Defined Scope of Practice For Some R.E.T.s
It's Good News All Around

  By Dan Motyka, P.Eng.
The lead article in this months PEGG contains what I believe to be happy news. It comes in the form of a proposal by the Government of Alberta to establish, under the Engineering Geological and Geophysical Professions (EGGP) Act, a defined scope of practice to be available to suitably qualified and experienced Registered Engineering Technologists.I am confident that having this provision in our legislation will open a new chapter in relations between APEGGA and the Alberta Society of Engineering Technologists (ASET). APEGGA will be working with the Minister, Hon. Stan Woloshyn, and his staff to prepare the appropriate amendments and move them through the necessary steps toward approval by all concerned.  

I believe I am correct in saying that relations between our two organizations have been somewhat strained in recent years, due to a difference of opinion on whether a defined scope of practice for technologists should be created within the EGGP Act or contained in separate legislation for technologists. APEGGA's position has consistently been that all engineering work should be regulated under the EGGP Act and that independent legislation for technologists would lead to a breakdown in the team approach to engineering and result in confusion on the part of the public when seeking engineering services. We believe that the proposal, as advanced, permits engineering to be maintained under one regulatory body but that it offers the necessary flexibility for appropriately qualified and experienced technologists to take responsibility for their work.

I do not intend to discuss the principles put forward by Minister Woloshyn to both ASET and APEGGA (and endorsed by our Council). They are contained in the article on page one. However, I believe a proper and fair conclusion to this matter has come about through a great deal of patience and hard work by a number of people. They include the Minister and his staff, the Specified Scope Task Force, Chaired by Past President Dennis Lindberg, P.Eng., and, indeed, ASET and APEGGA personnel. I hesitate to single out one individual at this time, but cannot let this opportunity pass without thanking Fred Otto, P.Eng., PhD, for the many hours he has dedicated to this endeavor as APEGGA's lead person on this issue in the last few years. It has been a truly professional effort in the best sense of the term and very much in tune with the notion of professionalism I have chosen to discuss in the rest of this month's column.

Professionalism -
What Does It Mean?

Check the word professional in the dictionary or ask your professional friends how they would define the term. I expect you will encounter a variety of definitions. Not only that, some of them seem to contradict each other. Perhaps you'll get an interpretation that emphasizes professional as in the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta or in our designation as Professional Engineer, Professional Geologist or Professional Geophysicist. This concept of professional focuses on notions of specialized education, experience, certification, as well as principles of dedication and service to society that extend beyond just commercialism.

Contrast this with the use of professionals in another context the athlete, the entertainer, the truck driver those who do what they do for money and who, by implication, are not amateurs. The context will determine whether calling someone a real pro or a real amateur is a compliment or a sign of condescension. I leave it to linguists to determine how the semantics of the word professional have become so confused and sometimes contradictory.

A Long History

I do know the concept of professional as used in the name of modern-day self-governing professional bodies such as APEGGA, and in our professional designations, has deep historical roots. Historians note how the right of association encouraged the rise of craft guilds in Europe in the early Middle Ages, when, with the collapse of the feudal system, cities grew and trade expanded. Through charters, the rulers gave the guilds, originally formed by free association, certain rights. Notable among these rights was self-governance, a privilege bestowed in return for guild members carrying out their work for the benefit of society. The individual guilds met their social obligation by overseeing the qualifications of members and by assuring the quality of their work. Admittedly, by the 17th century, the powers of these once powerful bodies had waned the victims of their own sometimes inward-looking attitudes. Nevertheless, an important principle that of self-governance had been planted and would continue to bear fruit.

Remnants of the guilds survived in England and elsewhere in concept if not in name. So, guilds of scholars/teachers evolved into the universities, the inns of court became associations of barristers and special guilds such as those for physicians evolved into bodies such as Royal College of Physicians. Starting in the Middle Ages, practitioners in those fields, along with the clergy, professed to devote their life to a higher calling than just earning money.

As former APEGGA President George Ford, P.Eng., noted in a speech he delivered a number of years ago on "Professionalism - A Way of Life" the origins of these liberal or learned professions "arose from a need for individuals acceptable by the community, as being competent to administer the spiritual and corporal needs of the individual and to legalize and regulate the disposal of his worldly goods."

These early professions, while reliant on the patronage of the upper classes, maintained links with the universities, a trait which, according to Dr. Ford, remains important in defining a profession. "A profession," Dr. Ford noted, "inherits the ideas and ideals of a university; scholarship and research with the single aim of excellence. Without this idealism born in a university, a profession cannot begin to exist."

Also characteristic of the early professions was restricting their membership to a) those known to the existing practitioners and b) those "gentlemen and scholars" seen fit to belong.

Credentials and Character

When some proved to be neither gentlemen nor scholars, moves were made early in the 19th century to tighten the reins on the traditional profession to ensure that those claiming to be professionals had both the credentials and character to accompany such claims.

The latter part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th, saw legislation passed to professionalize various service-oriented professions notable among them pharmacy, accounting and, of course, engineering.

Standing within these emerging professions was based on members possessing a body of knowledge and upon those who wished to join the profession being able to demonstrate, by way of examination, their understanding of that knowledge. There was an accompanying presumption that those already recognized to have expert knowledge in the field were the best suited to gauge the learning and qualifications needed to practice a given profession. Importantly, it was expected that such professionals "would express their function in the market in the interest of their clients".

The words in quotes come from Robert D. Neill, P.Eng., a former president of the Association of Professional Engineers of New Brunswick and the 1991 recipient of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers Gold Medal Award, whose observations I have drawn upon extensively in preparing this column.

And as Dr. Neill noted in accepting that award, beside entry by examination, professionalism entailed a promise to be "a moral practitioner, working in the interest of the client". Generally that promise was reinforced within a professional code of ethics.

Working in the interest of the client implies that one stay abreast of new developments in one's field. That may be a requirement for being a professional but, in these times of rapid change, that becomes a necessity not restricted to "professionals".

More Than Rules

Rules and codes may be helpful in guiding our professional lives but there is a further dimension. True professionalism demands that we go the extra mile and demonstrate a private sense of dedication and a professional spirit, something which George Ford called "the result of the association of men and women of superior type with a common ideal of service above gain, excellence above quality, self-expression beyond pecuniary motive and loyalty to a professional code above individual advantage."

Let me conclude with a thought contained in an essay on "The Soul of Professionalism" carried a few years ago in a "Royal Bank Letter." "Professionalism," the essay concluded, "cannot be conferred on you by other people. It consists of what you expect from yourself."