also encouraging young people to want to be engineers. The engineering excellence award we introduced is targeted at young people because we need new engineers coming through every generation.
There is a heavy focus on skills development from the very basic level and that’s why we have an MOU with the National Board of Smallscale Industries. The agreement will ensure that artisans are trained and can produce competitive products. We also support the government in a number of things, and recently we have had meetings concerning infrastructure development.
The president of the country said in his inauguration speech that everyone should be a citizen and not a spectator. We walk in that stride by ensuring that we help move the needle forward for our country. We put together a well-done infection and medical centre when the pandemic struck, and have had positive interactions with the government. Our institution is engaged with the government when it comes to infrastructure development. We have made a few presentations to the vice president, chief of staff and senior minister. Our presentations have brought about a few policy changes and that has shaped some of the infrastructure changes you see in the country today.
AfricaLive: The launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area will be going ahead in early 2021, hopefully acting as a catalyst for driving Intra-African trade. What are your ambitions, both in the short term and long term, when it comes to trading internationally?
Ing Leslie Alex Ayeh: Internationalisation is a big part of our plans and we have a global outlook going forward. We have signed an MOU with the American Society of Civil Engineers to help us stay in touch with engineering developments. The agreement was made because we know that the United States is one of the most respected jurisdictions when it comes to engineering.
We are also focusing on ethics. Ethics is not an issue that’s taken lightly across all engineering strata. We have had meetings with aviation authorities in this country where ethics was the main agenda item. Ours is a body that has discussions with different players and stakeholders to make our country successful. Bringing together industry and academia is a major focus of our discussions. Industry-academia relations bring the classroom to the real world and that always means progress.
AfricaLive: There has been a high dropout rate in the engineering field globally in institutions of higher learning. How can we tackle this dropout rate in Africa so that we can have more engineers coming through?
Ing Leslie Alex Ayeh: The industry must have a vision of what it sees as its future and the best possible scenario. We then present that vision to academia so that they know how to prepare students. The industry wants to produce the best quality at the lowest possible cost without compromising quality while ensuring social good. Academia must come in by producing quality research that we can buy into so that we can have the outcomes we want. When we have the outcomes we want, we can then help fund higher education initiatives that help all of us.
We must have these kinds of discussions when engaging with academia because they will make the whole industry better. When the whole industry shines, the young ones will want to join in and be part of it. The entire engineering scene in Africa will be attractive if we stay in contact, and do projects together.
AfricaLive: What steps should be taken now to tackle the affordable housing crisis and build African cities of the future?
Ing Leslie Alex Ayeh: We need to have resilient planning and not take things easy when it comes to enforcement. When planning is not sound from the onset, the city will never grow to its potential. Some parts of Accra have suffered because they were unplanned. Engineers must be involved when it comes to defining waste disposal, power, and water systems. If these are not well thought out, people will not want to settle there. On a larger scale, you won’t be able to attract investment in the area. We must lay a well-planned foundation for our future cities.
AfricaLive: Within Ghana and West Africa, what do you consider to be the primary opportunities and threats facing your sector?
Ing Leslie Alex Ayeh: We have a lot of work to be done when it comes to infrastructure, sanitation, and drainage. If we get our sanitation and drainage right, we can avoid extra costs that come with disease. There are numerous opportunities for those who desire to improve the continent and invest.
AfricaLive: What is the role of your industry in creating trust and unlocking the potential for large scale infrastructure development in Africa?
Ing Leslie Alex Ayeh: There are nations like South Korea who have come a long way not because of the natural resources they have, but because of their human capital. If you have the natural resources but lack the human capital, other people will take advantage of them. Engineering ensures that countries can take advantage of natural resources and make useful products.
AfricaLive: What do you believe is a truly sustainable future for engineering, construction and infrastructure development on the African continent?
Ing Leslie Alex Ayeh: Engineering’s role is to improve the lives of people. If you build a roadway in the community, it helps access healthcare and other vital amenities. Our designs and buildings should be made to help humanity and make life easier.
AfricaLive: What are some of the trends happening in your industry in terms of innovation?
Ing Leslie Alex Ayeh: I have been a guest in exhibitions where I saw designs and products made by students that impressed me. One of them had designed a remote sensing device that could measure the moisture content of soil. If we can consistently make products like these that can be internationally accepted, we will experience immense success.
AfricaLive: What is your message to international audiences regarding your industry and country?
Ing Leslie Alex Ayeh: I would borrow a quote from one of our former presidents that says “Ghana is going nowhere without engineering”. If we are going to be effective and competitive, engineering must be our priority focus. The quality of a country’s engineering determines its fortunes in a lot of ways.