T&T construction doldrums reduce demand for engineering graduates

Published: Sunday | May 24, 2009

Avia Collinder, Career Coordinator

Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

A slowdown in the construction boom engineered by the government in Trinidad and Tobago spells good news for other Caribbean territories which have been suffering for want of civil engineers needed for the execution of infrastructural projects.

According to Chandar Gupta Supersad, careers and placement officer, Student Advisory Services of the University of the West Indies in St Augustine, construction activities have slowed and this has resulted in a smaller demand in the country which other territories, Jamaica included, have accused of swallowing most of the civil engineers trained by the university.

No official stop order

Mikey Josephs , president of the Trinidad and Tobago Contractors Association, said on Monday that although no official stop order has been placed on any project because of a commission of enquiry into the construction sector which started in January of 2009, some government ministries - including the Ministry of Social Development - appear to have put a hold on certain projects.

The current construction sector enquiry stemmed from a statement made by the Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning about an alleged missing TT$10 million from a particular housing project.

According to Josephs, the commission of enquiry was appointed in 2008 and started work in January of this year, with three hearings already held and a fourth planned. The commission has been given the task of investigating alleged corruption in the wider construction industry.

Josephs states, "They are looking generally at the operation of the local construction sector, especially in relation to government procurement agency, the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT). The conflicted agency denies on its website, www.udecott.com, massive overruns in spending.

The furore and slowdown in activity appear to have created spin-offs for other Caribbean territories in need of civil engineers.

In April, the Omar Sweeney, secretary of the Jamaica Institute of Engineers and general manager of technical services for the Jamaica Social Investment fund, had highlighted what he called a "serious void" of civil engineers.

Engineers migrate

The situation is worsened annually, he claims, by the fact that the only school is in Trinidad and Tobago from which we do not get them back. The engineers, he said. also migrate to the United States to work.

According to Supersad of St Augustine, about 40-60 students graduate each year in civil engineering, varying from year to year based on the students' performance. The demand for them, he said, was astronomic until last year when the construction boom by the government of Trinidad and Tobago came to a halt as a result of internal problems due to the commission of inquiry into the construction sector.

Supersad noted that "the demand in Trinidad is still there but it is not as extensive as it was in 2007/08. All students now get jobs but they do not receive salaries as before when the demand was very high and civil graduates could call their price."

Civil engineering management involves the conversion of resources to social, commercial and recreational and general infrastructure, including roads, bridges, buildings, airports, seaports, dams, water supply, beaches, marinas, ports and harbours, recreational facilities and environmental plant and systems, all as integrated components of civil infrastructure and facilities that support towns, cities, countries and regions.