Thursday, September 09, 2010

FW: Rate of compensation for Structural Tech... And my usual long winded diversion.

Subject: RE: Rate of compensation for Structural Tech... And my usual long
winded diversion.
This message is too long to be posted to this list.

Food for thought.
A real engineer operates at the frontiers of science and technology, is
project manager, principal designer, principal scientist, principal
mathematician and chief builder, and has complete and total authority over
the project. None exist, and a 4 year B.Eng straight from school is grossly
inadeqaute for the purpose.
However most of what takes place is the application and adaptation of
established technologies through the application of established scientific
principles: the work of technians and technologists or applied scientists
and industrial mathematicians.
Simply phrased: Technicians APPLY, Technologists ADAPT, Engineers ORIGINATE.
As a society we do not take kindly to defects in established technologists
due to failure to apply the established science.
The NCEES FE/PE exams are not really about engineers, it is more about
ensuring provision of competent technicians/technologists to plan, design,
assess and manage established technologies. We cannot exam that which is at
the frontiers of science and technology, and cannot operate competently at
the frontier unless developed a high level of competence and proficiency
within the established science and technology.
It seems clear that the NCEES has divided each major discipline into 5 major
areas of practice, and with the breadth and depth format proficiency is only
required in one area of practice, but some competency across all areas.
The B.Eng is largely 4 years in duration as a consequence of history
concerning prestige and status in a class structured society, where typical
degree is 3 years in duration. By adding an extra year it was thought status
would improve. Which may have been the case if it was an academic year and
demonstrated increase in depth. But it is really a bogus year made up of
project work and industrial experience or breadth rather than depth of
knowledge. The lack of depth is important relative to the rest of the
engineering team for it means the other members of the team cannot really
turn to the modern engineer for that additional expertise: they still have
to turn to applied mathematicians and applied scientists for that extra
Breaking the B.Eng down. Most now comprise of a common first year, basically
the breadth requirements of the FE exam. That leaves 3 years to cover 5
areas of practice and the depth requirements of the FE's: a total of 6
streams to be covered in 3 years, or half a year per stream: on average.
That means the FE's are covered by 1.5 years of study, and a specific area
of practice can be covered by an additional half a year, to create a 2 year
study programme. However not all the fundamentals are required for a
specific area of practice, so the programme could be shortened to 1 year.
And most such things seem to follow pareto type rules: so that 80% of
projects only require 20% of the knowledge base. So the programme for a
specific area of practice could be shorted to say AQF Certificate I. Taking
criteria from the Bolgna process of 1500 to 1800 hours student work load per
year: leads to a 300 hour to 360 hour Certificate I programme. The
professional publications (PP) reference manuals seem to suggest a 300 hour
review programme to prepare for the PE Exam. Whilst a specific area of
practice would 750 to 900 study programme, after having completed 1.5 years
of FE's. Such half year of study is not beyond the realms of learning on the
job under the supervision of competent and experienced personnel. Neither
the academic year or regular hours of employment make full use of the time
available in a year. So the B.Eng may now be the normal and accepted path
towards becoming a so called "engineer", but it is neither the traditional
nor only path towards a high level of competence in an area of practice. Put
bluntly the B.Eng is just like any other commercial product: its dumped into
the market place without any real thought and consideration to its impact.
Occupational degrees are amongst the dumbest inventions ever. Traditionally
people got a science degree, and then they either had the imagination and
ingenuity to make use of that advanced knowledge on the job or not: and it
permitted progress. Now the knowledge base is locked in for a given
occupation, and consequently bring little new perspective to associated
industries. With the degree alone being used to confer status rather than
actual contribution. Most especially here in Australia, where we have a
crazy industrial relations system.
One major problem with the purely academic route to engineer, is that those
who go to school then on to university and then into industry have zero
understanding of the training and capabilities of the other members of the
engineering team. The result is that the so called "engineers" believe that
most of the work actually requires some one with a B.Eng which is just not
so. If they had followed the more traditional path, from shop floor up
through the ranks of the design office, then they would be more fully
conversant with the capabilities of others, and also with their
responsibility to share and pass knowledge onto the next generation of
In Australia we have state and federal industrial awards which define
working conditions and minmum rates of pay, depending on the economy and
markets people can get paid significantly more than the award rates of pay,
but not less. The awards however are defined more in terms of education
rather than actual contribution to the business and job responsibilities.
There are awards for technical officers, professional scientists and
professional engineers. A person with a B.Eng is most likely to get paid
according to the professional engineers award, even if only carrying out
work at the level of a technical officer, and the individual really has no
ability to operate at the level of an engineer. Since engineers typically
get paid more than technical officers, the B.Eng is the better product to
buy out off school than the advanced diploma.
However apparently we still currently have a shortage of engineers. Not
however really true. We have a shortage of technically competent people, and
the university 4 year B.Eng or fast track with summer programme to 3 years,
will not resolve the issue: because graduates are not proficient and we need
the skills now, not 4 years from now.
Now most consultancies I have worked. There are engineering associates (2
year qualified)documenting and largely designing HVAC systems, electrical
systems, and setting out roads and stormwater drainage. But come to the
structural section and anyone who can operate CAD is employed as a drafter:
basic operation of CAD. Using CAD is the only training they have. They have
no concept of true lengths of lines and true shapes of planes, or any other
knowledge of engineering graphics and solving problems on a drawing board.
On top of which they have little understanding of what they are drawing, and
little interest in. The result is drafters sat around waiting for sketches
from engineers, and a great deal of revision to correct errors. Because they
are not drafters they do not know the national drafting standards, they also
have little skill in presentation, and they also are unable to develop
additional views and sections. They need a great deal of supervision by the
would "engineers". But replace these CAD jockeys by one mechanical or
structural engineering associate, and the process efficiency rapidly
increases. The engineering associate can put a structure in the building as
defined by the architects drawings, develop additional sections and details,
roughly size the members using back of envelope calculations. All whilst the
engineer is finishing off the previous project and before they have looked
at the current project. And if the engineering associate was given the
opportunity to do what they were trained to do, then they could produce the
final calculations as well: and as with the engineer with out the need of
computers: but why do it the slow way.
To me an engineer is not defined by the 4 year B.Eng, but by the equivalent
2 year Associate Degree in Engineering Science contained within the B.Eng.
It is this which permits them to learn the breadth of knowledge across
discipline specific areas of practice without restriction of discipline. If
the area of practice is not dependent on the 2 years of Engineering Science,
then the person so practicing is not properly operating at the level of
engineer and to me has no right to the title engineer. The status of real
engineers is diminished by calling all design-scientists or
technical-designers engineers. When an enginering associate can see that the
engineer, is conducting calculations and design tasks well within the domain
of their own education, then the status of engineers is diminished: more so
when the engineers visualisation and design skills are poorer than those of
the engineering associate: so that the only skill the engineer brings to the
project is number crunching: which a computer can do faster and with fewer
If the person in question is a true structural technician, not a drafter,
then they should be able to take simple projects from conception to
implementation without the need for an engineer, except for the imposed
legal requirements for an engineer.
Having failed 2nd year advanced engineering mathematics in B.Eng, and
dropped back to the Associate Diploma Mechanical Engineering, moved onto the
Associate Diploma Business (major Industrial Engineering) and then Bachelor
of Technology in Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering. The issue for me
is: I know that the majority of the structural engineering only requires a
final year structures option in two year associate diploma, so when a
graduate B.Eng Civil cannot do simple structural design I am not impressed.
Want to be employed as an engineer then need to convince me I need an
engineer. Want the title engineer then need to convince me deserve such
title. I have no title, I have an education and either it serves the needs
of clients or it doesn't. And given the abusive comments most clients have
about some engineer, and the rubbish they have supplied, I wouldn't want the
title engineer.
(So all those engineering associates and engineering technologists and
drafters using the title engineer stop. Why associate with professionals who
lack the real competency required. Demonstrate that we do not need the so
called engineers (B.Eng) and that they do not make it happen: and never did.
That the bulk of the work is done by and can be done by engineering
associates: don't need the technologists either.)
In Australia the status of engineers will improve if we have full
articulation under the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF), such that
AQF Certificate I is the starting point and cannot move up to the next level
unless get 80% or more as a pass mark. So all persons with a B.Eng are fully
conversant with the skills of other members of the team because their
education took them through that path. Therefore once on the job they will
know just how relevant their education is to the job, and as employer can
employ people appropriate to the work at hand: rather than on the basis of
professional status irrelevant to the task at hand. Occupations and
porfessionals are something of an hindrance to meeting the needs of society.
The medical profession for example major obstacle to providing effective
and efficient health care. Likewise teachers focussed on improving eduction
by employing more teachers: how? I was under the impression I read the books
and sat the exam's not the teachers. Teachers what did they do other than
get in the way, and waste my time with irrelevant subjects. Lectures take
place because the printing press had not been invented: and one person can
read the book out loud and many people can produce a hand written copy and
go out into the world and as scholars pass that knowledge on: compared to
one person reading the only book available on a topic and producing a single
copy. With the gutenburg and caxton printing presses that ceased to be
necessary and helped spawn the industrial revolution: people reading and
putting knowledge to use, and then writing about it and spreading the
knowledge further and enhancing the knowledge on a topic. But those channels
started getting stifled and clogged up: where are the modern day
phamphleteers like jonathan swift. The internet has provided a new channel
of communication, and better get with the idea that formal academic study
programmes are way slow and contain trite information. Consequently
independent examination boards are going to be of extreme importance in
maintaining the reliiability of established technologies. Examining and
qualifying someone is not the same as wasting their time contending to be
teaching them. For the most part we do not need to be teaching people but
qualifying and recognising the skills people already have beyond their
original education and training: and then permitting them to get on with the
Then there is the matter of business. Who cares whether a person is a
drafter, structural technician, engineer or has another other trite title.
If the person contributes to the reputation of the business and such
reputation generates future work, and the individual contributes signifcant
part of the effort towards completing that work then they should be rewarded
accordingly if intend that they stay. Otherwise they can always leave and
set up business on their own. As I have said in earlier posts, and
reinforced here: what value is the engineer?
80% of projects are trivial, well with in the capabilities of engineering
associates, with out need of a computer, but modern computer software makes
the projects even more trivial. Real engineers, as I started out with,
operate at the frontiers of science and technology, once frontier removed
then the area of practice is brought within the domain of established
science and technology. So that last years engineer is this years
technician. Thus as an individual have status of engineer for removing that
frontier, but those entering into the area are no longer engineers but
technicians. Therefore expect that as technology is developed and evolves
that tasks will shift to persons with more rapid and more specific training.
Engineering consultancies which lack unique and innovative solutions to
problems will ultimately be displaced by computer software implementing
stock standard solutions to routine problems, at high speed with few errors.
Remember that historically the likes of Robert Stephenson sought the
guidance of researchers and mathematicians like Hodgkinson. Mathematics is
important, but it doesn't make a person an engineer. People don't want
pretty pictures of hospitals or pages full of silly numbers they want a
hospital and they wanted it yesterday. Likewise they wanted bridges: people
sought the services of Telford, Brunel and Stephenson to build bridges not
draw pictures. So when engineering is reduced to producing pictures,
crunching numbers and providing inspection and minor supervision of the real
builders: the value of engineers diminishes. Basically incapable of
supplying the whole job. Such division of labour taken to the extremes means
that the drafters and techncians can just call in the engineers, for that
last minute review, assessment and final approval.
It is also important to recognise the difference between a CAD Techncian and
a Structural Technician. The CAD technician needs supervision and guidance
by someone familiar with the technology being designed, such as structures,
the structural technician understands the technology being designed and
calls upon higher qualified persons for assistance.
It is therefore a matter of perspective as to whether have structural
technicians seeking the asssistance of engineers as their projects becoming
increasingly challenging. Or whether have engineers who subdivide complex
projects into simpler units completed by engineering technicians. Either way
can work, and for the most part all persons tend to work on projects which
become increasingly challenging and seek the assistance of more able persons
to assist with completing the project.
As I understand the review of Queensland's engineers registration, there are
a large number of design businesses owned and operated by engineering
associates, but all their work has to be reviewed and approved by registered
engineers. This situation was one of the main reasons for retaining the
registration system. As I see it, not because of protecting the community,
but keeping the local engineers employed, and limiting national
consultancies completing work out off state.
We have a market driven economy, and work will flow to who ever can maximise
the benefit from the available but otherwise limited resources. That is
giving the customer maximum value for money. Market prices are traditionally
set by hours taken, new players start with new technology, and the hours
taken is reduced compared to tradition. Consequently new players can
significantly reduce the price of their services relative to the market
price without any burden: they don't have past commitments to pay off.
If do not keep the rest of the design team happy, so that they percieve they
have an equitable share of the distribution of income, then they have
potential to set up in business on their own and compete against.
Potentially they can grab some 80% of the projects away from you, and
complete 100% off on their own, whilst the remaining 20% only complete 80%
off and require specialist services for the remaining 20%, and the
technician is not likely to look to previous employer for that extra
service. Of course that can grow, just as the contribution of engineers to
architects work has grown.
The community does not care about architects and engineers, nor about the
difference between engineers and technicians (only the wanabee engineers
care). All the community cares about is businesses which provide them with
the goods and services they desire, in the right condition, at the right
price, at the right time, at the right place. If technicians can supply then
the community with buy from. Engineers can then bleet all they like about
the welfare and saftety of the community: but they need to show engineers
get it right 100% of the time all the time, when arguing techncians are
responsible for failures which some engineers wouldn't make. That is not
possible because many design failures can be demonstrated to be caused by
engineers who are less than competent design technicians.
So treat technicians with more respect. Differentiate between CAD,
Computer, and engineering technician. Properly describe the work which has
to be carried out by the business and determine who is able to contribute to
which tasks and how and to what extent. May find out that your specific
business and the services it provides are not quite so dependent on
engineers as thought. If that is the case then with rapid development of
software and other technologies, likely to find an increasing loss of work
to alternative suppliers: and the licensing system will only sustain some
Put simply if do not have ingenuity and cannot assist architects turn crazy
dreams into reality, and not otherwise specialised in advanced analyis and
mathematics: then time is running out for many individuals practising as
engineers. In a more traditional environment I would hit an obstacle and
turn to an engineer for assistance for more complex analysis. But why would
I pay an engineer to push numbers through a computer program, a program I
can equally well operate and understand the limitations of. Put simply with
the engineer it is still my responsibility to decide whether the engineer
knows what they are doing, and to decide whether to scrap their results or
adopt. Still in control of the design, and don't go around adopting results
of mathematical models because suggests original approach too conservative.
May adjust if suggests original approach unconservative. At the end of the
day however only physical testing of prototypes provides a high level of
confidence and certainty: the mathematical models simply provide a guide
focused on critical characteritsics through the maze of infinite
possibilities. And bridges and buildings tend to be untested, unvalidated
real world experiments placing peoples lives at risk. So high level of
competence in the established science and technology is required. Now what
was that trivial 30 hours complaining about earlier.
And what about succession planning. Wouldn't it be better to develop and
promote experienced structural technicians to EIT's and onto engineers, than
to have inexperienced graduates as EIT's, who eventually become engineers?
Where is 80% of the work in the enterprise? Much of the drafting and number
crunching can now be automated? Thus major contribution to projects is
insight and qualitative understanding, inspection and supervision: rather
than ability to work through the mathematics. The number out off the formula
is not so important as the relationship between the characteristics modelled
by the formula: knowing which parameter to change to achieve the design
Knowing where we are going is the important issue. Engineers are characters
from history. The future requires highly skilled and competent techncians
fully conversant with the established science and technology, they may
require the educational content of a B.Eng, but to call them engineers is
not appropriate. Further more, whilst 4 years may have been required for
past knowledge base of engineers, potential exists to significantly reduce
the time frame required, thus a 4 year B.Eng could contain vastly more
knowledge in the future. Or the future graduate with a 2 year associate
degree may know the same as a past graduate with a 4 year B.Eng: because
technology makes it so. If the books don't exist then cannot read them, and
a technology not written about is less than established.
Society is dynamic and adaptive: it seeks to maximise the benefit obtained
from available and otherwise limited resources. Unfortunately the social
pyschology associated with the formation of professions tends to counter
that which is in the best interests of society if it diminishes the status
of the profession. Consequently health care and education systems are less
than desired. Likewise there are far more failures of engineered systems
than desired. And the total mess in the form of our cities created by
architects, town planners and civil engineers: whilst we criticise the mess
as a community, we seldom point the figure of responsibility at the so
called qualified professionals. After all their learned response would be:
"what would you know?". Well we know those with the qualifications don't
know any better. Politicians don't help either. Building a mega hospital in
the centre of the city gains status and prestige, whilst many smaller local
community hospitals in rural areas where really needed does not gain status.
Issues of status taking precedence over real need. Employing engineers gives
status to company, employing technicians does not. But what does the
business really need to sustain its operations in the long term? Technicians
slowly gaining experience and moving towards status of highly experienced
and competent engineer, or EIT's rapidly progressing to engineer and making
huge mistakes.
The current technicians may be the future of your business, the ones who
have the memory and experience to avoid future mistakes when the senior
engineers retire: important if company funding their retirement. Members of
a team have synergy and work in harmony not conflict. If drafters are
treated as lowly unimportant members of the team, then there is no reason
for them to have respect for engineers. Each member of the team has to
demonstrate the importance of their contribution to the whole. Each member
may be able to go it alone, but the team provides benefits. Synergy: two
people need less resources than two times one person, two people working in
harmony have greater output than two times one person. It is important to
build the team, and this long standing rift between engineers and others who
can carry out similar work to lesser or greater extent is not beneficial to
a productive team effort, nor to the long term success of a business. We
need to employ people who can do the job which needs doing, and compensate
them accordingly, not according to some concept of profession and the reward
perceived as being owed to such profession.
Sorry! From childhood I knew what architects and engineers did, and if they
were trained to do such things, then clearly what they were being taught was
nonsense. My prime interest is the process of design, and from papers I have
read the typical indication is that engineers are poor at design. If a
talented drafter can fill that gap, then they are an important member of the
engineering team: and just as the drafter needs recognise their own
limitations so does the engineer. And the engineer better be certain about
what they themselves contribute to the team. Placing mathematics on a
pedestal is not helpful, and skill with mathematics is really of limited
value. National decline with skills in mathematics is not a major issue, the
nations weren't built on such skills in the first place. As long as have
qualitative understanding of the mathematical models skill crunching the
numbers through the models not all that important: computers can do the
crunching: if really need to keep doing the same structural calculations
over and over again to confirm what we already knew on the previous hundred
or more projects.
Do not have engineers carrying out work that can be competently carried out
by technicians, make sure engineers are doing the work only they are able to
do. Better to have a competent technician who likes their work than an EIT
who would rather be doing something more complex: what 4 years of study to
do this trivia, don't you do any real engineering, where are the real
projects. The EIT likely to move on to find more interesting and challenging
work, but the technician will remain if operating at their potential and
fairly compensated.

Conrad Harrison
B.Tech (mfg & mech), MIIE, gradTIEAust
South Australia