Stop Cheapening Our Professions Settling for the Lowest Possible Fee is
Bad for Us and the Work We Do
BY DALE MILLER,
When is the last time you went to a lawyer and negotiated his fee before
engaging his services? Did you select him because his hourly rate was
the lowest? Or what about your neighbourhood dentist. Did you negotiate
his fee prior to your root canal?
Did you choose your accountant because she was the cheapest? Get laser
surgery from the doctor who had the lowest fee?
My guess is your answer is no to most of these questions. Yet how often
have you, as a professional yourself, hired your engineer or geoscientist
based on the lowest price? Or yourself submitted a price far less than
what was really needed to do the best job, knowing full well that having
the lowest price meant doing the job, but not to the best of your capabilities?
Of all the professions, engineers and geoscientists arguably receive the
lowest compensation for the responsibility they accept. And we have done
it to themselves. Why have we allowed real estate agents to get higher
commissions for selling high-rise apartments than the designer received?
Look to the future! Demand for engineers and geoscientists in Alberta
has never been stronger. As we baby boomers retire, the demand will only
increase. And the supply? Alberta registers one new member educated outside
the province for every new member of the professions educated within Alberta.
Yet the shortage is increasing?
Oh, there are solutions. We could have the federal government implement
another National Energy Policy and slow the economy. Demand for professionals
would drop and available supply skyrocket, but fees would decrease even
further. Promoting larger family units or advocating cloning would be
very radical solutions to the supply problem.
But isn't the best solution to ensure that our professionals are adequately
compensated, thus enticing the brightest of our young people to follow
our footsteps into the engineering, geology and geophysics professions?
I was told a long time ago that one should not talk about sex, politics
or religion at parties. I also learned that even in Southern Alberta,
where the weather can change in 10 minutes, weather as a topic can't keep
a conversation going too long. As soon as you moved to either sex, politics
or religion, the conversation usually got livelier, and often with heated
It seems that talking about adequate compensation or quality-based selection
is not often discussed by our professionals, and when it is finally raised,
the opinions vary widely.
In closing, I note that the Association of Professional Engineers and
Geoscientists of Newfoundland is the only provincial association with
a mandatory fee schedule for its professional members. That association
has had it for a number of years, but the schedule is under attack from
its own members.
By the time you read this, the Newfoundland council may have amended its
bylaw to make the schedule only a guideline. Progress or regression? Let's
hear from you.