Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Who's an Engineer?

Recently the issue of who or what an engineer is has come up in discussions I have been having within the IChemE, the University, and in a legal case where I am an expert witness.

The discussion within the IChemE is to do with legally reserving the title "Engineer" for Chartered Engineers, as is done in other countries. If you hear me describe someone as an engineer, that it what I personally mean by the term. A fellow professional engineer, with a UK-accredited degree in Engineering, at least four years of experience working as an engineer in the design or technical supervision of full scale-engineering projects, and the letters CEng after their name.

My investigations during the legal case disclosed that British Water accredit a two day, zero-entry-qualification course which allows you to describe yourself as a "British Water accredited service engineer" for £200. But even this is not required-anyone can call themselves an engineer in the UK.

So, in the UK at present, someone like myself  recognised by the IChemE as "an engineering professional of distinction" (the requirement to be a Fellow of the Institution), and as a professional engineer by the European accrediting body covering jurisdictions where the term is protected (FEANI) has the same professional title as someone with no relevant qualifications or experience. No wonder people are confused.

Then there are the people who have degrees in engineering but never practice as engineers, (designing or providing technical supervision of full scale-engineering projects). Are they engineers? Sure - the guy who unplugs your drains is an "engineer". Can they do what I can do, do they know what I know? - mostly not.

A UK degree in chemical engineering meets "the academic requirement for the formation of a chartered chemical engineer". That doesn't make you an engineer - that make you someone who can be made into an engineer by other engineers. The IChemE think that the minimum period of practice as an engineer (based on a definition functionally identical to mine above), required to understand what the academic foundation means in context, and have a basic level of understanding of professional practice is four years.

It's the difference between someone with a law degree and a barrister, or someone with a medical degree and a doctor, though the Engineer's minimum period of professional training is longer than a barrister's pupillage, and a doctor's internship put together. I completed this process eighteen years ago, and have practiced continuously as an engineer ever since. Who's an Engineer? I am.

Who else is an "engineer"? It depends what you mean by "engineer". Here is how professional engineers around the world see the hierarchy (though we are often too polite to point it out unless pushed):

"Engineer" =  CEng/ PE/ EUR ING = Accredited Master's degree and 4 years + of specified professional experience - governed by the Washington Accord

"Engineering Technologist" = IEng = Apprenticeship / Bachelor's degree + specified experience - governed by the Sydney Accord

"Engineering Technician" = EngTech = Apprenticeship / Bachelor's degree/diploma + specified experience - governed by the Dublin Accord

"Monkey" = everyone else, in an engineering context

So what about the people who teach and research in HE Engineering departments? They are members of a different profession, that of "academic". I am also a member of this profession, so I know as a member of both that they have very little to do with one another, though there is a polite fiction that all of those who work in academic engineering departments can consider themselves engineers.

This is not to say that there are no Engineers in Universities - just as I am an Engineer who is also an Associate Professor, there are some academics who are engineers, and even a few who are Engineers. Note however that just as the University refuses to use my professional titles in the academic setting, academic titles do not map onto the hierarchy above. A "Professor of Engineering" may be a "Monkey" from a Professional Engineer's point of view - though again it would be impolite to say so.


Keith Plumb said...

Whilst I completely agree with this blog it does not explain what an engineering is - or at least not in terms that make sense to the general public.

That is a much harder question to answer. As is, "What is the difference between and Engineer and a Scientist".

Sean Moran said...

About thirty grand a year before we started letting them into the IChemE!