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SL engineers must be trained to become entrepreneurs: U.D. Jayawardana

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Engineers have contributed immensely to changing societies. Thanks to them, many a technological advancement has made our lives easier. Today, Sri  Lanka is facing a challenge in terms of producing engineers and training them to meet global demands. But U.D. Jayawardana is of the view that there had been less to no signs of development in this sector over the past few years. Having been in the industry for the past 25 years, Jayawardana has served as the General Manager and Chief Executive Officer at LTL Holdings (PVT) LTD. A Chartered Engineer in Electrical Engineer, he is also a fellow of the Institute  of Engineers, Sri  Lanka and Institute of Engineering Technology, UK. Under his innovative leadership, LTL has expanded into various areas of engineering expertise and established several subsidiaries too. Jayawardana will deliver this year’s Ray Wijewardene Memorial Lecture on September 4th under the theme ‘Transforming Local Engineers into Global Engineers – The LTL Experience.’ 

In a candid interview with Daily Mirror, Jayawardana shared his concerns over the local engineering sector, what needs to be improved and how engineers could be trained as global entrepreneurs. Excerpts: 

Q What is the scope for engineers in Sri Lanka today, especially among youth?

The scope is very bleak. There is an oversupply. A majority of engineers are employed at State-owned organisations. At the moment, all these institutions are overstaffed and in the next few years, they will be forced to improve productivity and their recruitment will stop. There will be a large number of unemployed or under-employed engineers in Sri  Lanka in the next few years. 

Q Is infrastructure in place for them to excel in the several aspects of engineering such as mechanical, electrical and civil?

Not at all. During the previous few years, there hasn’t been a new industry created in this country. There have not been foreign investments in the manufacturing sector too. As such, there is no sign of any development. 

By the nature of the job, the engineers have to play such a role. In fact, engineers have completely changed the world we live in, from modern homes, bridges, special travel, cars, healthcare to mobile technology. AI revolution has been brought about by them. 

 

Q What more improvements are needed to facilitate the interest of university graduates aspiring to take to engineering?

It is needless to facilitate more student interest in engineering as there is an oversupply. Students must be encouraged to be trained in skilled jobs. There is a severe shortage of skilled personnel worldwide. Students must be informed that the earning capacity of a skilled worker can be more than that of an engineer. The sole problem will be that of social recognition. But that too will improve with the revolution of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Certainly, the facilities in engineering faculties should improve. The government should stop opening new engineering faculties but instead develop existing ones. 
For instance, we were in the first batch of engineering students at Moratuwa University when it became a varsity. The faculty was designed to accommodate 125 undergraduates each year. Presently, the facilities are the same but number has soared to 1,000. Naturally, the quality of engineers will decline. 

Q Engineers usually play behind-the-scene roles in society. Why do they need to be given more exposure and recognition?

By the nature of the job, the engineers have to play such a role. In fact, engineers have completely changed the world we live in, from modern homes, bridges, special travel, cars, healthcare to mobile technology. AI revolution has been brought about by them. 
In Sri Lanka, when the society is knowledgeable, recognition comes naturally. For the engineers in Sri Lanka, exposure to new technology is essential since we are about 20 years behind those technologically-advanced countries; that way, children returning to the country after receiving education at world renowned universities are very advantageous since they are exposed to latest technologies unavailable in Sri Lankan universities. 

In a small country like Sri Lanka, you have to think global and go global for survival. Any local entrepreneur will be forced to go global. Firstly, the Sri Lankan engineers must be trained to become entrepreneurs.

Q How can engineers contribute to societal change?

They are the engineers who contribute to change in societies. Today, the internet and mobile technology have entirely changed societies. Even in Sri  Lanka, newspapers are read online now. When you take the healthcare sector for instance, the skilled surgeon’s job is taken over by a machine. Most airports have introduced facial recognition technology. The software industry has developed so rapidly that some companies will even be able to hack your brain. 

Q In what ways could they be trained to serve as global entrepreneurs?

In a small country like Sri Lanka, you have to think global and go global for survival. Any local entrepreneur will be forced to go global. Firstly, the Sri Lankan engineers must be trained to become entrepreneurs. This means they need to focus on productivity, innovation, competitiveness and other aspects. Thereafter, they can be converted to global entrepreneurs. At LTL Holdings (PVT) LTD, we have somewhat succeeded in doing just that. 

They are the engineers who contribute to change in societies. Today, the internet and mobile technology have entirely changed societies. Even in Sri  Lanka, newspapers are read online now. When you take the healthcare sector for instance, the skilled surgeon’s job is taken over 

Q Tell us about LTL and how it is providing opportunities to innovative minds  

LTL Holdings (PVT) LTD can be considered the ROSE in private-public collaboration. LTL started business in the early ’80s as a public-private joint venture between the CEB and global power giant ABB almost 40 years ago to manufacture distribution transformers to the island’s rapid electrification expansion. Positioned as the premier company in Sri  Lanka, LTL helped pioneer several local industries and is a multidisciplinary global entity with over six subsidiaries operating overseas. Its operations include investment, development, engineering procurement and construction as well as operation and maintenance of thermal and renewable power plants, grid substations and transmission lines. It can now be considered as a highly-valued technology exporter in Sri  Lanka. LTL has been the second university for almost 500 engineers who have graduated from local universities. We have managed to change them to think out of the box, to think innovatively and globally. We promote entrepreneurship at all levels of employment.   

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