Canadian Consulting Engineer

Companies V. Consultants: A Question Of The Name

January 1, 2008
By Consulting Engineers of Ontario

Last June, the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada (ACEC) decided to change its name to the Association of Canadian Engineering Companies (also ACEC). The change was legally enacted in the f...

Last June, the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada (ACEC) decided to change its name to the Association of Canadian Engineering Companies (also ACEC). The change was legally enacted in the fall. Now the provincial associations of consulting engineers, ACEC’s member organizations, face a similar decision. Should they also drop the term “consulting” from their name?

One association, Consulting Engineers of Ontario (CEO), has already issued an advisory paper on the subject and is asking its members for feedback. If enough of its member firms show interest, CEO will introduce a motion at its annual meeting this June asking them to vote in favour of adopting a new name. The suggested new name is: Association of Canadian Engineering Companies of Ontario.

Canadian Consulting Engineer magazine also invites feedback on this issue and will publish selected comments. Email


The ACEC decision to change its name resulted from two strategic planning sessions. The ACEC Board observed that the current name was often misleading and confusing for stakeholders not familiar with our industry — such as government, media and the general public. Often, ACEC representatives began meetings with stakeholders by spending valuable time explaining what ACEC is not — rather than explaining what it is. For example, many stakeholders were mistakenly under the impression that ACEC was a licensing body or an association of individual professionals. ACEC is, in fact, a trade association that represents engineering businesses. There was also concern that the current name created an impression that ACEC represents only engineers that are doing individual consulting — often retired or working on a part-time basis. The perception of ACEC members as part-time or “hobby” engineers does not accurately reflect the association or the industry.

Also over the 20 years, the term “consultant” has come to be viewed negatively because of the proliferation of dubious enterprises that have branded themselves as “consultants.” This is unfortunate in light of how our industry has historically embraced and embodied “consultancy” in the truest and most honourable sense of the word.

Finally, an analysis by a public relations firm performed several years ago concluded that the term “engineering” projects a more powerful image than “engineer.”

The key outcome of the strategic planning exercise was recognition of the importance of having a name or establishing a “brand” that clearly, accurately and concisely identifies the association to its stakeholders.

The reasons for the ACEC name change and how it more accurately describes the association and its mandate can be applied equally to Consulting Engineers of Ontario (CEO). In addition, there are other considerations for our association.

• Consistent image with ACEC and other provincial associations. CEO, and other member organizations across Canada, should consider the possible advantages of aligning itself with ACEC as a uniform brand across the country. Today, there is more collaboration; cooperation; and information sharing between ACEC and its member organizations than ever before…. However, with so many different brands (names, logos, style guides) among the member organizations, it is sometimes logistically difficult and expensive to share documents, advertising and other resources. A name change may emphasize CEO’s (and the other member organizations’) relationship with ACEC, allowing us to more effectively leverage ACEC’s national profile and influence and to utilize its resources. And viceversa, ACEC can benefit from the influence and resources of the member organizations.

• Precedents by other organizations. The American Consulting Engineering Council had gone through a similar process some years ago and changed its name to the American Council of Engineering Companies. Since that time, for many of the reasons above, 48 out of 50 state associations have changed their name to co-brand with ACEC (e.g. ACEC-New York, ACEC-Michigan, ACEC-Vermont, etc)….

• Confusion with PEO consulting designation. There is enormous confusion in Ontario, both within the profes- sion and among stakeholders, surrounding the consulting engineer designation administered by Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO). This designation, which is unique to Ontario, is a legislated “right to title” conferred to individual engineers by PEO who have met criteria established by PEO. Contrary to the perception of many, CEO, an advocacy organization promoting the business interests of engineering firms, has no regulatory authority to determine eligibility of either individuals or firms to use the consulting engineer designation; nor does CEO have the authority to determine the criteria used for establishing eligibility. This confusion is understandable given our current name. A name change that emphasizes CEO’s advocacy on behalf of engineering companies may help alleviate some of the confusion.

• Strong recognition of current name. Prior to any decisions being made, it is also important that CEO and its members consider and respect the history of the association and its strong reputation and profile under its current identity. CEO and its members have made an important contribution to the industry, the profession and to Ontario’s quality of life since CEO’s inception in 1975. Whatever decision is ultimately made, it is of vital importance that recognition of the strides that CEO has made over 32 years is not lost.

• Some clients still value “consultants.” Finally, notwithstanding the current disfavour of the term “consultant” by many, consultancy — in the truest sense of the word — is in fact what our industry continues to offer its clients. Historically, the term “consultant” is what distinguished our industry as being a value-added professional service rather than being a commodity. It should be noted that many member firms continue to successfully market the terms “consultant” and “consultancy” to their knowledgeable and sophisticated clients.

Next steps

… If sufficient interest and support for a name change is voiced over the coming year, the Board will introduce a motion at the next CEO annual meeting in June 2008 to change the association’s name to the Association of Canadian Engineering Companies of Ontario (though variations of this name may be considered in light of member comments or suggestions received). At the annual meeting there will still be an opportunity for discussion and the proposal will be voted on by the membership.

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