The message must be clear

To graduate high school, I had to pass a Use of English exam, because it was recognized that engineers and scientists can have problems communicating. I barely got a passing grade and am often reminded of my failings, but I would advise others to at least be consistent in our message.

The term maverick has been used repeatedly over the past several years to describe Elizabeth Wettlaufer, a convicted former London and Woodstock caregiver. Using the term to describe a PEO president on the cover of Engineering Dimensions (July/August 2018) may not enhance public confidence in PEO as a regulator.

My father was a chemical engineer, conscripted by government to create antidotes for poison gas attacks immediately prior to World War Two. This created in me a strong ethical need to correct what I saw as undisciplined engineering in foreign jurisdictions.

To quote Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, in a presentation on the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: The response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.”

We are the voice of PEO, so our message must be precise. I am confused by recent metaphors such as engineers standing “watching a moving train” depart. Does this not indicate we remain trapped in the First Industrial Revolution? We cannot stop conveyor belts to supplement their load, and although ISS1 has a station commander, its speed and position are regulated by engineers at mission control thousands of kilometres away. New engineers need to be ready and able to join activities already in progress.

Any idea of “putting a rope around what we can control” was not the intent of those who gave PEO the mandate to regulate engineering. Past problems in getting our message across may not be a weakness in our actions but due rather to inconsistent terminology: Even our current strategic plan contains significant variations of interpretation. Forensics is not about reinventing the wheel but rather about making what we have work more efficiently.

At the same time, should we not ask ourselves why the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board qualifies engineers who are unable to obtain licensure? Why, if PEO finds difficulty in motivating volunteers, did we limit the service of experienced engineers on advisory committees? Could Council time be better utilized reaching out to committees and other experts rather than spending it rescinding previous actions? Perhaps our governance review will recommend repairing the resources we have, rather than burdening members with additional costs. So, though I strongly support PEO as a regulator, I question if we are trapped, like John Frankenheimer’s 1964 film The Train, on a continuous branch line.

Again, quoting Schwab on the power we possess to shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution and direct it towards a future that reflects humanity’s common objectives and values: “To do this…we must develop a comprehensive and globally shared view of how technology is affecting our lives and reshaping our economic, social, cultural and human environments. There has never been a time of greater promise or one of greater potential peril.”

To remain a guardian of public safety, we (PEO) need to both embrace the future and clearly promote our ability.

Peter Broad, P.Eng., London, ON