Civil Engineering, as an entity, is a widely ranged profession encompassing many individually demanding disciplines such as Structural Engineering, Geotechnical Engineering, Transportation Engineering and Environmental Engineering. In spite of these various disciplines, civil engineering practice is generally of two types in all the disciplines, viz: Consultancy and Construction.
To lack training and experience in any of these types of practice, even if
well-versed in the other, depicts the non-completeness of one’s practice of the civil engineering profession.
In order to gain a complete experience of this profession, the trainee undertook the last two months of the 6-month industrial training on a construction site; having been trained in the consultancy field during the first four months of the training. The work carried out and experience gained on the construction field is outlined in the following section; thereafter, other important issues of civil engineering practice experienced in the consultancy field are explained.
Construction Site Experience
The construction site experience was gained during the construction of a two-storey building located in one of Lagos suburbs. The construction of the building was handled by a small-scale (1-man-owned) construction company, whose owner is closely connected to the client (also, an individual). At the time the trainee joined this site, construction had almost reached the finishing stage, whereby only a few concrete structures were yet to be cast. Simultaneously, the company was also handling the partial demolition of an existing structure in another suburb of Lagos.
Hence, the trainee had to shuttle between the two sites in order to have a wide range of experience. In all, the work carried out includes:
Casting of parapet wall of the roof structure
Casting of roof beams
Gauging, plastering and screeding works
Estimation of batching quantities of constructional materials
Construction of roof structure
Supervision of partial demolition of existing structure and reconstruction to fit new design.
The experience gained during this time of the construction field includes:
For thickness such as that of parapet wall (about 75mm and below), reinforcements are placed at the centre of the structure’s cross-section.
Understanding of locations where L-beams and T-beams are used in building structure.
Quality control of building construction.
Use and condition for use of ‘upstand’ beam and drop beam, where headroom requirement is important or not.
In summary, the construction field is a necessity for the completeness of the practice of civil engineering practice. It can be referred to as ‘battling and overcoming reality’ to achieve set designs (the consultancy’s output). On the construction field, engineering personnel are expected to be creative, innovative, to manage independent teams and to have the potentials to manage disciplines outside their own specialist area. Above all, to have a grip on the manpower (i.e. labourers), they should be able to exercise professional judgement at all times.
The way a discipline such as civil engineering is practiced as a profession and the impact it has on society will clearly depend on its evolution as a technical subject, and, in particular, the way it is taught and how its values are passed on to new members of the profession.
This peculiarity of engineering distinguishes it from science. Science evolved mainly as a search for understanding and knowledge (often grandly designed as a search for truth). However, engineering is about creating new product or service – i.e. a new design. Since there is usually a large range of options that can meet each desirable design, it effectively becomes a search for compromise (Davies, 2002). Thus, the difference between scientists and engineers is that scientists will artificially constrain their world until they have something they can handle and then deal with that; however, engineers have to deal with the reality of what is, and this includes people, who have the capacity to do the unexpected.
Moreover, engineering professionals have a duty to keep their knowledge current. One key issue for engineering is how to make use of new technology, such as information technology, to improve the effectiveness of more ‘traditional’ engineering and to take it forward to tackle the massive challenges in the future.
This is very important for a successful practice of the engineering profession. It is evident that engineering students of this generation are more computer literate than their counterparts of previous generations. This is reflected in their approach to information retrieval and knowledge assimilation. They do not expect to work on drawing boards. Their tool of first recourse is the computer, and the first place they would think of looking for information is the Internet. As such, everything has to be balanced up; because, computers are very good at storing and manipulating data but are still poor at creating knowledge. Humans, on the other hand, have the ability to create knowledge by processing information from a variety of sources.
Perhaps a better perspective of the practice of engineering is the one that combines the best attributes of computer-based data manipulation to assist humans in their pursuit of knowledge. In other words, computer should be seen as tools that help engineers do their jobs and not doing the job for engineers. The evolution of technicians/draughtsmen into computer-aided drawing (CAD) operators is a classic example. The arrival of CAD software meant that many of the people previously known as technicians leave the profession and CAD operators took became ‘draughtsmen’. But, unlike the modern-day generation of CAD operators, the old draughtsmen knew how structures behave, because they were the ones detailing the reinforced concrete and the structural steelwork. They could spot potential problems as well as identify savings at an early stage of the project life span through their acquired knowledge as draughtsmen/technicians in the real sense.
Unfortunately, the wrong application of technology has led to the loss of their skills in the engineering profession. It has left a vacuum of knowledge, which is difficult to replace and it now adds more to the responsibilities of the design engineer. Gone are the days when the design engineer would pass his engineering judgements to the technicians/draughtsmen and, in most cases, the latter would produce a clear and detailed drawings without the assistance of the former. Nowadays, with CAD operators, the engineer has to vet drawings so as to ensure that his ideas are properly and correctly stated in the drawings! As such, the only safe method of passing engineering knowledge to students of engineering is that they should be equipped to thrive in whatever working environment they find themselves; and that engineering professionals must know more about their subjects than their clients or the general public and, therefore, there are responsibilities that go with knowledge. This was an issue that the trainee battled with in his training in the consultancy field, as most CAD works had to be vetted again, because of the knowledge of the CAD operator.