February, 2000


Our Professions; You Don't Know What You've Got Till It's Gone

By Darrel Danyluk, P.Eng.

There's a real world out there where the approach to the engineering and geoscience professions is anything but bland and boring. APEGGA and the other member Associations/Ordre of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (CCPE) have a very focused and disciplined approach to accreditation of our members. The resulting high quality of professional engineering is recognized and utilized throughout the world.

Internationally, when it comes to registering and regulating engineers (and where applicable, geoscientists), that's not the case and, in fact, there is little uniformity. Sometimes, the regulatory and accreditation regimes even vary within a country.

Such variance can mean those assessing engineering qualifications and foreign-trained applicants face a bewildering task. Whether it is foreign-trained engineers assessed by the Board of Examiners, an international competition for engineering services assessed by international funding institutions (IFI's) or the private-sector and governments seeking access to the best available talent, a confidence in the process for ensuring quality is required.

Our standards are recognized as being among the best in the world. I believe they are the best.

Differing Missions

Organizations responsible for overseeing engineering (or geoscience) may have a number of different missions -- fulfilled wholly or partly within one organization, or spread among several. Principal among these missions are:

* promoting and advancing the science and ethical practice;
* registering and recognizing professionals, and ensuring the proper practice in a specific jurisdiction or within a discipline;
* making sure graduates have adequate knowledge and practice skills;
* encouraging professional development to extend or update knowledge, practice skills and judgment.

(APEGGA carries out these function either on its own or in collaboration with bodies such as the CCPE's Canadian Engineering Qualifications Board and the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board, the Canadian Council of Professional Geoscientists' Canadian Geoscience Standards Board, and technical societies.)

The degree to which the above objectives are met (and by whom) varies greatly depending on where you are in the world.

In some countries, engineers face mandatory registration in a system administered directly by an arm of government. For instance, the Engineering Institute of Thailand functions "under His Majesty the King's Patronage" and the country's professional engineering legislation is administered by the Ministry of the Interior.

In the United States, where citizens often voice aversion to government intervention, engineers and geoscientists register with state-run and state-appointed boards whose rules can vary considerably from one state to another. In the U.S., accreditation of engineering education standards is the responsibility of a national Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Yet another body, the National Society of Professional Engineers, promotes the ethical, competent and licensed practice of engineering, while aiming to enhance the professional, social, and economic well-being of its members. The NSPE allows qualified members to use the designation P.E., but membership in the Society is voluntary.

Divisions Hinder Mobility

The discussions we've had with U.S. counterparts about mobility lead us to believe it will likely take years for the American states to institute interstate recognition and mobility, let alone international recognition and mobility.

On the other hand, in countries such as United Kingdom and France, where one might expect more state intervention, governments have little involvement in regulating engineers. Registration is voluntary and, where it exists, is done through a variety of discipline-specific bodies, not through central or regional registries. There is provision for specific titles, such as "chartered engineer" or "ingénieur diplomé" but they are issued through discipline-specific societies or after graduating from recognized institutions. It is not always clear exactly what qualifications underlie these titles.

Canada has a mutual recognition agreement with France and there is provision under the multilateral Washington Accord to recognize the accredited programs in the U.K. Some 20,000 engineers affiliated with various U.K. engineering institutions are located outside Britain.

The Canadian Way

In various fields -- law, parliamentary procedure and government administration -- Canada often relies on British, French or American precedents. In administering the professions, and specifically engineering, Canada has fashioned its own path when it comes to:

* professional registration;
* creating national bodies to set certification and accreditation to standards;
* developing expectations for continuing education; and
* designing its processes for disciplining professional misconduct and for dealing with those who improperly claim professional status.

Most importantly, there are the efforts to instill -- starting with students at our universities -- a pride in being a professional and a sense of personal responsibility (backed by a Code of Ethics).

I believe that as Canadians we have reason to be proud of the fact that government in this country continues to maintain trust and confidence in us as professionals able and willing to regulate our own affairs and set our own standards.

Some may disagree. On the one extreme, there are those who suggest that we simply hand things over to government; on the opposite side, the proponents of a laissez-faire approach would leave it to the market and the public to protect themselves. Since taking on the presidency of this Association, I have received a variety of letters and e-mails that criticize, put down or nit-pick about APEGGA. I appreciate feedback but, at the same time, I urge some of our internal critics to get all the facts -- just as they would with any problem they face in their professional lives. Analyse the issue, define the problem and then propose solutions. We have some of the best problem solvers in the world right in our midst. Let's make use of their skills as we strive for an improved regulatory model.

Similarly, we can and must be willing to engage in creative problem-solving when faced with "active" challenges such as those launched in the past by ASET, or more recently by the "software engineering" issue at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. We must also seek creative solutions to the "passive" threat posed by member complacency and indifference.

Our system of professional self-governance and self-regulation may not be perfect, but it is the best model in the world and there are those elsewhere who envy and seek to emulate what our professions have achieved in Canada. That should be a source of great pride to Canadian engineers and geoscientists, and especially APEGGA.

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