Spotlight on Africa Catalyst: Training the next generation of engineers in Rwanda throughout Covid-19

The 2020 Bridging the Gap cohort

EAP works with the Institution of Engineers Rwanda (IER) as part of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Catalyst, supporting the IER as it implements its internship programme, Bridging the Gap. Cecile Uwimana of the IER talks to EAP about the impact of the pandemic on the internship scheme and young people’s prospects in Rwanda.

Prior to Covid-19, Rwanda was in the midst of an economic boom with growth of 9.4% in 2019 and revenues from the construction sector rising by over 60% between 2012-2019. However, the announcement in March 2020 that all construction work would be halted as part of Rwanda’s Covid-19 response has had fallout on the economy, the construction sector where IER’s interns are deployed and, as a result, Bridging the Gap.

Bridging the Gap took in 60 young Rwandans this year, all engineering graduates aiming to the bridge the divide between engineering theory and practise through  work experience. However, social distancing measures presented a unique challenge to the IER, as many companies either reduced the number of interns they could take or withdrew from the scheme altogether. Cecile expands:

Placing interns was a big challenge for us : due to Covid-19 social distancing measures, we had to increase the number of companies which took our interns, so an intensified stakeholder engagement strategy was needed to expand the companies we partner with and ensure all our interns were deployed.

The IER did just this: all 60 interns are now deployed with companies ranging from housing authorities and energy providers, to Chinese-owned construction firms. In previous years, the number of interns going on to full employment has varied between two-thirds to one-third, depending on how many go on to further education after completing their internships. Given the pandemic’s impact on the jobs market, Cecile has concerns over the outlook for young engineers in Rwanda:

The pandemic has significantly affected young people. Not only did it stop their studies but their careers have been affected by the fact that life came to a standstill.  The impact on the economy means that getting even a small job is very difficult. This is why the opportunity offered through Bridging the Gap is so important and we can see our interns recognise this.

The team at the IER has been able to continue engaging with the intern cohort throughout the Covid-19 crisis, having held a number of online workshops for the graduates. Cecile explains the current situation in Rwanda:

Currently, Rwanda is slowly getting back to normal and a number of construction projects are underway. These projects are following strict adherence to social distancing guidelines, which includes steps such as a 50% reduction in staff onsite and mandates to wear face masks. We are happy that we can visit sites where interns are deployed and see them working in-line with these measures.

What’s next for Bridging the Gap?

Engaging female graduate engineers has been a challenge for the IER, and their upcoming plans are focussed on the balancing the gender divide in the internship cohort. In December, the IER will hold an online session where past female interns can share their experiences with graduates. The team has also developed a ‘Women in Engineering’ strategic plan, which will lay out the IER’s future engagement strategy.