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Time for licenced Engineers?

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Time for licenced Engineers?

Posted by Gareth Wood on Jan 10, 2018 1:32 pm

As a result of a discussion within a Linkedin group. I had originally raised the issue of the EC UK or IET legally licencing Engineers and had agreed to bring this discussion from Linkedin to the IET members in an appropriate community for a frank and open debate.
​The circumstances surrounding this discussion was the tragedy of Grenfell Towers and my personal observation that some of the alleged decision makers, had no technical qualifications to make decisions on public safety. I am wondering how far the inquiry will go to reveal that issue. 

As I currently work in Canada we do have an act of law governing the conduct of its licenced Engineers and this makes the Engineer have some higher degree of responsibility for public safety.

1)    Given the impact of Grenfell, does EC(UK) have to now start considering licencing? What are the perceived hurdles to achieve this?
​2)    If not. What can we do within our profession to improve pubic safety with an objective to prevent another 'Grenfell' ?

I am ​Interested to get IET members responses.

Re: Time for licenced Engineers?

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Jan 31, 2019 8:35 am

Jack Lord:
I consider BT and British Gas "engineers" are technicians, not engineers..

Whilst I don't necessarily disagree with this, there are problems. What is the definition of an 'Engineer'? If it is someone who is registered CEng, then that is easy, but is someone who is in the process of applying and who subsequently succeeds not an engineer until he/she is granted CEng? Then what about those accumulating experience to apply? And don't forget some can gain CEng by the alternative route and not have the exemplifying qualifications.
Until we (and I am talking here about the whole of the UK) come up with a legal definition of and Engineer, understood and accepted by the general populace, we are going to be stuck with this problem.

Re: Time for licenced Engineers?

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Jan 31, 2019 11:19 am

I recall a conversation that I had with a senior IEE representative circa 25 years ago, during which he airily dismissed what most “engineers” in my (major) organisation did, as “just technician work”.  I have encountered similar variations on this theme many times since, from other members of the Engineering Council fraternity.

Clearly therefore, there is a strand of opinion amongst Chartered Engineers, some academics and others that the term “Engineer” should be restricted only to those with accredited engineering degrees and that “Chartered Engineer” should represent only the most highly developed of those with certain specific characteristics, such as high rank.  Around 40 years ago when the great majority of those employed by major organisations as “engineers”, but without an accredited degree, could if they chose to, be recognised by the Council of Engineering Institutions as a “Technician Engineer”, that group argued that they were “Engineers” not “Technicians” and “Incorporated Engineer” was the result.  

In the professional institution world where we are conducting this debate, recognition for a “technician” has the lowest academic benchmark and therefore the lowest status. However, there is a whole world of skilled engineering practice where being a skilled “technician” is the pinnacle of achievement.  For sociological reasons this much larger group has tended to find its collective voice through the trades unions and employer led trade associations rather than “learned societies”.  Why should governments favour the ageing and declining minority of senior learned society members, who often seem more interested in relative status than productivity, over skilled workers and their employers?

Sociological change over the last 40 years has led to a major decline in trades union influence and over the last 25 years university participation has expanded rapidly.  One consequence for those who wish to position Chartered Engineer as an “elite” form of recognition, is that it is no longer naturally rationed by admission to an engineering degree as a teenager.

The academic response to this (exemplified by the International Engineering Alliance) has been to create “Technologist”, a form of degree level engineer, differentiated by a greater focus on “applications” rather than “science”. The UK response was to extend the length of it exemplifying degree courses, which in our context means “masters level”. So we are now locked into squabbles between ourselves and also with other countries about, how to differentiate between a Technician, Technologist and Engineer, how long degrees should be in preparation for such roles, how much calculus is needed to differentiate an Engineer and Technologist, what is bachelors and masters level,  what is or isn’t “innovative” or more recently perhaps “complex” or “risky”. What do we mean by competence, how do we measure it, and should we re-check it? Is CEng intended to be a “qualification”, “award” , “an alumni", "an honorific title”, an “indication of capability”, or a “supervised registered professional”?

The answer is probably all of these, but to lose any of the “benefits”, could seriously undermine the viability of the current UK voluntary system. Its replacement with some form a statutory authority may be the aim of some who argue for licensing, but be careful what you wish for. Why should I as a taxpayer pay for what charities seem to already be doing?  The fact that the majority of competent practitioners of good conduct, don’t choose to join professional bodies doesn’t seem to be causing much harm?

I would prefer that we accept the challenge of leadership, which as I see it, is to make a compelling case to those current and prospective professional Engineers and Technicians who wish to commit to professional standards. Our focus on creating divisions within this group, sometimes quite artificial, based on no more robust justification than opinions about, "us and them" of a sociological nature, which type of equations were covered in their teenage mathematics classes, or until recently forms of dress like neck ties, doesn't take us forward in the 21st century.  I don't object to useful divisions which embody the "different but equally valuable" principle. There are after all, many thousands of variations in the competences and characteristics illustrated by those who practice "engineering and technology".         

Some examples of codifying work by the “majority”.  https://www.jib.org.uk/documents/publications/20-jib377r.pdf   https://www.thebesa.com/media/1351/besanational-agreement-handbook.pdf  . Given the North American contribution to this discussion https://study.com/articles/difference_between_electrician_electrical_technician.html   https://business.phila.gov/media/Engineer-License-Boiler-Stationary-and-Refrigeration.pdf


Re: Time for licenced Engineers?

Posted by David McQuiggan on Dec 14, 2019 4:47 am

See suit filed last week and linked to below for fascinating case of an individual’s rights and interests versus state’s rights and interests and the use/definition/vagueness  of “engineer” and “engineering.” 

This filed complaint digs in to issues related to who has rights to call oneself an “engineer” and describe one’s work as “engineering.”  This suit tackles the constitutional considerations of free speech, judicial impartiality, abuse of powers, and due process.  Who knew P.E. licensing could be so fascinating.

Who can call themselves an engineer? 
What do you think?
David McQuiggan

Re: Time for licenced Engineers?

Posted by Barry Brooks on Dec 15, 2019 3:52 pm

Fascinating test of the legal protection assumed for the term PE, or CEng, etc.

Whilst one can sympathise for Greg in this case, although it is not clear what would happen if there were a Hadden-Cave analysis of any damage caused by a fault in his design or manufacture caused injury.

If Arizona law say that an engineer calling himself or herself an engineer needs to be licensed, then the case is clear cut.  The fact that this case is being brought implies a weakness of definitions and is another reason why it is now impossible to protect the term "engineer" her in the UK.

Please keep us informed of developments.
BPS Brooks BSc(Eng) CEng FIET FCGI IET Past-President (IET President 2013-14)

Re: Time for licenced Engineers?

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Dec 16, 2019 12:24 pm

This seems to be the same as the case mentioned on another thread : https://communities.theiet.org/discussions/viewtopic/807/25279

Re: Time for licenced Engineers?

Posted by Andy Millar on Dec 16, 2019 3:56 pm

Yes, and I'm surprised that there haven't been more responses to either of them. It's an interesting test case for the ever-running (in the UK at least) "people shouldn't be allowed to call themselves engineers unless they're registered" argument.

Personally I am far more interested in seeing specific roles and task being licensed / registered rather than vague job titles, which I don't really see as helping anyone. When I'm assessing a safety-critical project I want to know that the individuals in key positions (at all levels) are proven to be competent in their specific domain. But as I mentioned on the other thread, I'm not actually aware whether the protection of the "Engineer" title in some North American areas is actually for that type of public safety protection, or whether it's for unionised closed-shop reasons, I'd be interested to know.

Cheers, Andy
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

Re: Time for licenced Engineers?

Posted by mbirdi on Dec 16, 2019 5:08 pm

I provided URL links to NSPE history of PE licensure here:


Re: Time for licenced Engineers?

Posted by Rhino60 on Dec 18, 2019 9:17 am

I hold UK and USA aircraft engineering licences from my previous career. I am not sure that licensing would be appropriate in any thing other than aviation or similar environments.



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