Trevor Townsend, Ph.D. R.Eng, C.Eng., F.CIHT, F.ITE, F.APETT, M.ASCE

A Chat with Engineer Dr. Trevor Townsend, 63rd President of the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago

Engineer Dr. Trevor Townsend has just completed his term of office as the 63rd President of the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago. As a senior Engineer with over 45 years’ experience across a spectrum of senior level industrial practices and academia, he was indeed well positioned to lead the organization at a most challenging period of its 63 years existence.  A Civil Engineer and a Traffic and Transportation Engineering specialist, Engineer Townsend has worked in both the public and private sectors during his career, in the areas of traffic & transportation engineering, public transportation, and public policy with regard to infrastructural development.

He is a graduate of the University of The West Indies, (BSc. Civil Eng. 1st Class Honours), The University of Manitoba, (MSc. Civil Engineering, majoring in Transportation Engineering) and North-western University, (Ph.D. Transportation Systems Engineering); a Fellow of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (F.ITE), the Chartered Institute of Highways and Transport (F. CIHT) and the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad & Tobago (F.APETT), a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (M.ASCE), a Registered Engineer with the BOETT and a Chartered Engineer (EC.UK).

Engineer Dr. Townsend started his career in the public service where he held the post of Chief Traffic Engineer. His career path led to the Public Transport Service Corporation where he served as General Manager then as a Chief Executive Officer in the manufacturing sector and finally as a Senior Lecturer in Traffic and Transportation Engineering, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, UWI. Engineer Townsend service as a member of the Boards of NIPDEC, NIDCO and the TTMA and his strong professional and academic background provided the impetus for what his peers consider to be a discernibly successful term of office as President of the Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago.

Q1. What do you consider to be some of the key accomplishments during your tenure as President of the Association of Professional Engineers?

The key accomplishments of the Executive Council during my tenure of 2023/24 were, (1) Continuation of the previous Council’s initiative of Collaboration with NIHERST; (2) Digital transformation of APETT; (3) Engaging in activities to raise the level of recognition and influence within the society; (4) Restarting the APETT Technical Conference in collaboration with UWI and UTT and (5) Improving the financial position of the Association.

With regard to our collaboration with NIHERST, we sought and obtained funding for the production of three high quality videos which were based on the Legacy Project initiated by Past President Rae Furlonge. This project sought to video-record an in-depth interview with several of our iconic engineers. The first three Videos were developed with Former President Professor Maxwell Richards, Professor emeritus Kenneth Julien and the Honourable Tony Gibbs, a distinguished Caribbean Engineer

Another area of continued collaboration with NIHERST, is the development of a framework for a mentorship programme for students and young University graduates.  This project allows us to use the synergies of both APETT and NIHERST to create a system that engages youth from their secondary school level into their first employment experience. This framework would create a more structured and longer-lasting approach and target resources in a way that optimizes the results.

On the matter of the Digital Transformation of APETT; over the years APETT’s website has been managed mainly by two volunteers who are members of APETT. However, in 2021 the volunteers indicated that the website needed a total overhaul to take it to the next level.  We therefore embarked on a website upgrade project which is now being carried out with the assistance of an external service provider. This upgrade is being executed in stages to transition the Association into an advanced digital environment using the latest technology available.

Up to this point, the successful execution of this strategy has led to a number of important achievements. These include; Stability to the website; Enhancement of the user experience; Presentation of information in a structured format; Regular upload of news, events and engineering content; Enhanced security features on the website; Streamline of IT Services subscription and utilization of appropriate software packages. The success of the website upgrade project is revealed in the statistics during the timeframe from March 2023 to March 14, 2024, in which there was a substantially enhanced level of engagement in terms of visitors and viewership.

With regard to activities to raise the level of recognition and influence within the society, there were two key events, one being a return to the in-person Honours and Awards Ceremony which was held in November 2023 and the other, the celebration of Engineering Week in February 2024.  

After an absence of four years due to the restrictions of the COVID 19 pandemic, the Association was able to resume its in-person Honours and Awards Ceremony with a gala banquet held at the Radisson Crown Hotel Ballroom.  The feature address was delivered by Professor Bheshem Ramlal, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, UWI, St. Augustine. The Association’s highest award, “Career of Excellence” was given to Dr. Rae Furlonge in recognition of his outstanding contributions in the fields of Traffic and Transportation Engineering as well as his years of dedicated service to the profession and to APETT. Other awards were the R.V.S. Aleong Award for Sterling Service to APETT given to Eng. Ahmin Baksh and Margarita Leonard; the APETT Engineering Research and Innovation Award given to Eng. Kevin Hassanali; and the Aldwyn L. Lequay Award for Outstanding Young Engineer given to Eng. Ezekiel Yorke and Risha Cozier. Additionally, four engineers were celebrated for their elevation to the grade of Fellow.

Engineering Week in Trinidad and Tobago served as a platform to spotlight the invaluable contribution of engineers to the society.  Throughout the week there were various activities including school visits, webinars and social events. The school visits provided an opportunity to promote engineering as a career and to introduce the students to the educational requirements for pursuing an engineering degree. Two interviews were done on television morning shows that allowed APETT to showcase the legacy project, H&A Awardees and promote the upcoming Technical Conference.  The week also featured the proud wearing of the APETT polos, and culminated in an informal fun day which presented opportunities for networking and building camaraderie among colleagues. 

The Divisions and Tobago Chapter have been engaged throughout the year in a series of stimulating webinars. These have proven to be quite popular and have brought real value to members who have attended.

APETT, in collaboration with The UWI St. Augustine Campus and The University of Trinidad and Tobago, will be hosting a 2-Day APETT Technical Conference 2024 (ATC2024), themed ‘Engineering Our Future: Green, Equitable, Intelligent, and Integrated’. This landmark event is scheduled to take place at the HYATT Regency Hotel, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on Tuesday, May 14th, and Wednesday, May 15th, 2024.

Over 35 papers from both academic researchers and industry professionals were selected for presentations.   The papers are divided in five sub-themes namely: – Sustainable Development for Small Island Developing States (SIDs); Energy and Energy Related Industries; Resilient, Safe and Inclusive Engineering Infrastructure’; Artificial Intelligence and Digitalization in Manufacturing and Processing and Engineering Education and Ethical Practice. This conference is a key component in the rejuvenation of the Association in that it provides the opportunity to highlight the research and project work being done by our engineers.

With regard to APETT’s financial position, subscriptions from members is the key revenue source for the Association. We have continued with the drive for new and renewed members. We hope to update all our member records and have the capability of mass emails to remind members to pay their dues. We have been able to secure some additional benefits for members through partnering with businesses to obtain discounted services. We hope that this will redound to increased subscriptions. We have yet to start earning revenues from advertising on the APETT website but hope that will come to fruition during the next term. 

Q2. Can you reflect on any challenges the association faced during your tenure in office and how they were addressed?

A major challenge continues to be the need to increase our financial and active members.  We recognize that the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic and the decline in the government’s revenues from the oil and gas sector have had the effect of significant reduction in both employment opportunities and the salaries of engineering personnel.  Major engineering companies are struggling to survive and keep staff gainfully occupied. This has had a dampening effect on our ability to keep current members and to increase our membership.  Some of the initiatives we pursued and which I highlighted earlier were geared towards increasing value-added to our members.

Q3. How has the association evolved or grown under your leadership, particularly in terms of initiatives, or influence?

Our online presence has been enhanced by The Digital Transformation programme which has continued with further developments as previously highlighted and this has improved content displayed and accessibility on the APETT website. Through the website, members can now access current and past issues of the APETT journal and the PEN newsletter.  They can keep up-to-date with all current and future events as well as see reports on past noteworthy activities.    We have also raised the profile of the Association and the profession through the H&A Awards Ceremony, Engineering Week Celebrations, Divisional Webinars and representation at Parliamentary and other National committees. We have also established an online outreach to members to determine what they most importantly need for the Association to address. This will guide some of our future plans.

Q4. What do you believe are the most pressing issues facing the engineering profession today, and what steps can APETT take to address them?

Engineers and engineering firms have been hard hit by the decline in the economy in general and the oil and gas industry in particular. Additionally, the issues of mandatory registration of engineers and proper regulation of the profession remain paramount. APETT must continue to be a strong advocate in promoting local content and innovation as well as mandatory BOETT registration of engineers so as to establish continuing professional development compliance which in turn will ensure sustained competency and proficiency in engineering practice. Some engineers seem to believe that they can choose to be either a financial member of APETT or be BOETT registered, not realizing that the two are inextricably linked. Our engineers should be both. The first step in becoming a Chartered Engineer (UK SPEC) is that you must join a Professional Engineering Institution.  There are engineers who choose to be BOETT registered and not APETT members.  Being a member of a professional association and being registered with an Engineering Regulatory Authority complement each other. Both offer distinct benefits that are essential for engineers.  

Professional associations provide opportunities for engineers to network with peers, share knowledge, and stay updated on industry trends and best practices. Through professional associations, engineers can access workshops, seminars, conferences, and other events that contribute to their ongoing professional development. Regulatory authorities such as the BOETT establish and enforce standards for engineering practice, ensure that engineers meet minimum education and experience requirements and demonstrates that an engineer has met the necessary qualifications and level of competency for the practice of engineering in a specific jurisdiction.

Q5. Can you discuss any significant partnerships or collaborations the association has forged under your leadership?

We have been able to secure some additional benefits for members through partnering with businesses to obtain discounted services.  We have also rejuvenated our relationship with the Commonwealth Engineering Council.

The Commonwealth Engineers’ Council is a network of Professional Engineering Organisations from countries across the Commonwealth who work together to share knowledge, experience and best practice in common engineering matters, and to address the engineering response to the current climate and biodiversity emergencies, and to promote shared standards of competence and build capacity amongst engineering professionals. At the Annual General Meeting in October 2023, Past President, Eng. Valerie Kelsick was elected to serve in November 2023 as the Caribbean and Regional Americas representative succeeding Past President Eng. Dr Myron Chin who had served for several years.  We thank Eng. Chin for his service.  To commemorate 2024 International Women’s Day, Eng. Kelsick participated in a webinar with four other CEC Directors to discuss Influencing Inclusion in Engineering.

Q6. What advice would you give to your successor as they step into the role of President of the Association of Professional Engineers?

Our system of succession planning means that my successor will be fully aware of the initiatives that are already in train. I would advise the new President to continue to build and motivate the team, especially the Divisions & Chapter which are the ‘engine room” of the Association.  The continued digital transformation of the association is imperative.  I would also advise my successor to continue to work closely with BOETT to strengthen its role and the requirements for licensing of engineers. The requirement for APETT membership should be established as a prerequisite for Board Registration.

Q7. Looking back, is there anything you wish you could have accomplished or approached differently during your tenure?

I wish that I could have done more, faster, and in particular, encouraged more of those engineers who have become in-active to come forward and contribute their time and talent to the advancement of the profession.

Q8. What would you consider your legacy as President of the Association of Professional Engineers, and how do you hope it will shape the future of the organization? I will allow history to determine my legacy.  If we can execute a successful return to the APETT Technical Conference, I would be satisfied that significant steps have been taken to shape our future and set us on a growth path.