September 2001

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Engineering Becomes Overhead

Re: Let's Stop Cheapening Our Professions, President's Notebook, July 2001 PEGG.

As engineers and suppliers of oilfield equipment it is common for us to receive requests for quotations to "design, supply and install" equipment at a fixed, lump sum price. These DS&I bids force professional engineers to provide "free" services, since one must complete the engineering before one can determine the costs for the equipment supply and installation.

Since all bidders must do their own engineering, the total cost of all engineering performed is roughly proportional to the number of bidders. These costs contribute to each bidder's overhead and are eventually passed on to the end-users.

DS&I bids increase the end-user cost for engineering, but lower the value of engineering to employers by reducing engineering from a professional service to an overhead cost. What infuriates me most is that the DS&I requests almost always come from engineering firms. In my opinion, these engineers are hurting their fellow engineers and are doing a disservice to their clients.

In cases where all the vendors supply similar equipment, there is no benefit to including the system design in a supply and installation contract. By separating the design from supply and installation contract, overall costs will be reduced, supply and installation contracts can be evaluated fairly, and the responsible engineers will be given the recognition they deserve.

Peter Haas, P.Eng.

Missing the Mark In PR and Dollars

Let's Stop Cheapening Our Professions resonated with my thinking on the changes to our engineering professionalism over the past several decades. I certainly agree with the statement that "we have done it to ourselves."

Since my graduation in 1966 I have watched as our profession has permitted the demands of the marketplace to drive our "worth" to a level where engineering design skills are often talked about as a commodity. In addition to the decreased financial worth we helped define for ourselves, we have missed the boat in marketing our worth to society and our position in it. It offends me when I hear us referred to as "propeller heads," and other such slang, by those who cannot seem to comprehend highly intelligent, technical skills.

Society needs technology-based facilities, systems, and transportation that work, and are reliable and safe. As we know, engineers form the backbone of a workforce that meets those needs.

As the demographics shift over the next few decades, it will be interesting to see how the marketplace values the professional engineer. The free enterprise principles that have driven the worth of an engineer to what it is today will, I hope, be the same principles that will drive it once more to a higher level, one where I think it belongs.
Regardless of where the marketplace places our financial worth in the future, we need to continue to increase society's awareness of what we do for the community around us through our professionally applied knowledge and skills.

Jack Blair, P.Eng.

Rest of the World Pays Us Better

Kudos to APEGGA President Dale Miller, P.Eng. for speaking out on professional fees. As a consulting geophysicist who has occasion to work internationally, I am dismayed by the expectations of Canadian oil-and-gas companies for what they think they should pay for quality geophysical work in Canada.

International contracts easily command twice the rates that domestic work does. As a result, I am seeking to fill more of my practise with U.S. and other projects; they just pay better.
Part of the problem with the geophysical/geological consulting market in Calgary is that the population density of professionals is very high, especially with those who want to "get a piece of the action" by taking stock or options instead of money. This hurts the consultant who must charge by the hour for his work.

What is the solution? I don't know, so I will charge what I consider my talent and experience are worth. If it is too high for the locals, well, I will be doing a lot of marketing at the SEG conference in San Antonio this fall.

Thanks again for a good column.

Doug Pruden, P.Geoph.

Pressing Issues Then and Now
As I read the article Strategy Session Tackles Pressing APEGGA Issues (July 2001 PEGG, page 4), I was reminded of Yogi Berra's famous words: "It's deja vu all over again." None of these issues -- APEGGA's "value" to members, APEGGA's dual role of protecting the public and promoting the welfare of its members, the question of salary negotiations, and the need for improved education of the public and the professions -- are new.

As a former Council member (twice), former vice-president and former chair of several committees, I found the contents of the article both humorous and serious. Humorous, because none of the pressing issues are new, and serious, because they will never go away and must be continually addressed by a new cadre of APEGGA volunteers.

As a young engineer working in Regina in 1960, I was fortunate to move next to Bruce Campbell, P.Eng., then a member of the Council of the Saskatchewan association and subsequently its president. I asked him the age-old question: "What do I get for my annual membership fees?"

His response was: "Your fees just pay for the stamps and the envelopes; what you get depends on how much effort you put in as a volunteer. It's volunteer work that determines the success of the Association."

Well, I took up that challenge and I encourage all those members who are still asking about the "value" question to also get involved!

The question of the value of APEGGA is not rocket science, and it certainly doesn't necessitate either a "task force" or a "statistically valid survey." Our Association's value depends almost entirely on how much its members are willing to volunteer their time to ensure that it continues to be a successful, self-regulating association and not one directed by some unfeeling government bureaucracy in Edmonton.

Al King, P.Eng.
Life Member

Different Purposes, Different Groups

I was astounded to read that a workshop headed by Past President Sue Evison, P.Eng., found it "unnecessary" to institute an advocacy program for members, through APEGGA or otherwise (Strategy Session Tackles Pressing APEGGA Issues). Ontario's experience was rejected because engineers there are now represented by two organizations and there is, according to the workshop, duplication. Is APEGGA's monopoly in representation really more important than the legitimate interests of members?

This type of representation is well established in other professions. Answers to many questions are readily available if you study the experience of lawyers and doctors, for example. There cannot be duplication of effort because professional associations and professional unions serve entirely different purposes.

The professional union is established for the benefit of its members. APEGGA is a professional police service, instituted to protect the public. But who will protect the engineers themselves when they are in need or trouble?

More and more precedent is being set that shifts the responsibility for failed projects to engineers. Less and less are they able to hide behind corporate veils.

One mistake, and an engineer can lose everything achieved through years of hard work. However, engineers are human and can err, no matter how cautious. This is when the professional union should step in with legal counsel, financial assistance, affordable insurance and other support.

It is the professional union, too, that should stand behind the engineers and geoscientists in their struggle for better employment conditions (with legal counsel, employment services, mediation, job skills training, etc.)

There may be many other areas, such as financial support, employment services, medical insurance, travel assistance, home, car and life insurance, etc. The union may also facilitate professional activities such as training, organization of conferences and seminars, publications, expert advice to less experienced.

Our colleagues in Ontario are doing a worthy, pioneering advancement. Let's stand by them.

Konstantin Ashkinadze, P.Eng.

Editor's Note: Many of the services Mr. Ashkinadze mentions are, in fact, already offered or endorsed by APEGGA and CCPE. Those include auto, home, professional liability, accident and life insurance, financial security plans, professional development seminars and employment services. The association also encourages mentoring.



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