Canadian Consulting Engineer

Consulting Engineer — What’s in a Name?

The Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada (ACEC) has voted to change its name to the "Association of Canadian Engineering Companies." The vote was passed at the ACEC Summit in Yellowknife held...

August 1, 2007   By Bronwen Parsons

The Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada (ACEC) has voted to change its name to the “Association of Canadian Engineering Companies.” The vote was passed at the ACEC Summit in Yellowknife held June 23. The count was 75 to 14.

According to the July 2007 issue of Consulting Engineers of Ontario’s E-update newsletter: “The ACEC Board felt that the new name more accurately conveyed the association’s mandate to promote the business and commercial interests of engineering firms. It appeared that many stakeholders were confusing ACEC with other engineering organizations that represented individual engineers rather than engineering firms.”

The newsletter also noted that the term consultant, “has unfortunately come into disrepute because of the proliferation of dubious enterprises that have branded themselves as ‘consultants.'”

ACEC has to change its bylaws and constitution to effect the change, and it must also get the approval of Industry Canada.

Meanwhile, the provincial associations of consulting engineers must decide whether to change their names to follow ACEC. The name change by ACEC also carries implications for this magazine, which has been published as Canadian Consulting Engineer for over 45 years.

Certainly the term “consulting engineer” is not well known among the general public. I often find myself having to explain it to people during the course of my day — to writers, corporate public relations people, even lawyers. Before I began working at this magazine, I had only the vaguest notion of what the term consulting engineer meant. The editor at the time, Sophie Kneisel, explained the title was given to engineers who had attained the right to offer their services as consultants by virtue of their special skills and experience. Since then, I’ve always thought of it as a title that distinguished its holders not exactly as an elite, but at least as a senior class of practitioners.

The right of individuals to use the title of consulting engineer is regulated by some of the provincial engineering licensing associations. Its use might be open to any licensed engineer as in Alberta, or require official registration, as in Ontario and Saskatchewan. However, ACEC wants to make it clear that it is a trade organization that represents firms, rather than individuals.

In the U.S., the sister organization of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada changed its name to the American Council of Engineering Companies several years ago. Conveniently, or not, the same acronym “ACEC” serves for the Canadian and U.S. organizations, and they can still use it after they’ve dropped the consultant term.

How things have changed. A decade ago, many engineering companies were playing down the “engineering” side of their business and pumping up their general management “consulting” skills as a marketing tool. Now, it seems the term consultant has become so tarnished by business scandals such as Enron it has become the butt of jokes. Google “consultant jokes,” and you’ll find a list of sites ready to oblige.

We welcome your comments on whether the term “consulting engineer” still carries value.


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