November 2005 ISSUE

President’s Notebook

One President’s Perspective:
Are Technologists Professionals?


APEGGA President

Technology Alberta recently published an interesting opinion article entitled Are Technologists Professionals? It appeared on page 18 of the September/October issue, and you can read it online at www.aset.ab.ca/ TABv22n4.pdf.

ASET, the organization that publishes Technology Alberta, is the Alberta Society of Engineering Technologists. In mid-October ASET applied for a name change, to the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta.

That name change, to include the word “professionals,” speaks to the heart of the question posed — and answered, at least from ASET’s point of view, in the Technology Alberta article. As you might guess, my answer differs.

There is a subtle but important shift here. The article speaks in warm and fuzzy terms about the Webster’s Dictionary definition of “professional.” The name change, however, moves into the arena of public regulation to protect the public interest in Alberta.

This is a question of great importance in our increasingly technically sophisticated province, so I feel compelled to balance the rhetorical scales. Rather than dwelling on a point-by-point rebuttal, I will stick to the big picture.

Like most complex issues, this one has some positive facets and some problematic facets.

The Positives
Technology Alberta has enumerated all the positives about ASET membership. More than ever before technologists are highly trained and in great demand, taking on increasing technical and managerial responsibilities — in fact they are taking on many roles historically filled by engineers.

I agree with ASET and am sincerely impressed at how its membership has evolved since its inception, more than four decades ago.


Why am I proud to be an APEGGA member? The top 10 list starts now - and I'll keep adding to it over the next nine editions of my column's appearance in The PEGG.


Participation: I have the power to participate in and shape the future of my profession.


The Power of the Ring: When I am introduced as a professional engineer, people assume that I am smart, practical and have an interesting career. (Not a bad starting point, and geologists and geophysicists are in on this one, too.)


Professionalism: The standards for my work (Practice Standards, CPD requirements etc.) are set by my peers, who understand the practicalities of what I face from day to day.


First Principles: I understand how stuff works. (Sure it’s geeky — but it’s interesting, too.)


Building Our Future: Whenever I have a chance to work with young engineers, geologists and geophysicists, I am always very impressed — and very confident about the future of our professions as well as the future of Alberta and Canada.


Bragging Rights: I have bragging rights whenever I drive by a project in which I have played a role!

The Problems
Notwithstanding my sincere admiration, I must point out that the two foundational assumptions underlying the article are completely off base.

The first assumption is that a subset (called “the practice of engineering technology”) can be cleanly carved from “the practice of engineering.” Each one of us — technologists and engineers alike — knows that projects and processes cannot be neatly subdivided by a generic, broad-brush definition. The boundary really is fuzzy and fluid, depending on the interrelated factors of design parameters, project circumstances and individual capabilities of the particular technologists and engineers or geoscientists involved.

The second assumption, while not explicitly stated, is certainly implicit in many phrases through the article: that the capabilities of technologists are essentially equal to the capabilities of engineers and geoscientists. Phrases such as “the rigorous educational programs” completed by technologists and “members are subject to disciplinary measures” give the impression that technologists and engineers can operate interchangeably.

While I have the greatest respect for the demonstrated capabilities of technologists, this impression of interchangeability is simply not correct.

As just one example, the most readily quantifiable difference is in our respective educational qualifications. Typically the content of a technology program is a quarter or less of the credit hours for the nationally accredited engineering syllabus.

More education and more understanding of fundamental principles do not make engineers and geoscientists “better” individuals. They do, however, unarguably equip them with a much better toolbox. This toolbox is essential for handling complex technical issues and for assessing the suitability of standard, code-based approaches for a given project.

In a nutshell the problem with the article is that, while it purports to be about gaining supposedly overdue recognition for ASET members, it is really about carving off a slice of “the practice of engineering,” which they can supposedly perform as well as engineers.

Here is the key point: the real discussion should be about regulating the whole practice of engineering to serve the public interest, not carving it up to suit narrow interests.

A Modest Proposal
My response to the Technology Alberta article is not motivated by throwing one more brick over the wall as ASET lobbies to carve out its “own” legislation, apart from the Engineering, Geology and Geophysical Professions Act. I would like to propose a positive path forward. (Caveat: the concepts following are the ideas of your humble President, not yet endorsed by Council or our membership!)

Why shouldn’t our two organizations commit — and I mean make an old-fashioned, sincere, good faith, creative, problem-solving effort — to make the engineering team really work? Why shouldn’t the leadership of the two organizations blaze the trail, starting in 2005, to recognize the members of ASET within the engineering profession and regulate the industry with one unified piece of legislation?
Following are parallel resolutions to get us started.

“Whereas ‘engineering/geoscience technology’ and ‘engineering/geo-science’ overlap along an indivisible continuum;

“Whereas ASET members and APEGGA members bring different and important skills to the engineering and geoscience teams;

“Whereas the people of Alberta need these skills to meet the economic and quality-of-life challenges of an increasingly technically sophisticated world;

“Whereas ‘Registered Engineering Technologist’ and ‘Registered Professional Technologist’ are protected titles already recognized in the Engineering, Geology and Geophysical Professions Act;

“Therefore, be it resolved:

“That the Council of APEGGA work with the Council of ASET to propose changes to the Engineering, Geology and Geophysical Professions Act, which would accommodate technologists as full members of APEGGA, in appropriate categories, and to recommend to our respective memberships approval of the proposed changes, not later than June 2007.”

“That the Council of ASET work with the Council of APEGGA to propose changes to the Engineering, Geology and Geophysical Professions Act, which would accommodate technologists as full members of APEGGA, in appropriate categories, and to recommend to our respective memberships approval of the proposed changes, not later than June 2007.”

The EGGP Act currently provides for the regulation of engineering, geology and geophysics as well as technology, but technologists are members of a separate society and are not members of APEGGA. Following through on these resolutions would bring under one roof the regulation of the entire continuum of the “practice of engineering technology” and the “practice of engineering.”

In this way, the public will be well protected and its interests safeguarded, and ASET members will receive the recognition they seek.

Does this strike you as radical? I don’t think it is. ASET and APEGGA members work together superlatively well every day. Other professional bodies in Alberta — notably the Alberta Institute of Agrologists, and its professional agrologists and agrology technologist members — have already implemented this solution and it is working well.

This approach also aligns with the “one profession, one act, one regulator” policy promoted by virtually every engineering regulatory body across Canada. The provincial associations, in fact, have a position paper in favour of the concept, which the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers has adopted and you can now read on our website, www.apegga.org.

APEGGA and ASET’s British Columbia counterparts, it should be noted, started down the path towards a one-act solution. That initiative did not succeed — but we can learn from their efforts as we begin our own groundwork.

Time for Progress
Certainly there are important details that need to be worked out, but the proposed path is clear. The time has come to stop carving and start building. ASET and APEGGA need to provide leadership, to be champions for constructive change.

Please remember, my fellow APEGGA members, that you have a role to play in this dialogue. We must be open to constructive change as our professions evolve, and our opinions and ideas must inform the dialogue.

Speaking of which, I invite you to share your ideas and questions with me — on this or any other subject — via president@apegga.org, or to share them with all of our colleagues via a letter to The PEGG editor.