Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eliminating "Engineer" and "Engineering" from my Vocabulary

Been reading the discussions taking place on the Engineers Australia LinkedIN group, most seem  to be focused on either:

1) The status and recognition of Engineers
2) Recognition and accreditation of foreign qualifications

Seems mutual recognition agreements haven't improved mobility much. As for status and recognition I think they are highly confused people. Edward de Bono apparently did an experiment in which he hypnotised someone and asked them to draw a square circle: the person got really stressed and frustrated. So called professional engineers seem to be in a similar state, not really knowing what they want.

The english language is highly dynamic, with the meanings of words under going subtle changes through the use of metaphor, analogy and poetry., with the passage of time the most commonly accepted meaning of a word can change significantly from its original meaning. Professional engineers, want to be the guardians of the words "engineer" and "engineering" and only permit the meanings which they define and redefine as they please from time to time. For these engineers: engineering is what engineers do. Anybody else who does what an engineer does, but does not meet the specification of an engineer, then what that person is doing, is not engineering.

The other issue is that the institutions and societies which represent engineers, typically have promotional campaigns which are misleading about what engineers do, and completely ignore the multitude of other people involved with planning, design and management, such as: architects, industrial designers, surveyors, quantity surveyors, building surveyors, applied scientists, industrial and applied mathematicians, and industrial managers, just to name a few.

A civil engineer maybe able to use a theodolite and measure or set out a site, but a licensed surveyor is required to identify property boundaries. A civil engineer may study building structures, but that doesn't make them a structural engineer. A structural engineer may be competent at analysis and design of pinned and braced structures or diaphragm boxes, but it doesn't mean they can analyse cable-nets or tension membranes. A structural engineer may be competent at designing steel reinforced concrete but that doesn't mean they can design aluminium or glass structures. Similarly structural engineers may be competent with statics but not with vibration and structural dynamics. The knowledge base is immense.

Unfortunately many of todays graduates and employers are confused and believe that a university degree contains the knowledge required for the job. It doesn't, it contains the fundamentals necessary to be able to learn the specifics of the job: a great deal of additional self-study is required to do the job. For example at university study the basics of strength and stability of materials, but then have to learn the specific requirements and approaches of different materials codes. The steel (AS4100) and cold-formed steel (AS4600) structures codes are in the main similar, but the differences make the cold-formed steel structures code more time consuming and difficult to use. To further compound the difference most designing steel structures to AS4100, use simple look up tables, known as design capacity tables (DCT's), thus avoiding the need for detailed calculations. Those designing coldformed steel (AS4600) structures have to do the calculations. Additionally as start to push the materials to their limits need to review and expand studies and understanding of the strength and stabilities of materials. This can be achieved by returning to university to study for higherlevel academic awards, or by self-learning. Given that don't get personal tuition at most universities, and the student has to do the work, and university is about passing exam's not getting the job done, most such additional learning has traditionally taken place on and off the job. Engineers and others spend late nights trying to solve problems or just understand the behaviour of a physical system.

However as society gets more complex and integrated, then inconvenience to others, hazards and public safety start to become issues. The community starts to specify minimum education requirements and academic awards, impose examination, registration and licensing, in an attempt to control quality and public safety. This however leads to confusion and contradictory perceptions. If engineers are the leaders and innovators, then when looking at the review manuals and examination requirements for the USA Fundamentals of engineering exam (FE/exam) and the professional engineers practice exam (PE/exam) administered by NCEES is this licensing exam truly for engineers or design technicians? Is it really possible to test engineering ability or only ability to apply Technical Science? What is this engineering thing?

Further more whilst the FE/PE exams provides a far better assessment of technical competence than writing career episode reports and work practice reports, and a more detailed assessment than the part 3 examination of the IStructE, it still is not a good enough check on technical competence. The work practice report idea is based on identifying competences so generic that they could apply to anyone in any job, and as a complete collection, potentially apply to no one at all. But still they provide the flexibility to qualify a person as an engineer, engineering technologist or engineering associate, irrespective of what the individuals actual job function and career path involves: it makes no prior judgment of the technical knowledge used on the job. The latter flexibility is also its flaw. A person maybe good at delegating but otherwise actually hopeless at design. Good at concrete design but should be kept away from welded aluminium. Problem is, that writing a work practice report, hasn't actually tested if the person is good at concrete design: because the generic competences do not deal with the specifics: that is where the FE/PE exams make a better assessment.

Engineers are the only people I know who think engineers drive trains, or fix plumbing. As far as I know the population at large think engineers : "do the numbers" and are good with mathematics. Still not a good picture for an engineer.

So heres the thing. Engineer sounds like engine. The first trains, were steam engines on wheels, and designed and built, maintained, operated and tamed by the one and same person, and characters like Casey Jones do not equate to simply being a driver. If a person calls themselves an engineer, then its likely to bring to mind engine, and from there something to do with engines: trains and cars.

But if say structural engineer, chemical engineer, electrical engineer, then it does not immediately bring to mind engine. Since no engineer is technically competent across all disciplines, nor in depth within a discipline, no engineer should be lazily referring to themselves as engineer. Do that then expect to be equated to a train driver and get poor recognition. Engines and engineer go together, if want to differentiate then do so. Do not insist on incorporated engineers and engineering technologists as not being engineers, and then leave engineering discipline out when referring to oneself as an engineer. Further more in terms of identifying the technical competence that the community needs to hire an engineer the major discipline alone is simply not good enough.

Since engineers complain of lack of recognition and acknowledgement, then dropping the use of the word from our common language shouldn't be a problem, its not being used anyway apparently. If we don't have engineers then no engineering can be taking place. Will modern industrial society collapse? No it won't because we are simply arguing semantics.

From this point forward as far as is practical the words "engineer", "engineered" and "engineering" are to be eliminated from the language associated with the planning, design, management, application and adaptation of established technology.

Determining the size of a beam is not engineering it is technical design. Determining the size of a mechanical drive shaft, not engineering design but technical design. Want the flow of water in a pipe network, that is technical analysis, sizing and selecting a suitable pump : technical design. In the future there will be technical planning, technical design, technical analysis , technical science, and technical management. Further more persons qualified in the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) from level 6 down have the potential to carry out such work. To implement legislation which requires and restricts to AQF level 8 upwards is unacceptable.

There should be far greater enforcement of increase depth as go from one AQF level to the next, breadth should restricted to the same level. There should also be distinction between enabling knowledge and competence, from required competence and proficiency. Just because a person knows something and is able to perform a task does not mean they are suited for employment in such activity. We don't train everyone that can run for the olympics.

Similarly not everyone able to do a job is suited to the job: business is a real world experiment and a competition for survival. To survive need to be flexible, multiskilled and adaptable. Things get designed once and can be made many times, so typically far more work available for producers than for designers. But products and technolgical systems have life cycles and therefore become obsolete, so need to come up with new innovative ideas to keep occupied as producer. So if only partially innovative only going to be in role of designer for short time frame, and will after design over, need to be producer for greater portion of time.

Given 95% of businesses are small business, then as owner/operator going to be doing everything: chief cook and bottle washer. Aiming for the top level of the AQF does not bring job security, it may be something interesting and challenging to do, but it does not meet the needs of industry or the individual need for survival. Survival requires breadth.

The problem is whether educational institutions impose a requirement to study breadth sequentially or permit it in parallel. For example is it permitted to study business and technical science at the same time or is it required to decide which to study first? If they are combined in a single award what is it called: does the name of the award hide the content and cause confusion?

There is benefit in keeping science, mathematics and technology as separate streams and awards. With occupational and professional qualifications kept separate from the generic knowledge. For example a degree in engineering hides content such as: mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science, and the technology covered.

Historically people studied the arts and sciences then went into industry, if they were innovative they put it to use. In the modern world there is a focus on needing a degree in engineering, but at the same time someone with such degree would be excluded from a job position in industrial mathematics. To truly retain flexibility occupational titles are not helpful in academic awards: there is need to differentiate between the learning and the job qualification.

A degree in economics, business or accounting is not helpful if it hides an equivalent diploma in applied mathematics. When the economy changes, the starting point from a diploma in applied mathematics is more flexible than that from a degree in accounting: there are more pathways from which to move forward.

By starting at AQF level 1 and moving along generic streams the articulation requirements of the framework are better met. Qualification requirements for occupations and professions can be met by independent national and international qualification boards, along with training institutions which provide for the development of proficiency independent of learning institutions. The issue is that most modern degrees contain breadth not depth, and also lack the synergy which makes a whole out of the component parts. When jobs are in short supply it doesn't really matter, the education is to keep people of the streets, not train for employment. But when there is a mining and construction boom, or other up turn in the economy it is not sensible to be declaring shortages and educating for breadth when the work typically requires specialisation. For example someone educated at AQF-6 is capable of designing the typical concrete structure it is not necessary to educate to AQF-8 or increasingly to AQF-9 to do the job. So whilst AQF-9 may be increasingly the requirement to join the profession of engineer, it is not engineer that is required to do the job: unless there is some silly grab for work legislation been permitted to be put in place.

By removing the word engineering, from engineering associate and engineering technologist, and not describing the work as engineering, it is possible to reduce confusion that the work is engineering and therefore requires an engineer, and where there is no restrictive legislation it can deter such being implemented. Secondly if legislation does exist and if professional engineer is poorly defined as a unique entity, which it usually is, and technical competence is not properly assessed, then others can step in and set the required levels of technical competence.

With respect to the FE/PE exams in the USA, there is relatively clear definition of engineering, and also restrictive legislation. However where such legislation and licensing dominates there is little innovation: innovation tends to occur where the industry exemptions are in place. Engineering may be what they choose to call the content of these eaminations, but is it really engineering? There is need for technical science at many different levels and in a variety of areas. The depth and breadth of the PE exam may be the requirement for an engineer: but others don't need the same depth and breadth. Others may be carrying out the same task but that doesn't make it engineering, and just because its done by an engineer doesn't make it engineering.

As I have mentioned many times previously: last years engineer is this years technician. So that which was engineering last year is not engineering this year. It is professional engineers who keep increasing the required duration of education and inventing alternative names for people with less duration of education. It is professional engineers dictating the terms and setting the agenda, I am simply following through with that which they are imposing on others.

Cannot draw square circles. If it is not engineering when carried out by others it is not engineering when carried out by engineers. Therefore there is little that is unique to engineering, and thus little need for engineering, but there is a great deal of need for the application of technical science.

What does pre-engineered mean? If engineers are commonly percieved as the ones who do the numbers, then as far as the public is concerned pre-engineered simply means the numbers have been done. Since fitness-for-function is dependent on qualitative characteristics as well as quantitative characteristics, then something that is pre-engineered is not fully designed. Design however is increasingly perceived as non-functional, so something pre-designed may be pretty but fall apart the first time it is used.

One of the main uses of "pre-engineered" is in respect to buildings such as:

1) Pre-engineered metal building systems (PMBS)
2) Pre-engineered metal building (PEMB), or manufactured buildings

If something is pre-engineered then the inference is that the engineer's needed input has been provided already. Elsewhere I have indicated that engineering takes place at the frontiers of science and technology, once the science and technology has been established then the engineering is over. Hence the engineers needed input has been provided and the engineers continued input is no longer necessary. Further application and adaptation is a matter of technical design. All established technology is effectively pre-engineered. That something is custom engineered by an engineer is largely irrelevant if it is based on a variant of a generic and established technology. Engineered and pre-engineered are basically irrelevant terms, no replacement words required, simply don't use them, or accept where already used, and avoid introducing any additional terms.

Also in reference to pre-engineered there is failure to differentiate between end-products, systems and installations. Typically the building system is pre-engineered, but the specific assembly of components is not pre-engineered, nor is the anchorage and installation on site. Consequently PMBS/PEMB still require much technical analysis and design before regulatory approval for building can be granted. So better to simply refer to building system. We don't refer to bolts as pre-engineered so why refer to larger more complex assemblies as pre-engineered?

Also if engineering is at the frontiers of science and technology, it does not do well to advertise product as engineered, for it tends to suggest experimental and that the science and technology is not yet proven nor established. That is "engineered" should have negative connotations for the product, not positive. Thus engineered means there are potential hazards not yet identified and designed for. No matter how much testing occurs before released to the environment, the technology is still a real world experiment. Established technologies are still real world experiments with inherent hazards, however the risk of experiencing the hazards has been minimised.

Calling something "engineered" detracts from its value rather than enhances it, so don't call it so. If something was designed scientifically, and such design-science was not provided by an engineer, then don't call it "engineering". If its called engineering then professional engineers may claim exclusive right to do such work, and get legislation introduced to restict practice to engineers and otherwise make a grab for work. Do not provide professional engineers with opportunity to claim credit for that which they have not done. If you do not match the professional engineers technical specification for an engineer, do not call yourself an "engineer", you are simply giving credit to an elitist class of people who are not actually doing the work.

Do not use titles like incorporated engineer, engineering technologist, engineering associate/officer, engineering technician. If not engineers and not doing engineering, then by using such terms invented by the professional engineers, credit is being given to the persons who did not do the work. Do not use terms which the public are likely to abbreviate, adding to the confusion.
If tools and techniques are used, even though abstract and analytical, it is still the generic work attributed to a technician.

There is no need for job titles, occupational classification or profession, such are relatively modern inventions resulting from a high division of labour in industrial society. In more ancients times we were all hunter/gatherers then subsistence farmers. In modern industrial society where we have no direct access to food and water, we are trading enterprises trying to exchange what we have for what we need. We are effectively all businesses, and every employee is a microbusiness.

And for those against national identity numbers, it is the compilation of the doomsday book for taxation purposes which basically gave us our surnames: taylor, blacksmith, arrowsmith, waters, farmer. We have already been classified by occupation. Further more what one person can do a group can do, and what a group can do a single person can do to a limited extent.

Buckminster Fuller suggested there are craft tools and industrial tools. Craft tools are those made by one person working alone. Industrial tools require a team. WIth industrialisation and capitalist competition, the concept of having society on a national or even city scale is some what questionable. True society is some what limited to family, business or other small group. What a person needs to contribute to a group can change at any time, and certain tasks need to be shared and/or taken in turns (eg. handling garbage). Occupational classification even at the professional level is still extremely limiting and based on an inadequate knowledge base. Continuous professional development is just continuous learning, and with respect to the industrial landscape it should produce a significant level of commonality after several years. Job titles and job specifications typically fail to reflect the true nature and synergy required for the job. Employers typically write job specifications on the basis of a limited knowledge and understanding of the last person who held the job, and they typically fail to find the right person. So stick to own name rather than adopting a job title or seeking after a job title.

It is also typical advise to use own name in a registered business name whilst this is beneficial for a sole practitioner it can become problematic for: an employing organisation and partnerships. It is also not advisable to have the name of the service or product supplied in the business name: a name should be relatively simple and have no particular meaning other than as a unique identifier. The activities of a business enterprise expand, contract and change with the passage of time. Some modern businesses now have abreviations which are considered names in their own right and no longer have the original meaning due to the diversification of the businesses (eg IBM, ASTM international). There is also another issue with business names, and that is cannot register a generic name which would prevent others from naming te type of business they are in, which results in some strange things. For example a business that sells apples cannot call itself Apple, but a business that makes computers can. So as previously mentioned, every employee is a micro business, as such better for the individual to get credit for the work than the occupational group. If the occupational group is credited for the work, then any member in the group can be replaced by any other. However there is a need to balance individuality with the needs of the larger group forming the business which the individual works for. Clearly it is easier to provide loyalty to a group formed for the benefit of the members, rather than the benefit for some other group. Business, competition, survival: forget about professions they are too limited and an obsolete invention.