Canadian Consulting Engineer

MAILBOX Specialist designations and continuing education – Really!?

Following is a letter to the editor.

June 17, 2014   Canadian Consulting Engineer

Following is a letter to the editor.

It was with great interest that we read the article titled “Report shows up anonymously at Elliot Lake Inquiry,” CCE website, June 10.

Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) is now “seriously considering specialist structural designations.” Really?! After much discussion and review, which included a member referendum in 1972, APEO — now PEO — adopted a policy and regulations for the designation of specialists in various fields of engineering. APEO was granted by the provincial legislature an exclusive right to the title “Designated Specialist.” Originally there were nine fields of engineering, covering 28 classes of specialty. The number of classes of specialty later increased to 74, with an openness to the recognition of other specialties. The program was well set up and highly organized. The requirements were written into the Professional Engineers Act. In addition, APEO had a densely packed 21-page pamphlet on the program and it published a directory listing all the members and their fields of specialty. There was even a Specialist Stamp.

Nevertheless, in August 1986 letters went out from the APEO’s then manager of professional services, announcing the discontinuance of the program. On July 17, 1986, the Lieutenant Governor signed the Amending Regulation to delete the relevant sections of O.Reg 538/85. The Specialist Designation Committee and its field committees were officially disbanded, and with that the Specialist Designation Program was unceremoniously ended.

So, it took the PEO just 28 years to figure out that maybe, just maybe, they should not have removed their Designated Specialist program?

And now, “PEO is already moving towards implementing its first mandatory continuing education program for licensees.” Really?! OSPE’s recently released “Engineering Employment in Ontario: Research & Analysis May 2014” shows that less than 30% of individuals in Ontario with an undergraduate or higher degree in engineering work as engineers or engineering managers. In other words, the great majority of PEO members do not work in engineering fields. None of these individuals need to be PEO members, nor need to maintain competency in engineering for their jobs. Is it any wonder that at first blush it is perceived that the majority of PEO members are not maintaining their professional competency? Why would they? The ones who do work in the field are forced to [maintain competency] by virtue of market forces if nothing else. Stay current, or be left behind.

Would the implementation of either of these initiatives have prevented the [Elliot Lake] Algo Mall disaster? Based on the news, there seems to have been no lack of reports for years from professionals advising their clients that there was a problem with salt laden water infiltration.

Yet, according the news it seems that those who commissioned the reports chose to do little except continue to commission more reports. Why would that be? Why would remedial work not have been carried out? We suspect the answer — as it is in most cases — has more to do with money than anything else. It likely would have been cheaper to keep commissioning professional reports, rather than address the problem.

By having reports signed by a P.Eng., those who commissioned the reports could righteously claim that they were not ignoring the problem. Even in a worst case scenario, they could plead ignorance, arguing that had they known that a collapse was imminent, of course they would have done something. They could assert — while pointing to the P.Eng. stamps on the reports — that as non-professionals they themselves could not have understood the problem, and as such the professionals failed to advise them sufficiently of the immediacy and gravity of the situation.

Are such arguments, claims and assertions not just a little too self serving? What can a professional engineer do when faced with a recalcitrant client who chooses to ignore — for whatever reason — the professional’s recommendations? Nothing that we know of, short of threatening to go public to the building department, the POE or news outlets.

When presented with such a threat, would a client’s counter-threat of legal action and/or a complaint to the PEO be surprising? We think not. The engineer who had warned about the effect of cold weather on the O-ring in the Challenger space shuttle disaster later argued that decision-making that went into the acceptance of the O-ring resulted from intense customer intimidation.

We think that in more situations than we as a profession are willing to admit, clients exert enormous pressure on professional engineers as well.

To address this, instead of trying to reboot a specialist designation program that was abandoned almost three decades ago, or push through mandatory continuing education programs that will benefit only those who are offering the programs, the PEO should:

(1) stop granting licenses to the majority of its members, who neither need it, nor will ever use it,

(2) create a process to assist P.Eng.’s in their dealings with reluctant and/or uncooperative, if not hostile, clients.

In our view it is only then that the PEO will gain the respect of the public that it has been in search of for decades, and more importantly, that it will be able to properly license and oversee its members in the interest of that same public.

Angelo Mattacchione, B.A.Sc., M.Eng., P.Eng., BDS., President,

Livia Mattacchione, B.A.Sc., P.Eng.,Senior Engineer

Prosum Engineering Ltd., North York, Ont.


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