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Structural engineering: A career built to last

india Updated: Aug 10, 2007 01:07 IST
RK Abrol

Structural engineering is a profession of immense importance to the development of the nation. The increasing gap between the existing demand and supply of structural engineers is bound to hold back the progress of infrastructure development envisaged in the current Five-Year Plan unless corrective measures are taken immediately.

But first, what is this pivotal skill about? Structural engineering is a field of specialisation in civil engineering. It is the science and art of designing with elegance and economy a form capable of withstanding the forces of nature and performing its functions with safety, durability and economy.

The field encompasses the design of residential, commercial, educational and recreational buildings, besides bridges, stadiums, ports, dams and aqueducts just about every type of structure, you can say. The discipline helps structures withstand cyclones, earthquakes, sea waves and thermal variations.

Training to sustain growth

It is not just civil engineers who are in short supply. Construction has become highly mechanised and needs people to operate or drive various kinds of machinery. There is a shortage of such people too. Machinery operators who used to get Rs 3,000 a month are getting Rs 10,000 now. Machinery companies have set up schools in places such as Pune to train such operators.

— RP Arora, General Secretary, Builders Association of India

Now let us look at the scope of work. India, with the second highest population in the world, has an estimated 4-crore shortage in dwelling units. From the supply side, you can see that the Eleventh Five-Year Plan, which started this year, envisages an investment of Rs 14,50,000 crore in construction of all sorts. Of this, Rs 1,22,500 crore is earmarked for building and maintaining roads, Rs 40,000 crore for airports, and Rs 60,000 crore for ports. All of this would require the constructions to be of a safe, economical and earthquake-resistant design. That’s where structural engineers come in. In fact, their job begins even before the building starts — in preparing the design and specifying the materials needed.

To gauge the demand-supply mismatch, consider the following:
The 11th Plan envisages a manpower requirement of 3.72 million man-years for engineers and 8 million man-years for technicians and support staff.

Facilities for degree-level technical education are available at 1,346 ‘approved’ engineering colleges. Of these, 340 offer degree courses in civil /structural engineering. The total admission capacity for these courses is about 4.4 lakh. And the share of civil/structural engineering degree courses in this is only about 18,700.

Hail the Construction Era

Year 2006 was touted as one of construction companies, with scepticslabelling it the year of the ‘plumber and carpenter’. The label depicted the mindset of how people used to view the construction industry. However, contractors are having the last laugh now. It seems to be a new era in the age of construction, and we have our fingers crossed that this would be a ‘golden’ era. — Shruti Choudhari, Director, Soul Space Projects

Fresh graduates from these institutes would need 4-5 years of training and experience to become competent enough to design the critically important structures.

At present, we are not prepared to fulfil the demand that India’s development is placing on us. Mind you, we need competent structural engineers who can also use state-of-the-art technology to design increasingly complex buildings that conserve energy and are ‘intelligent’ enough to adjust to changes.

Although 2007 is likely to be a landmark year for job creation in this field, qualified and competent structural engineers will surely fall far short of the requirements. Coupled with this obvious shortage is the problem created by the entry and expansion of some large multinational engineering firms, which are mopping up the available structural engineering talent by offering attractive salaries that the local firms cannot afford.

Are government officials, university managements and educational entrepreneurs listening?

(The author is director, Indian Association of Structural Engineers)