July 2001

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Let's Stop Cheapening Our Professions Settling for the Lowest Possible Fee is Bad for Us and the Work We Do


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 discussions.

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.



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