Sunday, August 12, 2012

Moving forward with Associate Technologists #pt1

The idea of renaming engineering associate/officers to Associate Technologists is starting to grow on me. It fits with my previously stated objective of removing the words engineer and engineering from my vocabulary. I've not checked but not aware of it being used elsewhere. Though I have always had objections to the use of the term engineering technologist. To me technologist is someone who studies the relationship between technology and humanity: both geographically and historically. Such discipline emerged because engineers, whether fabricators or designers have and continue to play scant regard to the impact of technology on our world. Engineers have low status primarily because they do not serve a higher ethic, rather they serve their capitalist and/or war mongering masters. They generate pollution and weapons of mass destruction. Our cities don't so much as provide freedom, but a a prison make. Drones in a hive. So using the word "technologist" to refer to these crunchers of numbers, drafters of pictures, and writers of reports seems diminishing to the discipline even if qualified by tacking engineering on the front. However I want to drop the prefix engineering, and never refer to engineer or engineering.

Most things on the internet relate technology to computers and the internet and related hardware and software. It is technology that people have genrally been concerned with. The Luddites arose because of technology: machines and automation. It is technology that people seek to solve a variety of problems, it is technology that modern society is built on. Engineering is a process and technology is the result. Since I spend my time dealing with products for which there was no techno-scientific input, my interest is getting people to seek the appropriate people for assistance in the first place. It is typically easier to design something to be compliant than to prove some existing thing is compliant. The problem with things that are merely built, is that they are built for a limited purpose, and that purpose they typically fullfill. However societies mandated performance requirements extend beyond the limited purpose. Often societies wants are unwarranted and it is necessary for persons to take the gatekeepers to task and get them to justify their position.

Take building control, or more generally development approval as we call it here in South Australia. Most buildings are designed by:

1) Owner-Builders
2) Builders
3) Building Designers
4) Plan Drafters

Or to be more strictly correct the buildings are ultimately designed by:

1) Building Surveyors
2) Building Survey Technicians
3) Other building officials employed by councils.

This latter situation is not the intent of the development act, but it is what most happens in practice. The first group of people don't really design anything, they simply attempt to describe what they want and propose to do, or often what they have already done. The people in the first group do not defend their proposals, they do not declare they have deliberately attempted to comply with codes of practice and good design practice. Rather they bounce their proposals back and forth to council, basically asking: "tell me what you want, what do I have to do to get approval?". Since the building officials are not in the role of designer, and strictly speaking they loose status as an independent approving authority if they give design advice. The result is that the building officials don't consider all issues when supplying advice and guidance. If the building official hasn't assessed everything then after changes are made other faults will arise with the proposal. The result the proposal will get bounced back and forth until everyone gets tired and the thing reaches near full compliance. That is to say if the proposal was passed onto someone else and they assess it with a fresh mind they are likely to find other faults. It is also the case that the documentation produced by those in the first group is also relatively poor, it has thus been pointed out that often the primary reason that the councils ask for engineers reports is that there is a good chance that they get some decent drawings. Doesn't always work though, and the engineers just produce calcs-for-council. It is also the case that cannot send the people away to get architects drawings, or drawings produced by a decent drafter. So it becomes a matter of individual choice as to whether decent drawings and written specifications are really needed.

Some builders produce excellent drawings, and they do so, because it is helpful to go through the process of construction on paper before tackling the job for real. So getting someone else to draw it up, defeats the purpose. Unfortunately the majority of the industry sees drawings as unnecessary paperwork.
Builders have turned up at the office, and they have said they just want calcs-for-council, its just a matter of the span, 90% of the time they get approval with out problems. I ask if their carpenters often have to stop part way through construction and buy additional materials. The response is usually yes. Thats when I start drawing extra structural members on their plans, and section lines and start asking about details. Connection details for which they cannot provide any answers. Responses tend to be industry standard practice. My response is everyone one I ask, does things differently. They say something like to the code, I say the code has about 100 different details, which one do they use. Rule one: never ask what they do by offering options. What ever you say that will be what they do. It's necessary to get them to commit to and say what they do.

These businesses would save themselves and everyone else a great deal of hassle if they employed people with a formal techno-scientific education on their staffs. They don't want engineers, and they don't really need engineers, engineers are likely to get bored to death. Its the same with the technical, and engineering software companies.Most businesses which may benefit from the software have the software, and the software they currently have works just fine they have no desire to upgrade. Most other businesses which may benefit from the technology in the software, don't want the current offerings. For example there are still people producing architectural and engineering drawings by hand. Freehand workshop details tend to be more readable than scale drawings. The objective is not to produce a virtual reality but communicate an idea to be transformed into reality. Scale drawings can be a good check on the dimensional fit, but tradition more based on arithmetic, bringing together dimensions from large scale drawings with details from small scale drawings. CADD can do this arithmetic and drawing at the same time, but can otherwise be a hindrance to good communication. Additionally CADD can take longer than producing a simple freehand sketch. So there are people who are not using drawing boards and drawing instruments, so moving over to CADD not a high priority.

But are timber estimators fully covering all the requirements needed for a structurally adequate timber framed house? Can the house dreamed up actually be built? Who is checking such things? Its not the building officials. Development approval is not about whether it can be built or not. If development approval wasn't there people would just go ahead and build. Being able to build the thing is the building proponents problem. Development approval is concerned about whether it should be permitted to exist in the built environment and will it present a hazard or inconvenience to the public. Put simply approval can be granted for the impossible as well as the impractical. So that have the situation that builders contract to build the impossible, and carpenters subcontract to build the impossible. Halfway through construction it will become apparent to the carpenter whilst stuck up a roof that the building cannot be built. That is the wrong time to conclude such things. The whole point of techno-scientific training is to avoid such problems by planning and design.

When the 1993 development act came into being, most councils stopped their official building inspections. A few years later a recommendation of 20% of development applications approved should be inspected, and irrespective of reached the 20% or not significant developments should be inspected. Last year the recommendation was changed to 66% for those involving a licensed builder, and 90% for those not involving a licensed builder. It thus basically confirming the inspectors view at the time of the new act that problems would arise if checks weren't made.

I disagree. Its the QC versus QA issue. Quality Control (QC) is permitting defects and then filtering them out and resolving issues associated with. Basically QC is closing the gate after the horse has bolted. Quality Assurance (QA) on the other hand is about attempting to avoid the problem in the first place, it is built around designing quality in. When the 1993 development act was introduced there were attempts to introduce QA ideas, but it was resisted and didn't really happen. The ideas however were flawed and based on ISO:9000. The ideas were based on too much paper shuffling and collection of signatures. Signatures collected to allocate blame. There was a mismatch between responsiblility and authority. Such is not acceptable in a true QA system.

For example I have no authority to go on site and ensure my design is complied with, further more contractual relationships are typically a screw up. Builder typically requests the work, but invoice is typically to a person never seen, the future owner. Gets more complicated with manufacturers. Then there are supermarkets who want to impose discounts, and have consultants sign same suppliers contract as spud farmers and the like. There are those who think they have something worthy of a patent and want consultants to sign intellectual property agreements before they discuss anything: basically tell them to clear off.

The basic issue however is that the owners typically don't want to pay for what regulations have mandated. For example if build a carport typically require a rain water tank (I cannot remember whether its retention or detention). Anycase the documentation is approved on basis of it going in. But the carport builders don't supply or install. It is left to the owners to install the rainwater tank, and most don't. If downpipe draining to garden probably not an issue, if draining to street then an issue. The whole purpose is to slow stormwater to the street mains, because it isn't large enough for the current style of housing. When the stormwater mains were installed large gardens were the trend, now much larger houses with paved outdoor living areas is the trend. So the water has to be retained on site until after the storm is over and then slowly released to the stormwater mains: and so reducing local flooding.

Similar situation is the required strengthening of the existing house structure prior to attaching a carport. The carport builders sell a carport, submit building approval plans, get a request for further information, obtains engineering for strengthening the house. Then as far as I know they go ahead as usual, because the cost of strengthening the house was not involved in the original contract fee, further they've never had to do so in the past. But then they were building smaller carports and it was being ignored. Basically the owner is constantly placed in the position of owner-builder, and left responsible for the complete construction. Strengthening the house is cumbersome and consequently labour expensive. It can add a significant delay before the carport/verandah can be built, and a huge additional fee. People just want the carport/verandah, thats all they want to pay for, all they do pay for, and all they get.

The newly imposed inspections are largely because of roof truss failures. Roof trusses are a problem when it comes to original design, and installation as well as future modifications. However it is not really check lists and inspections which are required to bring about improvements. It was not the loss of the official building inspectors and their inspections that was and is the problem. I contend the problem is poor demarcation of authority and responsibility. There is too much division of labour and coordination is poor.

What we need is proper planning, design and management of this established technology. I contend that this does not require pushing to the higher levels of the Australian qualification framework (AQF), but multiskilling at the level of AQF-6 [Advanced Diploma or Associate Degree]. I contend that AQF-6 down meets the fundamental needs of industry and society, that AQF-7 upwards meets higher personal needs and are not necessary to society. Most occupational awards contain breadth of knowledge, rising in levels of the AQF should increase depth of knowledge, and that should be clear within a given body of knowledge. Depth of knowledge is currently poorly defined. But breath of knowledge is relatively clear and apparent to everyone.

So for example I contend that if a B.Eng in civil engineering and a B.Eng in mechanical engineering both produce engineers, then the common title can only come from a common core and that common core is a 1 year diploma in engineering science or a 2 year Associate Degree in engineering science. If we look at the NCEES FE/PE exams, it becomes apparent that most engineering disciplines are defined by 5 major areas of practice. At present at most, B.Eng programmes only have a single common year. That leaves 3 years out of 4, to cover 5 major areas of practice, and discipline specific depth of the fundamentals of engineering. That is a total of 6 streams in 3 years, or one half a year per stream.

Therefore a 2 year Associate Degree programme can be defined by 1 year of Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and 1/2 year FE discipline specific depth, and 1/2 year for single area of practice. It should be noted that most graduates once employed tend to concentrate on a single area of practice, and otherwise have difficulty moving over to another area of practice.  A fundamental principle of the AQF is mobility and articulation from one occupation to another as the needs of the economy require. So whilst the B.Eng may provide some mobility at start of career, it otherwise is no help in the future. More appropriate organisation of the body of knowledge will achieve better mobility throughout a persons career. So go for the B.Eng if interested in profession, but don't go giving me a hard time telling me rubbish about who is best qualified for the job. The B.Eng doesn't have anything to do with the job, it is too general, and a great deal of additional knowledge is required to actually perform the job properly. This additional knowledge can be presented in shorter academic programmes, simply by changing the scheduling of subjects. Persons with a B.Eng in civil engineering do not spend 4 years studying structures. Further more they have limited to no architectural and building knowledge, hindering their communications with others in the industry. Put simply they are not trained for the industry but for their profession. But the professional bodies are increasingly failing to provide the additional training required to meet the needs of their associated industries. The same applies to B.Eng mechanical, and electrical who also enter the building industry. More so if consider that many mechanical are petrol heads, car freaks, but end up working in HVAC, putting huge holes in building structures. Why? One because they forgot all about mechanics, and secondly because they would rather be somewhere else and are not paying attention.

The problem with occupational degrees is that educating people, and then they cannot get a job putting that knowledge to work: either the job lacks breadth or it lacks depth. Or the job simply lacks the resources to get motivated and make things happen: everything becomes a series of political and economical obstacles and no real power to resolve. So I say scrap the occupational degrees, have the higher degrees but don't relate them to occupations, and have higher standards for passing. Don't repeat the habit of the past and say the degree is required to do the job. It isn't, degrees have never been necessary to do the job: that is lazy human resource management. Minimum knowledge is required to do the job along with ability to apply such knowledge. The mistake of the past is assuming that university graduates can all make significant improvements where they are employed: then distorting those academic programmes to a standardised knowledgebase to fit the industry. That is taking a bad idea, ensuring the next generation is fully conversant with it and advocate for, and then flooding the industry with it. Then wondering what went wrong. The traditional graduates with their degrees brought improvements precisely because they weren't trained for the industry but were conversant with the industry. They introduced fresh ideas, rather than sustaining and spreading stagnant ideas.

Tradition was starting in industry and moving into education, night school was important. The original associate diploma programmes for engineering associates were 4 year part time programmes (2 year fulltime equivalent), with most studies scheduled in the evenings, with may be the odd subject requiring day release from work. People were working and developing proficiency, competency and confidence, and the studies of increasing relevance as they found use for them at work, and took on more challenging projects.

But economic down turns, and high levels of unemployment resulted in people staying at school longer and moving onto higher education, getting a degree has basically become an expected norm. But its not good because the scheduling of the academic programmes is all out of whack with the needs of society and industry. We need to get competent people into industry fast, and fast tracking B.Eng to 3 years through summer programmes is the wrong way to do it. Trades people who later get a B.Eng are generally better practical engineers than those who went straight from school. By practical engineers, I mean that what they design can be built, and built safely. They have a better understanding of workers on the factory floor and the construction site, because they have been there. The school leaver engineers tend to focus more on the analysis and mathematics, not the real engineering, unless their education had a bias on manufacturing and construction, and the problems of "over-the-wall-design".

A principle of QA is that the journey is more important than the destination. I want the journey to engineer to be long, and of high quality. So my preference is stepping through AQF levels 1 to 6, and spending significant time there before moving upto levels 7 and 8.

Articulation requires definable common cores preferably in terms of other AQF awards, therefore the first common year of the B.Eng programme would be a 1 year AQF-5 Diploma in Engineering Science, and this itself should be broken down into lower level AQF awards. Also the 2 year programme described above contained all the engineering science, but only a single area of practice. A single area of practice does not require the entire breadth of engineering science. So an alternative 2 year programme can be defined adding more engineering practice and deleting unnecessary engineering science. Thus end up with multiple pathways, a plethora of qualifications some have suggested. The latter is not intended nor desirable, however one qualification contending to be covering everything is also not desirable.

Where we have established technologies it is necessary to develop and sustain an established body of knowledge. The B.Eng lacks adequate coverage of engineering practice, and Masters of Engineering Practice only add to diminishing the value of masters degrees. A 2 year programme can stick to the subject matter and contain more engineering practice material. So a 2 year Associate Degree in Structural Design can focus on the most common structural forms likely to be encountered: and cover architectural and building as necessary. Such qualifications can be quickly adapted to meet the needs of specific industry sectors.

First collapse to 1 year AQF diploma of structural design, from there it can be extended to an AQF advanced diploma to meet a single or multiple industry needs. For example there is the balustrade industry, industrial racking industry, precast concrete industry. Few of these industries require full time structural engineers, and often they rely on external consultants. The businesses would be far better of if they employed techno-scientific personnel on staff in the form of Associate Technologists, that way when they do call upon external consultants they get higher quality services. Basically many of these businesses hold standard calculations, reports and certificates in a form which is basically chaos.

Associate Technologists would help to bring order to the chaos, reduce delays when interacting with regulating authorities, and more importantly actually defend the product. As I stated above much of what is imposed by regulatory authorities is unwarranted, many simply impose the rules with no knowledge of origin and intent of the rules. Sometimes this is good, other times it is the cause of hazard and inconvenience. Plan drafters simply complying results in bad design. The Associate Technologists can defend their design.

The current argument of the engineers is about being smarter and more intelligent or something. But that is not the real issue. The issue is having the right knowledge about the established technologies. It is about following established procedures for assessing expected performance of those established technologies and achieving it in practice.

Achieving the necessary competence, requires supervision under the right people, if the right people have never been established in the work place, then it is necessary to provide greater level of formal academic training to achieve the desired outcome. Given the basic AQF awards describe foundational knowledge and enabling competence, an additional AQF certificate of practice is therefore required to cover recognition of having acquired a few hundred hours of practice in a given area. For example an entire year spent working on realistic project work, only instead of it being sent to regulatory officials for approval, it is instead sent to academic supervisors who carry out more rigorous assessment than real officials. The purpose of the academic system should be to improve what is in the world outside and foster higher discipline in action taken.

Degrees were equated to higher pay, and everyone was basically pushed to get a degree to get a better job, government couldn't afford such education and so education was largely commercialised. But it was nonsense, higher pay comes from good fortune in the market place: being in the right place at the right time with the right product in thr right condition, at the right price. Chances are your occupational degree is a product that doesn't meet any of these requirements: and as a graduate you are left with nothing to sell. It was never the degree it was always what the individual could and can do with knowledge learnt. So until learnt something that you can do something unique with, you haven't learnt the right thing.

So my interest is bashing the tree of knowledge or better described as the web of knowledge around, to create alternative programmes and schedules. For both are a matter of subjective opinion. Educated here and there, I know that teachers tend to talk rubbish about what you can learn and when: their views are biased by local schedules not human capability.

Now the articulation requirements of the AQF is important to the concepts of vocation, occupation, profession or career. Whilst we need timber designers, and steel designers and industrial racking designers and such, we don't want to create such things or be such things. That takes us back to similar situation to having the welder, the slag chipper, and the slag chippers mate or whatever crazy divisions of labour existed in the metal industry before it was rationalised. The problem was relatively unskilled jobs which could be taught fairly quickly, but having restrictions on who could and could not do the work: the purpose being to protect employment. The result extremely inefficient workplace, in which new technologies cannot be adopted.

So we don't educate steel designer or timber designer, but structural designer, or Associate Technologist Structures. But we need to know they have their AQF certificate of practice in timber and/or steel, or industrial racking or what ever the specific material or technology may be. Getting a bachelor degree instead of the associate degree won;t resolve the issue, because it doesn't cover the engineering practice required for the given technology: it only covers the science which may be applicable. If the graduate is not supervised by the right people then there is no guarantee that they will apply the applicable science correctly to the technology.

The purpose here is to cut the irrelevant science, and get more of the technology specific engineering practice into the academic education programmes, and further academic training programmes to develop proficiency to create habitual instinct. That is able to respond to common questions with a known solutions rather than I need to go do some calculations. New training is required. Well actually probably old training, training similar to that of the original military engineers: lots of bullshine: as my Warlord annual described it. Take the canon apart, polish it, put it back together, and do it again and again. Then go into battle and get stuck in the mud, but the response is automatic and habitual: not an obstacle but a mere inconvenience.

The structural steel designer knows the answer in steel, the structural engineer often doesn't. When the structural engineer has become a structural analyst, an applied mathematician and the steel designer has been lost or never emerged, then have a dangerous industrial environment. Such designers did exist and were an important part of the design team, they have been largely lost, or replaced by computer software. Not engineers replaced by computer software, but steel designers and structural analysts. Don't need to know about steel or timber design, because the software can check it: but it cannot design nor does it know the solutions. I dislike most software because it only looks at a point on a complex design curve. If look at a curve can more readily see if made a mistake and some perspective of tolerance. If calculated a single point value, have no real clue as to where you are: don't know if actually kept on design curve and no concept of tolerance. Experience generates a collection of design points in your head, but a random collection is still not a continuous curve.

So I would like to get techno-scientific personnel into the small businesses which are 95% of all businesses. They may not have need for structures, but they have need for technology of some form or other and need for industrial mathematics and industrial science of some description. Which is part of the reason for dropping engineering and just refer to Associate Technologist and Technologist. For example I don't think food technologists would gain membership of IEAust: even though applied science, and not just measuring stuff, but also creating new products. Similarly industrial designers and architects would be excluded, along with computer scientists, and computer programmers. In short many occupations concerned with technology and its design and development are excluded from joining Engineers Australia. Engineering is something specific, and upto date apparently not. There are chemical engineers and computer systems engineers: but really has the common body of knowledge really brought about a transformation to engineer.

So far I've focused on AQF-6 Associate Degree. But really need to get down to AQF-1 certificate I and work upto Certificate IV. Typically Certificate I is an entry level work qualification. Whilst Certificate III is the typical trade level qualification. By the way the AQF exists for the purpose of assisting employers find the right people. My general view is to scrap grade 11 and grade 12. A typical degree is 3 years, but if include matriculation studies then it takes 5 years after the 10 years of compulsory education. Associate degrees in foundational studies are becoming common as alternative pathways, especially for mature entry studies, these can cut time off bachelor degree programmes. So a 4 year B.Eng is actually 6 years beyond school. So TAFE qualifications not dependent on grade 11 or grade 12, can cut duration to 2 years total to get a useful qualification: not the B.Eng, but into techno-scientific occupation of some description with the potential to progress.

So basically saying that the 2 years of matriculation, now the senior secondary certificate of education (SSCE) should be replaced by a more formal AQF-6 award, the Associate Degree in say liberal studies. But further that grade 11 becomes AQF-5 Diploma in liberal studies. That this iself is broken down into certificates.

Now taking a certificate I, as 1/5th of a year. Note meanings of qualifications can change dependent on area of practice and/or body of knowledge. A certificate I in applied mathematics is not equal to certificate I in say hairdressing: they have completely different bodies of knowledge and the break down of that knowledge and division of labour completely different. Mathematics is also foundation of many other things. So take about 6 subjects in grade 11 and 5 in grade 12. So mathematics 1 study unit in grade 11, but 2 in grade 12. Therefore total of 3/5ths of a year in mathematics: therefore equivalent certificate III in mathematics. Other subjects only amount to 2/5ths so only equate to certificate II,  with one subject no more than certificate I. So basically get 5 certificates, for example:

Certificate I English
Certificate II Geography
Certificate II Chemistry
Certificate II Physics
Certificate III Mathematics

Another issue is that grade 10 itself is without real recognition and award. That is 10 years of education which is basically useless. Suggest that this also be properly integrated in the AQF. This closely approximates the old O-levels and A-levels, which I think has now been abandoned in the UK for NVQ's, but still available in some commonwealth countries.

From the simple list above can now start to ask questions, like what does the B.Eng advance? Do they get to a Certificate IV in mathematics or Diploma? To me Mathematics is a real knowledge stream, where as engineering is not. Also physics and chemistry are heaviliy biased towards mathematics and therefore could be classed as applied mathematics. And applied mathematics probably best scheduled before pure mathematics. So potentially drop the physics and chemistry back to Certificate I and push the mathematics up to diploma. So that get:

Certificate I English
Certificate II Geography
Certificate I Chemistry
Certificate I Physics
Diploma Applied Mathematics

Where the certificates in physics and chemistry focus on the qualitative aspects and laboratory work, and the quantitative aspects are shifted to applied mathematics. It then becomes apparent that it is possible to schedule all the mathematics in grade 12, and all the other subjects in grade 11.

When we look more closely at a B.Eng program we see therefore an increase in the depth of the applied mathematics qualification, and minor coverage of qualitative issues in science and technology. So is the B.Eng just a substandard degree in industrial mathematics by another name? What is there in the study of mechanics that is not mathematics? What in the study of thermofluid dynamics that is not mathematics? The design of a structure is not mathematics. The design of fluid power control system is not mathematics? Factory automation and programming PLC's is not mathematics. But the final assessment of the designs may involve mathematics, and mathematical relationships may guide design decisions whilst sketching ideas out. So applied mathematics is helpful and often important, but not always necessary. So there is an issue of when and where to slot it into a study programme.

I say isolate study streams and explicitly identify equivalences on built up awards. So the collection above is replaced by Associate Degree in Technical Science. If collection of subjects biased towards the humanities it would become Associate Degree in Humanities. When consider that grade 11 and grade 12 have a lot of repetition, can also consider compressing the subject matter and including more practical technical topics if going to refer to technical science. For example starting point for applied mathematics being technical drawing, moving onto to geometry and trigonometry. So now shifted to needed content of certificate I in Technical Science. Grade 11 and 12 does not deal with industrial or technical science, it is really aimed at the traditional degrees: BSc and BA. Once again these were and are about profession and personal status, not the needs of industry or society. The knowledge has to be put to use to be useful, and that generally requires oppportunity. So need to get people into industry, asking questions and then seeking knowledge. Rather than acquiring knowledge, entering industry and doing nothing with the knowledge, and otherwise thinking know the answers. Got to ask questions first, and people not taught the standard process, typically ask questions about why its done that way. So people need to be given the opportunity to unleash their potential, and that mostly requires getting them into the workforce at some entry level position whilst still studying.

Sun 2012-Aug-12  03:21AM