October 2001

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Accreditation of Software Engineering Programs is Good News But An Impasse With the Association of Universities and Colleges is a Wake-Up Call for Professional Engineers

Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Council of Professional Engineers

When the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers granted accreditation last June to three new software engineering programs, our profession passed an important milestone on the road to incorporating new disciplines of engineering into the regulatory system.The three programs, offered at McMaster University, the University of Ottawa and the University of Western Ontario, were evaluated for accreditation by CCPE's Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board using its existing accreditation criteria and procedures.

This achievement represents only the tip of the iceberg. CEAB expects to evaluate as many as 10 more software engineering programs for accreditation over the next three years.
Incorporating software engineering into our accreditation structure has proven to be a learning experience for the profession. The route we've followed has been full of twists, turns, bumps and the occasional dead-end.

Talks Reach Impasse
That was certainly the case in June of this year, when talks between the profession and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada on the appropriate use of the term software engineering in the undergraduate university community reached an impasse.
The Panel on Software Engineering was formed in September 1999 as part of the settlement that saw CCPE end its legal action against Memorial University of Newfoundland over the school's use of the term software engineering in the name of a computer science program. Just over a year ago it tabled its final report.

It recommended the establishment of a new Software Engineering Accreditation Board to accredit all undergraduate software engineering programs offered in Canada; that universities should only use the name software engineering for programs for which SEAB accreditation would be sought; and that names such as software design or software science should be used to describe programs for which SEAB accreditation would not be sought.

In response to the panel's recommendations, CEAB and the Computer Science Accreditation Council of the Canadian Information Processing Society formed a task force to consider the feasibility of joint accreditation and, if possible, develop draft Software Engineering Accreditation Board accreditation criteria and procedures.

Following months of hard work by the engineering profession, in March 2001 CCPE's Board of Directors determined that the resulting SEAB accreditation procedures and criteria, as amended by CEAB, could constitute the basis for an agreement with AUCC on the software engineering issue.

In June 2001, however, AUCC indicated it was unwilling to accept the profession's position, and could only support a system of joint accreditation that would allow its member universities to establish and offer software engineering programs for which SEAB accreditation would not be sought. Such a system would not resolve the software engineering issue, or alleviate the profession's concerns that the inappropriate use of the name software engineering to describe non-engineering programs could lead to student and public confusion, and ultimately threaten public safety.

Need to be Pro-Active
The software engineering experience has been a wake-up call for the profession. It's shown us that we need to be more proactive about defining, accepting and regulating emerging technologies as disciplines of engineering, when and if it becomes clear that they have the potential to affect human health, safety, and quality of life.

That process won't be easy. CCPE's Engineering Work in Canada Research Project has shown that employers in the IT and biotechnologies sectors are not fully aware of the profession's regulatory system. Some place little value on engineering licensure, and do not require it. Those attitudes suggest that a high level of commitment and much hard work will be required to bring new disciplines of engineering into our regulatory structure.

As a first step, in May 2001 the CCPE Board of Directors approved a report called Meeting the Challenge of Continuing Relevance for the Engineering Profession. It contains five recommendations to enhance the value that employers in emerging sectors of the economy, as well as engineering students, place on engineering licensure and regulation.

The report provides a framework for CCPE to work closely with the associations/ordre so that engineering continues to thrive as a regulated profession in today's global economy. It recommends:

· that the profession, as part of the experience requirement for engineering licensure, should establish an internship program that will be a highly regarded post-graduation stage in the training and the development of a professional engineer, and help them to develop the core technical and non-technical skills today's employers are looking for;

· that CCPE should establish sector-based industry liaison councils to, among other things, advise the profession on how to enhance the value of engineering licensure for employers;

· that CCPE, the associations/ordre, and university engineering faculty should work together to build awareness of the profession and engineering licensure among engineering students;

· that CCPE should develop a description of engineering work that will excite engineering students, elicit employer support, and be accepted by practicing engineers. (The description would have no legal weight, but would help students and graduates understand the value of being licensed members of the profession);

· that, in the interests of mobility, CCPE should facilitate the streamlining of the licensure process so that applications for licensure can be considered by more than one jurisdiction at the same time, eliminating the need for engineers to submit multiple applications.

Enforcement Also Necessary
These measures can help to increase the value of the P.Eng/ing. for students, graduates and employers. However, I believe they need to be coupled with what I call "proactive enforcement." The provincial associations are right to put additional funds toward enforcement.

Educating the public, employers and decision makers about the regulatory system and laws that govern the engineering profession can only be beneficial. I strongly believe that everyone of us can, and has to, do his or her part.

It has become clear to me that the engineering profession and the meaning of the engineering license represented by the P.Eng/ing. are not well known by the public. How many people know what the letters P.Eng/ing. mean?

It is up to us to make the public aware that those letters represent a seal of quality, which provides a quality and competence assurance for the public. The license (represented by the P.Eng,/ing. after your name) means that you have successfully completed a rigorous academic program, you have the skills to practice engineering, you have the pertinent supervised experience, and you are bound by a code of ethics. And hopefully, in a not too distant future, it will also mean you have the non-technical skills industry is looking for.

Use Those Letters
Be proud to be members of this great profession. Use the letters P.Eng. or ing. after your name. Doctors and lawyers do not hesitate to use their designations to tell the public they are members of a regulated profession, why do we?
I would like to commend the initiatives of l'Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec and Professional Engineers Ontario, which now use the title engineer when they introduce members of the profession, for example, the "engineer Marie Lemay" or "L'ingénieure Marie Lemay."

It's a small thing, but small things can make a big difference (or go a long way)!
This is an exciting and challenging time in our history. Our challenge is to welcome engineering students into our ranks and help them play a leadership role within our profession, while enhancing the value of engineering licensure for both students and employers.


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