Canadian Consulting Engineer

Wedding Nerves

January 1, 2004
By Bronwen Parsons

Though engineers and technologists work closely together every day, when it comes to professional titles and licensing matters, relations between them can become tense.So when professional engineers a...

Though engineers and technologists work closely together every day, when it comes to professional titles and licensing matters, relations between them can become tense.

So when professional engineers and geoscientists in B.C. voted to merge their association with that of the technologists and technicians last spring, the forthcoming marriage was a surprise to their peers in the rest of the country. The union has provoked sharp differences of opinion from both sides of the professional divide. Some fear that it means a loss of professional standing. Others see it as the beginning of a bright new future together.

In B.C. evidently most people involved see uniting as a positive move. Members of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia (APEGBC) voted 72% in favour of a merger. Members of the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of B.C. (ASTTBC) voted 91% in support. During the summer, the associations signed a memorandum of understanding, and in December the provincial government agreed to move forward and introduce legislation to enforce the change.

But in Alberta the technologists have been fiercely opposing the engineering association’s efforts to follow the B.C. precedent. The Alberta Society of Engineering Technologists (ASET) asked their members to lobby politicians against implementing “one Act, one organization.” They claimed victory when, on December 15, Clint Dunford, the Alberta Minister of Human Resources and Employment, declared he would not force ASET to join with the engineering association, the Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta (APEGGA).

The Alberta technologists do like one aspect of the B.C. model: they too want an “umbrella Act” that covers both technologists and engineers. Until now provincial regulations have protected only the registered title of technologists and technicians. Their rights to practice have not been inscribed by law (though professional engineering associations do issue certain qualified individuals with limited licences).

With the coming changes in B.C., technologists and technicians in the province will acquire something they have long coveted: the right to practice “without supervision within practice guidelines established by Council.” Acquiring this kind of independence and professional status could well be the holy grail that convinced so many to vote for the merger.

The Alberta technologists’ association also wants to see its members receive legislated rights to practice, but it does not want the other side of the coin. It is fiercely opposed to the idea of handing over its role to another organization that it believes will be dominated by engineers.

Allan Yeung, RET, president of ASET has spoken out against the B.C. merger. “Essentially, we believe that the merger will remove the unique identity of technicians and technologists in B.C. and forever place them in a ‘second class status’ within the overall organization,” he writes in the September-October issue of Technology Alberta. For one thing, he argues, B.C. technologists will not be fairly represented on the proposed council of the new combined body, with only four out of 19 members. He also dislikes the fact that the proposed B.C. association will make its home in the engineering association’s offices in Burnaby.

The Canadian Council of Technicians and Technologists (CCTT) in Ottawa backs ASET’s position. Jim Facette, executive director, says: “The one piece of legislation model? — It’s workable. One association model? — There have been some concerns, especially in Alberta. There’s a concern that, yes, they would continue to be technologists, but as an entity, as a group, as an organization, they wouldn’t have the same degree of independence and a voice within the model that is being proposed in B.C.”

In Ontario, Angela Shama, P.Eng., CET, the executive director of the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists (OACETT), also dislikes the B.C. merger. Shama asserts the right of her organization to be the official voice of its members: “OACETT supports only partnership,” she says in an interview, “And we are not in discussions with Professional Engineers Ontario with regards to any merger models. We certainly do not support the B.C. model. The only partnership with other bodies that we do support are those of an equal nature. We at OACETT firmly believe that we are representing the best interests of the certified technicians and technologists in Ontario.”

How do engineers feel?

If some technologists fear losing their identity by throwing their lot in with engineers, engineers have their own anxieties.

Stanley Cowdell, P.Eng., president of Westmar Consultants in North Vancouver, does not support the proposed merger. While Cowdell agrees technologists should be regulated, he believes the regulatory structures should be separate.

“I don’t want to minimize what the technologists do,” Cowdell says.” They are valued members of our society and we could not complete the majority of projects without their input. However, many of us who spent five, seven, 10 years becoming professional engineers are struggling with how this merger is going to affect how we are viewed by society and how it is potentially going to erode consulting engineering practice. In my mind there is no pressing need for the two associations to be combined, other than that the determining of who can do what will be done behind closed doors rather than by debate in the legislature.”

“One concern,” Cowdell says, “is that when I read the definitions in the draft act for a professional technologist and a professional engineer, I cannot tell the difference. I have received letters from several other professionals who have looked at the definitions and they can’t tell the difference. So then we come to the question that if the differences are essentially non-recognizable — what distinction will the public make between a professional engineer and a professional technologist? Giving the technologists the right to practice independently, with a designation that is difficult for the public to distinguish from professional engineering, will result in confusion in the market place. Potentially, that confusion will be reflected in the professional fee structure.”

As a business owner, Cowdell is also worried that the merger could result in the association losing its focus on licensing and intruding even more into how professional businesses are to be managed. “We have already seen a desire by some segments of the association to expand its influence into the management of consulting engineering firms through the failed certificate of authorization proposal,” he says, referring to a recent move by APEGBC to instigate the C of A requirement in that province.

Though ASTTBC has only 8,500 members now compared to APEGBC’s 19,500 members, Cowdell believes that many more technologists will register with the association once the merger and legislation are completed. Their interests could then overwhelm those of consulting engineers.

“Once technologists are members of the association, it will rightfully be obligated to listen to and act on their concerns with the same interest it currently has for the professional engineers,” says Cowdell. “These interests may not be in parallel and there could be conflict. Further the addition of the technologists to the membership will reduce the consulting engineering component of the association to an even smaller percentage representation.”

Why is it a good thing?

Why, then, is the professional engineering association in B.C. choosing to break down the walls between the two groups?

In APEGBC’s Innovations, January/February 2003 issue, the association lists its reasons for integration. It suggests a merger with technologists and technicians will make for more consistent standards of engineering practice, will improve the accountability of all team members and give better protection for the public. The association also says amalgamation will give the professions
a more influential voice with industry and government.

What may have brought the issue to a head, though, are signs that the technologists’ push to acquire more legal recognition are gaining ground. Across Canada technologists are being included as “Qualified Persons” with the right to practice in specialized environmental areas, for example. And as seen in Alberta, technologist associations are lobbying heavily for more legal rights to practice independently. These moves in effect are sidestepping the professional engineering association’s authority and traditional areas of responsibility. It seems possible that a bipartite regulatory system could evolve, one for engineers and one for technologists, which would seriously muddy the waters.

Neil Cumming, P.Eng., president of Levelton Engineering in Richmond, B.C., has some personal reservations about the blurring of professional labels, but he is also president of Consulting Engineers of B.C., and from that perspective he says the merger is the right move.

“Speaking on behalf of CEBC,” he says, “our members are of course very interested in this. We’ve been monitoring the situation and we’ve had some involvement in it through a task force with APEGBC.”

“I think that most of our members view this as a positive thing,” he says. “We polled them about the same time that APEGBC was polling its members, and the response was pretty much a mirror image.”

Cumming explains: “Many people didn’t perceive that it would be best for the profession or for the public to have two groups governing their own legislated scope of work and scope of practice, essentially competing with each other over what they could and couldn’t do. So it was felt that it would be best to draw them together into a single profession where engineers and goescientists, and their respective technologists, would be regulated and qualified under a common set of goals and guidelines.”

Anne Garrett, P.Eng., executive director of APEGBC, explains why the organization decided to pursue “one Act, one Association” for both technologists and engineers: “We are responsible for engineering and geoscience here in B.C. and it allows us actually to manage the professions,” she says. “You can look at it [engineering and geoscience] as a kind of vertical strand of technicians, technologists, engineers, and engineers with significant experience and particular expertise. Within any industry you’ll see those layers of expertise. And we think it [the merger] allows us to speak with a stronger voice for the entire professions of all the engineering disciplines as well as geoscience, rather than just speaking for one part of a profession. So it is much more of a vertical integration.”

She also believes that their new model reflects the way engineers and technologists work together in a seamlessly integrated team: “It reflects the way industry works — which to me is quite important. If you don’t reflect the way the world works you become less and less relevant as an association.”

“We think it [the merger] also fits well with the way the educational structure works in the province,” she adds. “We have technical colleges and we have universities, and we have bridging programs…. So it is equivalent to how the educational system is tending to move too.”

Still, Garrett understands the fears: “Not to say these things aren’t without their problems,” she admits. “As in any kind of merger, they are slightly different cultures, and you have to work through all of that…. Change worries people until they can understand the details and what it means to them.”

She explains how APEGBC is tackling the forthcoming upheavals: “We have quite a large project going on in terms of sorting out all the details of everything ranging from our governance models for the association, all the way down to the nuts and bolts of who gets how much vacation and things like that. We have to understand the larger issues and work through all of those, but we have to get down to the gory detail too.”

She says the public won’t be confused by the new professional structure if it is explained simply. The non-professionals she knows personally all think the merger “makes sense” and is a good idea.

Asked what she thinks the biggest impact on the professions will be, Garrett says: “I think it will be good to get us all working together…. Not that the two [existing] Acts were in conflict with each other, but as usual there tend to be grey areas. I think we’ll be able to spend more time on doing the right things externally as opposed to [being occupied with] internal issues, which use up time and energy.”

Grey areas

Like it or not, there seems to be a growing overlap and grey area between what work is done by professional engineers and what is done by technologists.

Neil Johnson, president of the Canadian Council of Technicians and Technologists, for example, suggests how far the convergence has gone, and how restive technologists have become over having to work under the supervision of engineers. Speaking at the U.S. technologists’ annual meeting in June, he said: “Thirty-one years ago, the CCTT was born out of the need for a voice for technicians and technologists, many of whom at that time would have worked under a professional engineer.

“We no longer always work under them; technicians and technologists in Canada often work alongside them. Our scope of work has matured and evolved to a point where we are decision-making professionals. Yet we are still required to have someone with the P.Eng. designation certify and sign engineering documents.”

Employers say they assign work on a person’s abilities rather than professional titles in most cases — though of course they ensure a professional engineer approves and stamps the work where required.

Terry Hardy, P.Eng. is chair of Consulting Engineers of Ontario. Speaking personally as president of the Ainley Group in Collingwood and as an employer of both groups, he says: “I’ve always been a firm believer that there are certain things that a CET [certified engineering technologist] can do very well, and in some cases they can do even better than engineers. It is very much dependent on the individual’s ability. I have people on staff who have 30-odd years’ experience as CETs, and they are equally capable as a number of engineers that I also have on staff. I don’t see them [technologists] being second-class citizens by any shape or form.

“I think the fact that we work so closely, so hand-in-hand with technicians and technologists, suggests there is a lot of merit in having us all subject to the same statutory obligations, because I think that in many ways [we] already are.”

“However,” Hardy adds, “I don’t want them to feel that they are losing their identity.”

Dr. Morrel Bachynski, P.Eng., president of the high-tech research firm MPB Technologies of Montreal, is another employer of engineers and technologists. He is also president of the Canadian Academy of Engineering. From his personal experience, he says that generally the engineer will have a better grasp of theory and fundamentals, while the technologist is someone “who is very much hands-on oriented.” But at the same time, he also sees their roles overlapping.

“It may depend on the project,” Bachynski says. “There can be a situation where it’s clearly defined that it should be an engineer. In some cases it’s clearly a responsibility that a technologist can undertake. And then there is a significant grey area where a good technologist would be superior to a poor engineer, and so on.”

“Technologists themselves believe that in many areas they are as skilled as engineers. Chris Jepson, Dip.Eng., manages Keen Engineering’s office in Edmonton and is a director of the company. He graduated with an engineering degree equivalent in the U.K., but after 20 years in Canada has not found the time to become licensed as an engineer. He regrets this omission from a personal point of view. At the same time, he doesn’t think that being a technologist rather than a professional engineer has made much difference to his career.

“I will always ensure, and th
at is certainly part of my responsibility too, that there are professional engineers on staff and that they will review the work that goes out,” he explains.

“However, in terms of one’s own competency, there’s a reality that in many areas of what we do — which is applying engineering — we have as much, if not more, experience and knowledge than the individuals who have a professional status.”

One Act, One Association

Engineers outside B.C. might put up more resistance to the prospect of being tied into the same legal framework as those who don’t share their academic and professional credentials. In central and eastern Canada, for example, engineers have so far not opened their professional association to any other groups. Whereas geoscientists are now members with engineers in professional associations in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, no such amalgamation exists in Ontario or Quebec.

But as long as technologists continue to press for more legal recognition of their right to practise independently, engineers everywhere could find that the prospect of a marriage with them has a certain logical appeal. The alternative, having two distinct regulatory systems and organizations, threatens to create a professional landscape so labyrinthine it would be even more difficult for the public to understand and navigate than it is now.

The issue of convergence with technologists is not new: three times before technologists and engineers in B.C. have attempted to merge their professions, but the effort has failed. Indeed, Ontario technologists were originally certified by the engineering association in the 1950s, but then they split away to form their own group.

Times are changing again and pressures to reorganize the accreditation structures are facing the professional associations from every side. There are immigrant engineers who want to be practitioners sooner, governments who want certified specialists, a public who wants evidence of continuing competence, and computer software engineers who are not sure where they stand. If the associations have to undergo systematic change, then British Columbia’s plans to simplify things under “One Act and one Association” is a place to start.


Technologists & Technicians Redefined

Practice of Engineering Technology as defined in the draft Engineering & Geoscience Professionals Act of B.C. dated November 14, 2003. The act will regulate all engineering and geoscience practitioners and enable the merger of ASTTBC and APEGBC.

“The ‘practice of engineering technology’ means any act defined as the practice of professional engineering that is:

(a) performed by a registered engineering technologist acting within his or her education, training and experience, as recognized by council, and who is acting either:

(i) under the direct supervision of a professional engineer, licensee, limited licensee (engineering) or registered professional technologist (engineering), or

(ii) without the direct supervision of a professional engineer, licensee, limited licensee (engineering) or registered professional technologist (engineering) provided that the registered engineering technologist is applying appropriate prescriptive codes or standards in conformance with generally accepted engineering principles and within practice guidelines established by council, or

(b) performed by a certified technician acting within his or her education, training and experience, as recognized by council, and who is acting either:

(i) under the direct supervision of a professional engineer, licensee, limited licensee (engineering), registered professional technologist (engineering) or registered engineering technologist, or

(ii) without the direct supervision of a professional engineer, licensee, limited licensee (engineering), registered professional technologist (engineering) or registered engineering technologist, provided that the certified technician is applying appropriate prescriptive codes or standards in conformance with generally accepted engineering principles and his or her actions are restricted to sampling, measuring, inspecting, operating or maintaining and reporting on such actions and are within practice guidelines established by council.”


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