By Sgt. 1st Class Stacy Niles, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 26, 2008 - As the government of Iraq works to build capacity, increasing the number of engineers is essential to design, contract, construct and maintain the country's infrastructure. Roberto Bran, the Wasit Provincial Reconstruction Team's engineer development-program manager, said engineers are vital to executing projects.
"None of this will occur if there is no one to plan and design the infrastructure," Bran said.
Wasit's need for engineers comes with an increase in the provincial government's budget. While the increase allows the provincial government to expand the number of new projects, it may put a strain on the limited number of engineers. The province currently has close to 1,500 registered engineers. of which 200-300 are women.
To address the potential shortage, the PRT, in coordination with the Wasit Resident Engineer Office, the Salvadoran Cuscatlan Battalion 10, the 214th Fires Brigade, and private- and public-sector Iraqi engineers, developed a program to improve the quality of current projects and boost the number of qualified engineers in the province.
The program's aim is strengthening the Engineering College of Wasit University and bolstering the Wasit Engineers Union.
Brand said the focus is on professional development programs targeting mid-career professionals and taught by the faculty of the Engineering College.
Six courses have been taught to date, and 36 more are planned, Bran said. Topics range from solid-waste management, to hydraulic structures to structural analysis and design. The courses accommodate 20 students and are open to Iraqi government and private-sector engineers.
The PRT is funding four laboratories and classrooms at the Wasit Engineering College at a cost of about $2.5 million. The laboratories will accommodate 25 students, while the classrooms will hold 60 students, Bran said. The new construction will feature a computer lab, a survey lab, a soil lab and an asphalt lab.
For students, a major concern is unemployment. The students say it is hard to find jobs because most jobs require experience -- something they don't have.
Toward that end, an internship program is planned for the engineering college. The program will offer paid and unpaid opportunities with contractors implementing Commander's Emergency Response Program and Economic Support Fund construction projects. Students also will work on Civil Military Cooperation and the Army Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region South.
Also planned is an exchange program with academic and professional institutions abroad to establish long-term relationships between the engineering college and academic institutions in the United States.
Dr. Mansoor Manas, dean of the engineering college, wants his students to be able to exchange ideas, receive training and gain knowledge.
"I want them to be able to communicate with everyone especially with English," Manas said. "It is important that they always be encouraged."
Manas said he wants to expand the college library to include current engineering textbooks, professional development magazines and an Internet center. "I want it to be easy for them," he said.
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Stacy Niles is assigned to the Public Affairs Office of 214th Fires Brigade.)