Tighten up licensing requirements

In his message, our new president expressed his view that the status quo of our accreditation process for licensing is “smarter” and superior to other professions and no changes are needed (“Engineering a smarter approach to licensure,” July/August 2017). In the September/October 2017 issue, Mr. Kerr, P.Eng., questions some of that thinking (“Remaining self-regulated”), and I also wonder if the positive assessment by our president is completely in line with the outcomes and even the principal ethic of our duty to set public welfare as paramount.

Our president seems to feel that a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or equivalent is still a sufficient technical requirement for licensure. In fact, we already partially downgraded that requirement about 15 years ago by allowing limited licences for OACETT candidates. He mentions that the gold standard for other professions is an additional requirement of passing technical exams and notes that, in the United States, graduates must pass two eight-hour exams for licensure. The article points to the fact that we are top exporters of engineering services and are known as world class. However, I agree with Mr. Kerr that we remain an “invisible” profession in Canada and do not have nearly as much respect, or are as well compensated, as other professions or American engineers in their home country. I think it is worth questioning why and protecting the good reputation of the future generation of Canadian professional engineers.

My perspective is as an employer in a small consulting firm who has seen the quality of our own graduates deteriorate over the years and have seen first-hand the variable quality of graduates from “equivalent” programs in offshore engineering programs. In our practice, we had to devise our own brief test of basic knowledge of engineering fundamentals for new job candidates. I can think of at least three of the foreign trained candidates who had the necessary skills and who went on to successful engineering careers. However, we found that about 70 per cent of the internationally trained candidates did not have sufficient knowledge or competency in structural engineering principles. Yet, it was disturbing to learn that for at least two of those candidates, their education requirements had been met and they were about to receive licensure or were part of the EIT program.

Personally, I believe our accreditation model may have been sufficient 30 to 50 years ago, when candidates were mostly from a few Canadian universities where the quality of education was well known. However, Canada has changed and it seems that the accreditation board is having difficulty determining the equivalency of engineering programs and measuring curriculum content in overseas institutions. I believe it is probably time to tighten up the licensure requirements by adding “basic principles” exams that are discipline specific. That would likely help to ensure candidates actually have the skills and knowledge to design reliable systems, help correct the perception that our skills are general in nature rather than specialized and better protect public safety.

Don R. Ireland, P.Eng., Brampton, ON