APEGGA Deputy Registrar
Surveys Engineering in China
As Part of Canadian Delegation
By Nordahl Flakstad CCPE's Deborah Wolfe, P.Eng., (centre) and APEGBC's
Gillian Pichler, P.Eng., (right) on tour of China Textile University in Shanghai.

Go into any Canadian department store and you’re likely to find many products with a "Made in China " label. Less apparent is another Chinese export — engineering talent, specifically Chinese-trained engineers immigrating to this country.

The fact that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) now represents Canada’s largest source of immigrant engineers prompted the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (CCPE) to send a three-member delegation to China to better understand the Chinese engineering scene and to inform Chinese officials and Beijing-based Canadian representatives about Canada’s accreditation process. APEGGA Deputy Registrar Al Schuld, P.Eng., in his capacity as a member of both the CCPE’s Foreign Engineering Qualifications Committee and CCPE’s recently formed International Activities Committee, was a member of the delegation. He was joined by Deborah Wolfe, P.Eng., manager of qualifications with CCPE, and Gillian Pichler, P.Eng., director of registration with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia. Accompanied by Janet Waterman of the Canadian embassy in Beijing during a two-week period in May and June, the mission visited five cities (including Hong Kong) and 13 universities and institutes offering engineering training.

Mr. Schuld says the trip had a four-pronged objective, namely:

Big Backlog

Of the approximately 15,000 applications forwarded each year to the CCPE for informal assessment of engineering qualifications of would-be immigrants, more than a third, originate in China. The 80 per cent of applications that pass the initial screening are returned to Canadian immigration officers in Beijing for processing. This work involves two officers full-time and they currently face a two-year processing backlog.

China has more than 1.2 million engineering students enrolled in 400-plus institutions, which, according to Mr. Schuld, offer a bewildering range of training, sometimes with a very narrow focus unlikely to meet Canadian registration criteria. China’s massive economic restructuring has left many recent and earlier engineering graduates unemployed. A consequence is that the Chinese government is supportive of emigration and what may appear to be a brain drain.

A better understanding of the formation and definition of engineering in China, in Mr. Schuld’s opinion, will greatly assist various boards of examiners in Canada determine what a given degree represents and applicants’ suitability for professional registration here.

"The information from this trip is very valuable and already has been put to use to advise the APEGGA Board of Examiners in evaluating qualifications," he notes.

With the exception of recent moves to accredit structural engineers, China does not have a professional qualification process beyond the universities.

Hong Kong Different

This contrasts with the situation in Hong Kong, which does so through the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), which is part of the Washington Accord under which a number of mainly English-speaking countries mutually recognize accredited engineering programs.

There had been some concerns, Mr. Schuld suggests, that engineers from the PRC might enter Canada through the back-door via Hong Kong under the mutual recognition agreement. The recent trip has dispelled any such fears in the mind of the APEGGA Deputy Registrar.

"The Hong Kong Institution of Engineers doesn’t accept Chinese engineers at par. The treatment there is their own, and will remain that way for the foreseeable future, despite the July 1, 1997 takeover."

While the personnel flow definitely is from China to Canada, China avails itself of a considerable amount of Canadian engineering expertise through companies, such as Calgary-based Nortel. The CCPE delegation met with some Canadian engineers, including Dan Chan, P.Eng., of Fluor Daniel in Calgary, currently on assignment in Shanghai developing a $90 million US polystyrene plant.

"Canadian engineers," explains Mr. Schuld, "are valued because they have a better overall scope for managing a project — they have the big picture and can deal with more than one discipline."

However, he adds that our high salary scales, relative to Chinese compensation, limit the opportunities for employing Canadians on-site. 

Delegation from Canadian Council of Professional Engineers are seen at China's Electric Power Research Institute. Seen in photo are: Ren Qing, Interpreter; Janet Waterman, Immigration Program Officer, Canadian Embassy, Beijing; Deborah Wolfe, P.Eng., CCPE Manager of Qualifications; Huizhu Dai, Professor Dean,Electric Power Research Institute; Gillian Pichler, P.Eng., APEGBC Director of Registration; Al Schuld, P.Eng., APEGGA Deputy Registrar; and Dr. Xiaoxin Zhou, Chief Engineer, Electric Power Research Institute.