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Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

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Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Lynsay Callaghan on Dec 12, 2019 11:54 am

This is an interesting story on the term registered professional engineer and how it is interpreted.
Lynsay Callaghan, IET Community Manager

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Dec 12, 2019 12:18 pm

It is not a story on how registered professional engineer is interpreted. It is a story on how engineer is interpreted and the interpretation seems to be that if you are not either:
a) a registered professional engineer, or
b) working for a recognised engineering company
then you are not allowed to call yourself an engineer in Arizona. It will be interesting to see who wins here. I think I know who will win - the lawyers!
Alasdair

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Andy Millar on Dec 12, 2019 4:27 pm

Yes it will be interesting to see, given the debate that's been running in the UK at least as long as I've been in engineering (i.e. since the late 1970s) as to whether "only professional engineers should be allowed to call themselves engineers".

I always find the dichotomy in the US interesting, where some aspects of life to do with engineering safety are (to a UK view) surprisingly unregulated, and some are (to a UK view) surprisingly regulated. Although of course often on a state by state basis. Does anyone know what the background to Professional Licensing actually was - whether it was brought in as a response to safety incidents or whether it was through Union pressure?

Cheers,

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

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by mbirdi on Dec 16, 2019 3:54 pm

NSPE Licensure 

​​​and

Press Release marking 100 years of Licensure

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Dec 17, 2019 11:32 am

To address Andy’s question. Based on Mehmood’s helpful link, I think it would be reasonable to describe the NSPE as a form of “Union”.  In a UK context that leads us to the difference between a “Trades Union” and a “Professional Institution” built on the “Learned Society” model. The term “Trades Union” has negative connotations for many, including business owners in the US. During the 1980s a separation was created between “unions” and “institutions”, that required some to disentangle some of their activities to meet Engineering Council requirements not to be a “Trade Association” or “Trades Union”.  The assumption perhaps being that the former tend to the political right and the latter to the left.

The NSPE link explains how legislation was passed to regulate engineers in the US over a century ago, in a “Wild West” situation, with lobbying by NSPE (as AAE), extending that more widely, with the last state to legislate doing so over 70 years ago.  They helpfully explain “What makes a PE different from an engineer?” and describe the barriers to entry that a PE is required to clear. Some of those UK engineers who consider themselves to have cleared substantially similar hurdles, aspire to such protection, uniquely qualifying them to approve engineering designs not covered by an “employers exemptions” . From the original article  Avelar said about 80 per cent of engineers nationwide are not registered professional engineers and that in at least 48 states, there's an exemption from registration requirements for engineers who work in industry.

UK  legislation primarily places the responsibility with “employers” through Health and Safety legislation derived from the 1974 HASAW act and product safety (EU) regulations.  There are some additional statutory schemes, covering areas of particular risk, partly to protect potentially vulnerable householders.  Otherwise employers may define competence as they see fit, at the risk of criminal prosecution for creating harm or civil cases for contractual failures, such as unfitness for purpose.

There is no PE so we are “Engineers”.  This leads us down the familiar path which we have argued forever; who is a “proper engineer”?

When I first became aware of this debate, I was instinctively sympathetic, after all I had undergone a 4 years of training, 5 years part-time at College to higher level, 5 years Technician experience and been selected against good competition to be appointed as an “Engineer”. So why should someone else pass themselves off? However, as I came increasingly to understand better the attitudes of many in the professional institution and academic spheres of influence, it became apparent that that in their eyes I wasn’t a “proper Engineer” anyway.  I hadn’t met the standard for Chartered Engineer on academic grounds and by the time the emphasis shifted to competence (in the IET at least), I was 25+ years into career and 10 or more into management roles, needing little more than a good empathy with engineers.  Fair enough!

I came in due course to the discovery that many who did carry the title, simply did so by virtue of having studied at university and spent their first 4-5 years of work as a graduate engineer.  Some were highly expert, some also very articulate and some more experienced examples were fully deserving of comparison with a medical consultant or any other senior professional.  However, many others were in no significant way superior the  apprenticeship pathway “engineers” who were the norm in my earlier career.  This isn’t just my opinion, Engineering Council explicitly acknowledged the actual performance evidence with its statement “overlapping in practice” and other research backs this up.  Especially in relation to safety in practice, not just “on paper” a more practical understanding and real experience is essential. 


I used at one time to have significant responsibility for high voltage work and no amount of “text book” understanding of engineering science, substitutes for practical understanding of what people actually do in the workplace and why they behave as they do.  Engineering isn’t just about the design of artefacts or systems (rather than systems of work) “on paper”.  In my opinion the emphasis on status and on using academic qualifications to differentiate between different types of professional, has created a problem. The problem is that the overwhelming majority of competent practitioners engaged in Engineering and Technology, don’t feel that the system led by Engineering Council is relevant to their needs or respectful of them.  

It seems to me very unlikely that a UK Government would adopt legislation, such as that intended to address a US problem from 100 years ago.  Therefore, if our aim is to enhance the practice of engineering, increase safety and importantly productivity in a competitive world, then we need to refocus.  Our profession has taken a very “top down” approach and embedded an excessive concern with academic competition and petty unreliable grading. To succeed in future we need to work from the “bottom up” by championing minimum standards of skills and training and “mainstream” practice by competent professional engineers of “graduate standard”.  We should also aggrandise those who show high achievement in academia, R&D or anywhere else, but their “high status” should be earned in practice, not codified and treated as an “entitlement” based on theory examinations.  As recent events in another sphere have illustrated to us, a sense of entitlement and over-confidence is often the precursor of a “car crash”.    

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Dec 17, 2019 11:56 am

Roy Bowdler:
They helpfully explain “What makes a PE different from an engineer?” and describe the barriers to entry that a PE is required to clear. 

I hadn't spotted this but it is interesting that the NSPE explain the difference between a PE and an engineer while the State of Arizona claims that only a PE can be an engineer.

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by mapj1 on Dec 17, 2019 1:24 pm

Surely the key question has to be not what it has done for the status of the individuals who are licenced, or indeed the standing and authority of the associations that act as licenceing bodies, or for that matter who can sign stuff off, but if there is a real problem which it has addressed - are there less accidents due to poor engineering than there are in countries that have no such regulations, but instead require responsibility via the management, such as required by the health and safety at work act. So has the American improvement in terms of  plane crashes, environmental damage, machinery safety etc over the last 100 years been more or less that the improvement over the same period  that took place in say the UK ?
Looking at things like problems at 3 mile Island vs Winscale, or any of the far too many mining accidents in both countries,  I am not convinced that the difference in standards is as great as one might imagine, or even that in many cases an engineer registration system would have made that much difference.
 
regards Mike

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Dec 17, 2019 2:58 pm

I came across this.  https://www.shponline.co.uk/global-legislation/occupational-health-and-safety-in-the-usa/

There is a typographical error in this statement, which I think that I have corrected appropriately? If anyone knows better then please post.  

In 2007, for example, 5657 US workers died in work-related accidents, which equates to a rate of 3.8 per 100,000 workers. In the UK, the same rate is 0.8 per 100,000 (my correction?). A recent study conducted by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work identified a similar disparity in the non-fatal injuries, with the US rate being six times the UK equivalent.21

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Dec 17, 2019 3:10 pm

https://www.nspe.org/resources/issues-and-advocacy/professional-policies-and-position-statements/professional

https://www.rit.edu/admissions/freshman/eng-vs-eng-tech

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Dec 17, 2019 3:20 pm

Roy,
The figures have come down since 2007. For the US in 2017 it was 5147 while for the UK it is down to about 0.5 for the same year (147 total for 2018/19 but a fairly flat graph since 2013/14). However looking at the causes of death show that these deaths, in the UK at least, are generally not related to engineering professionalism (falling from heights - 40, struck by moving vehicle - 30, etc. with falls also coming out top in the US) so I wouldn't want to use this as a basis for the comparison suggested by Mike.
Alasdair

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by mapj1 on Dec 17, 2019 6:27 pm

It might, however,  perhaps suggest that unprofessional engineering is not the major factor, so the accident prevention efforts really should be directed elsewhere - as a noddy example, given the falls data, we might think that periodic inspection of ladders and hand rails by anyone, professional or not, and a process for reporting dodgy situations found is probably going to save more lives than having a professional engineer sign off the original design of them.

Does the US use scaff tags for example

HSE faq on scaffoldling inspection.
regards Mike

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by MW _CEng on Dec 19, 2019 3:01 am

The key is Public Safety. Licensing was proposed and became a law in all the US States.  There are different requirements per state as each state has its own challenges, geography and other 
factors that may not apply to other states.  But there is also an industrial exemption. And many graduates of Engineering are not electing to become licensed professional. While I strongly recommend that any graduate of Engineering program in the USA get licensed.  There are advantages for being licensed PE. As to enforcement its really state by state. I think Arizona should have collaborated with the unlicensed professional by having licensed professional review of the work with the engineer. 
Moshe Waserman BEET, MCGI, CEng MBCS, FEDIPAdvPra, MIET.

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Dec 19, 2019 8:35 am

Moshe,
Many thanks for providing the US perspective. I can fully agree with the intent of the law and the advantages of becoming licenced, but the issue here, based on the reporting we have seen, does not appear to be anything to do with safety but merely the fact that the individual titled himself as 'Engineer'. I can understand that "Professional Engineer" is a restricted title but was not aware that "Engineer" was restricted also (at least in Arizona).
Alasdair

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by mapj1 on Dec 19, 2019 11:14 am

The key is Public Safety.

I think exactly so - and if registration brings a clearly demonstrable safety benefit, it should be done. If not, we do not need it. What we need to demonstrate if it is worthwhile, are accident  figures from countries that are sufficiently similar in other respects such as education and health system so we can compare the effect of registration in isolation.

regards Mike

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Andy Millar on Dec 19, 2019 12:40 pm

Absolutely. Personally I really don't care whether the engineer who wrote the software for this editor I am using now is a "registered engineer" or not, or, say, the engineers who designed the torch that's on my desk (just looking around for inspiration!). I do want to know that an electrician who says my house wiring is safe, and we do in the UK have a registration scheme for that.

And I do want to know that (for example) a new level crossing system for the railways is safe, so we have a very precise legal framework for ensuring the work is carried out competently by the potentially large team involved, which ultimately involves key sign off organisations, and hence the key staff, being registered by (in the UK) UKAS. However the UK - and EU - approach is to say that it's a sledgehammer to crack a nut to say that the entire team, down to all subsupplier organisations, must be registered. Generally the UK approach is to believe that the safety management process - for example IEC61508 and its spin-off regulations for specific industries - allows the engineering of safety-critical systems to proceed without the requirement for the definitions of generic engineering competence (and hence registration), it's for the project to manage the specific competences relevant to each section of the project, some of which will be more safety-critical than others, with overall monitoring through independent assessment etc proportionate to the safety criticality of the project.

Which does seem to work pretty well across a range of industries. Of course, there's always room for improvement, and hence the various standards are constantly being revised, but personally I've yet to see an argument that any gaps in this approach can be appropriately covered by universal registration of engineers.

As I've said here many a time - when I'm assessing competence on safety-critical projects I do like to see CEng/IEng/EngTechs in there, but it's only a tiny bit of the evidence - they may still not have the specific competence for the specific task they are carrying out. A CEng who doesn't appreciate that they don't know what goes on in the outside world, and so who doesn't realise they need to invite a maintainer or operator to a HAZID, can end up making totally the wrong decision...

I must admit that I do have another concern that a huge amount of innovation seems to come from engineers who are likely to have little interest in any registration process. For example I was highly amused a few years ago when it was discovered that gaming computer technology had overtaken "conventional" supercomputer technology! Engineering to my mind is about innovation, not regimentation, and setting down a series of dusty rules about what an "engineer" is I believe will only dissuade those innovators from wanting to enter the profession. Hence I'm strongly in favour of targeting registration / legislation where it's needed, and only where it's needed.

I could be really naughty and suggest that a "registered engineer" who's registered because they will "always follow the rule book and only the rule book" isn't really an engineer at all, they're a technician. But of course I wouldn't want to suggest that 😊

Cheers,

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

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by MW _CEng on Dec 19, 2019 12:58 pm

Alasdair Anderson:
Moshe,
Many thanks for providing the US perspective. I can fully agree with the intent of the law and the advantages of becoming licenced, but the issue here, based on the reporting we have seen, does not appear to be anything to do with safety but merely the fact that the individual titled himself as 'Engineer'. I can understand that "Professional Engineer" is a restricted title but was not aware that "Engineer" was restricted also (at least in Arizona).
Alasdair

Alasdair,
The laws on the paper are actually very strong they not only go after title Engineer but the actual practice of Engineering just like the practice of Medicine, but many state agencies such as consumer protection when it comes to engineers choose to selectively enforce the law on the books.  This can be due to limited funds and recourses, political climate, the entity such as individual vs corporation. At the time of Arizona's case, there was national effort and a strong push to protect the licensure, Some states tried to cancel licensure or make the rules weak, a lot of push came from state societies of professional engineers, lobbying and legal challenges. I think PE's prevailed and had partial but significant victory.
I remember reading about how in Texas when Software engineers became a licensed profession, the state went after unlicensed Sofware Engineers who ended up changing their title from Engineer to Developer. Less than a decade later due to the low number of Engineers who pursuing a license as Software Engineers the category was discontinued. There are good reasons for licensure and also debates and push back by some employers who don't like restrictions and over regulations, they don't think that every engineer position requires a licensed professional. So civil, electrical, chemical and a couple more traditional fields require licensure.  Many government Engineer jobs require a license as well. I don't rule out that  the Arizona case may repeat in other states. The intensification of regulation inforcement comes in waves. 

 
Moshe Waserman BEET, MCGI, CEng MBCS, FEDIPAdvPra, MIET.

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Dec 19, 2019 1:29 pm

Thanks, Moshe.  That makes the situation much clearer. The problem we (i.e. those of us outside the USA) have is that we are unaware of the background and there is a tendency to think in terms of how it works where we live/work.
Alasdair

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Dec 20, 2019 10:51 am

Andy Millar

I could be really naughty and suggest that a "registered engineer" who's registered because they will "always follow the rule book and only the rule book" isn't really an engineer at all, they're a technician. But of course I wouldn't want to suggest that 😊

“Engineering Technician”, “Technologist”, “Technician Engineer”, “Incorporated Engineer”, “Chartered Engineer”  Have all been codified by regulators , although “Chartered Engineering Technologist” wasn’t ultimately adopted in the UK twenty years ago, it was discussed at Engineering Council.  Other bodies have codified “Registered Engineer” (now owned by Engineering Council) and more recently “Chartered Building Engineer”. There are many other forms of recognition for expertise and professionalism, many with a “Chartered” version, which suggests that the holder has graduate/post graduate attributes.

I’m personally quite comfortable with the principal that a “Technician” will primarily rely on implementing that which is clearly codified. In doing so, they will often demonstrate practical initiative and originality to deliver results effectively.  Experienced Technicians are typically highly expert in specific areas of activity, with essential practical “nous”, which many engineers from a more academic background may lack.  We have over recent decades absorbed into the description of a “Technician” the role of a skilled Craftsperson or Tradesperson who may be towards the more practical end of the quite broad span of Technician practice. Technicians in some areas (eg Science) are often university graduates.

I have strongly opposed any suggestion that a “Technician” should be seen as “lower”, or as an “inferior” form of “Engineer”.  I was happy to describe myself as a Technician (including in my passport) although I didn’t register because in the academic frame of reference I seemed “over-qualified” (with an HNC) so I went towards “Technician Engineer” instead, although that changed to “Incorporated Engineer”.  In that capacity , I was informed by my Professional Institution and Engineering Council that I was “different but equally valuable” , although within a few years I migrated away from an engineering role into a form of management.  It is sad that certain elements of the Chartered Engineer community resented the idea of others being described as “equally valuable” and once the Institution of Incorporated Engineers (4th largest PEI) was no longer represented at Engineering Council, this important principle was throw out of the window.     

I have posted the material below before in the context of an earlier thread. These are the thoughts that a distinguished Professor (CEng) sent to me in 2011, not intending for them to be published in this form.  They have however guided my thinking on the issue. 

I have always thought of the categories of registration as related to different sets of skills each deserving recognition and status. An Incorporated Engineer I would expect to be knowledgeable about specific engineering products or services, processes and machinery and able to explain things about them to people within his or her engineering organisation; I would expect them to be “streetwise” and able to supervise others confidently. An engineering or ICT technician I would expect to be a proficient user of particular tools, have patience and be thoroughly knowledgeable about the operation of a particular process or machine. A Chartered Engineer should have to be able at justifying engineering decisions to anyone especially themselves, be prepared to deliberate and research, set out an argument and work confidently in unfamiliar situations.

Because the skills required are different, anyone in one category does not automatically have the skills for another. Thus movement in any direction requires the honing of unrehearsed skills or their acquisition. Progress for an individual can be in any direction! It means Incorporated Engineers are not apprentice Chartered Engineers and to see them as such is to remove an important distinction. Nevertheless we should recognise that a competent Incorporated Engineer can through education and experience gain the skills of a Chartered Engineer so being an Incorporated Engineer is not a disqualification for later registration as a Chartered Engineer. Similarly being a Chartered Engineer is not a disqualification for becoming, with appropriate skill development, an Engineering Technician.

It is the case that intellectual skills of deliberation and argumentation of a Chartered Engineer demand a longer time than the intellectual skills of an Engineering technician, however the technician has to develop “know how” for which an academic setting is not necessarily appropriate. And it is the case that there are some commonalities in the intellectual skill development of all categories but at some point they each go in a different direction to develop different portfolios.

We should be careful of the metaphors we use: words like “level” imply a hierarchy, “grade (as in “registration grade” ) implies a scale, “class” (at least for the English) implies a hierarchy, “progress” and “progressive” imply a forward movement and hence going the other way is backward!    


 

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Andy Millar on Dec 20, 2019 11:26 am

Hi Roy, 
All absolutely true - I just get very frustrated with the attitude (both outside and, bizarrely to my mind, inside engineering) that engineers aren't supposed to do anything imaginative or creative.
I get particularly cross when people suggest that engineers involved in safety work shouldn't innovate - safety will only improve (or, indeed, stay the same in a changing world) if they are not just allowed but actually encouraged to innovate!
Cheers,
Andy

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

Re: Let the replies begin....When is an electrical engineer not an engineer?

Posted by Roy Bowdler on Dec 20, 2019 1:31 pm

Don’t be cross for Christmas Andy!😉

There was a pretty “hot” debate in one these threads recently, which involved different people including Electricians and Chartered Engineers discussing the risks in practice, interpretation of the regulations and certification, some science and calculations, some experience, some health and safety with a human factors angle etc.  

By coincidence on Wednesday I was in contact with a former colleague, who managed a job where some minor carelessness by two craftsmen on a job worth perhaps a few thousand pounds cost £20 Million plus to put right. In this case sparks from hot work, burning down a historic building, because they "shot off" for tea break instead of monitoring their workplace to check for any smouldering embers.  That led to a “hot” debate as well, only in the highest court.
😮

Best wishes all and a happy New Year! – probably made happier for some, as I intend to be far less prominent in this space due to a change of circumstances🙂

 

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