Tony Gibbs is a civil engineer specialising in structures and practising mostly in the Caribbean. He did his undergraduate studies at The Queen's University of Belfast (BSc Civil Engineering). Tony is also the secretary general, Council of Caribbean Engineering Organisations and member of the Disaster Mitigation Advisory Group of PAHO (World Health Organisation).
“In my final year in sixth form, my island of Grenada was devastated by Hurricane Janet. I decided to spend an extra year in school to study civil engineering to contribute to the improvement of design and construction in the face of these natural hazards.”
How would you describe your current role to someone who knows nothing about engineering?
I participate in the development of the engineering community and in the physical development of countries in which I work. Although my work in recent decades has been mainly in the Caribbean, I do work internationally; for example, in China, Indonesia, Oman and Kosovo. This includes designing civil engineering works (buildings, bridges, roads, ports); training others (particularly in designing against the hazards of earthquakes and hurricanes); and assisting academic establishments in improving the delivery of undergraduate courses.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
In my final year in sixth form, studying Latin, history and geography at A-level, my island of Grenada was devastated by Hurricane Janet (on 22 September 1955). I decided to spend an extra year in school to do mathematics and physics at A-level in order to study civil engineering to contribute to the improvement of design and construction standards in the face of these natural hazards that are prevalent in the Caribbean.
What do you like most about being an engineer?
It is rewarding seeing the results of one’s designs being translated into physical structures and other facilities. Also, the life of a civil engineer brings one into contact with a variety of creative persons in related professions and provides ample opportunities for travel while working in different environments.
Tell us about an achievement that you are most proud of.
My favourite project is by no means my largest, most complex or best known. It is the design of the Roseau Market, a public market in the capital of Dominica. It is an elegant structure with no frills. The form of design and construction was chosen on the basis of very low capital cost. Although it is located very close to the ocean it has required very little maintenance in its 47-year life. During this time, it rode through two devastating hurricanes (David in 1979 and Maria in 2017) with no damage.
How do you think racial parity in engineering can be achieved?
Engineering is no different from many other walks of life as far as racial parity is concerned. Also, the answers would differ depending on the country or society. If the opportunities for education, training and work are made less conditioned or subconsciously affected by race, this would be a big step in the right direction.
Has being a BAME engineer had an impact on your career either positive or negative?
I do not consider that my mixed race has had a dominant effect on my career. It has had some effects from time to time, but not so much as to direct the course of my career. I have had employment as an engineer in Trinidad and Tobago, England, Jamaica and Barbados. I have also been engaged as a short-term consultant in many different societies around the world. Ironically, it is only in my present country of residence that I have noticed a negative impact on my career because of my race. I should point out that my native country is Grenada where the society is 'colour-blind'. That makes it a bit difficult for me to attribute to racial prejudice any unfavourable action against me. My first thought is not that race is the motive.
How has the ethnic diversity of the profession changed since you started working in engineering?
There has been a noticeable increase in the numbers of BAME people in engineering and in managerial positions in engineering. In the Caribbean, engineering is increasingly seen as a viable alternative to law and medicine.
What would you say to someone considering a career in engineering?
Engineering provides opportunities for creativity and working internationally. Being successful at engineering requires lifelong learning. It is also a profession that one can practice for as long as one wishes, not limited by the inevitable physical constraints of an ageing body. It is a profession in which one can achieve much satisfaction from one’s efforts. I would have no hesitation in encouraging others to pursue a career in engineering.