Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Killing the Engineering Team

There is a vocal segment of the IEAust membership (MIEAust's and FIEAust's) who are of the opinion that engineering associates (OMIEAust) and engineering technologists (TMIEAust) should not be permitted to any membership grades. Their view is that it is the institution of engineers, and therefore others do not belong, and the presence of other members of the engineering team diminishes the status of engineers. My view is this is nonsense. The status of MIEAust was lost as a reliable indicator of technical competence some time during the 1980's. At this point in time engineering associates were in their own institution, and engineering technologists did not exist in Australia, though there were scientists and applied scientists. It is this loss of status that chartered status (CP.Eng) was introduced along with the national professional engineers register (NPER). The lack of status is purely due to the so called professional engineers themselves, they have more or less killed off engineering associates in the form they once had, and numbers of engineering technologists growing slowly. So the professional engineers dominate.

Now it may be that over this time, the status of MIEAust's has grown internationally, however multinational corporations play in a different ball park compared to local businesses. Engineers working for these multinationals are likely to have opportunity to work on demanding projects requiring the full knowledge of the B.Eng, and working under the supervision of persons with significant experience. In foreign countries also likely submitting work to local government authorities who also have significant experience and who are demanding in the quality of submissions. But locally such experience unlikely, and therefore the competence of engineers playing in the local pond is of concern.

Such experience unlikely because of a small population. Most infrastructure projects came to an end, and government departments downsized to maintenance type work. Manufacturers bought by American and British companies and design work moved off shore, leaving only manufacturing locally. Since Australian lifestyle is expensive to support, no real economic benefit to leave manufacturing local, so that also shutdown and moved to regions with lower labour costs. So that leaves primary industry: mining and agriculture. Sure during the 1990's some of the multinational manufacturers decided on autonomous regions, and so design moved back into Australia. But still talking long established companies with sustained expertise elsewhere on the planet, and being able to bring this expertise in as needed.

Joining IEAust is not mandatory, nor is chartered status, nor national registration: individuals can choose to do so if they wish, or choose not. Apparently 50% choose not. The industrial awards which control working conditions and minimum wages, identify all graduates with a B.Eng as professional engineers. These engineers think their 4th year of their degree is important so starting salary for those with 4 year degree slightly higher than for those with 3 year degree. There is no reference to masters or doctrates, since such activity basically considered as becoming experienced where such qualifications are relevant. After graduation and become experienced, whether ordinary degree or doctrate is irrelevant, salary is entirely dependent on opportunities provided by employer, taking advantage of those opportunities and  the employees ability.

Engineers Australia is a relatively poorly managed entity and close to being the worlds most useless learned society. My parchment states I am an affiliate member and graduate of the society of engineering technolgists (SET), it became worthless within 12 months. As status changed to graduate technlogist. Engineering associates, were renamed engineering officers, though I think this year they may be back to being associates again. One minute MIEAust demands the same stage 2 competency requirements as CP.Eng, the next minute it is entire different and something less. Then they want numbers for the NPER, so they fast track the MIEAust't to CP.Eng. This is because they want legislation which restricts practice to CP.Eng. However no legislation will pass if it results in shortages, and we are already claiming shortages. Further no legislation will be passed if it makes membership of IEAust mandatory. So CP.Eng is on again and off again with respect to being tied to MIEAust. The stage 2 competencies are also largely irrelevant to the technical side of engineering design. So in the main MIEAust and CP.Eng is irrelevant to employees and to employers. And as I said the industrial award makes those with a B.Eng professional engineers in the first instance.

Another issue are the activities of the IEAust. For example producing the infrastructure report card. This is basically a regular submission to government on the decay of state and federal infrastructure and a call for government to invest in upgrading it. The report primarily completed by the company GHD, and this same company gets a great deal of the work resulting from governments then investment in infrastructure. This kind of activity puts another nail in the coffin of membership.

With a vocal membership against engineering associates, a failure to accredit new study programmes at that level over the years, and the signing of the Dublin accord which downgrades the engineering associate to engineering technician, and otherwise a failure of the IEAust the promote anything other than the B.Eng, has reduced the numbers of engineering associates.

The WFEO and Engineers Australia, 3 level engineering team is a dream not a reality. The more traditional team comprised of technical officers (the engineering associates) and engineers. Now many offices have relatively unskilled CAD jockeys and graduate engineers. Whilst engineering associates otherwise pressured by the nature of the resulting uncertain environment to upgrade their academic qualifications to B.Tech or B.Eng, but to no real effect. But if they get a B.Eng they can call themselves a professional engineer, irrespective of what work they do. Further there is no need to have their competency and experience assessed by meeting criteria for MIEAust or CP.Eng. And if they do attempt and are rejected because work isn't seen as demanding enough: who cares: for they can still call themselves engineers. For example those working in sweat shops churning out resdential footing construction reports are unlikley to meet the stage 2 competences for CP.Eng, but they have the B.Eng so they are professional engineers. Local government authorities typically ask for engineers calculations or report by engineer. Seldom a reference to engineering calculations. These professional engineers who are neither CP.Eng or NPER will do the work requested. Much of this work is relatively low level and within the educational capabilities of the original engineering associates. I say original because for all intents and purposes they have simply stretched the programmes to 3 years and thrown a bit extra in, to create B.Tech and otherwise ripped content from the advanced diploma's. The advanced diploma programmes seem to be little more than a collection of 40 hour technical design and drafting projects: and thus within the scope of on the job training. Still, there is a lot which the so called professional engineers are doing that is well within the educational capabilities of those passing the advanced diploma.

But hey, get the B.Eng, get the status of professional engineer, and the starting salary of professional engineer, but only work at the level of engineering associate: how good is that?

Well its not good. For those engineering associates who get to work within the full capabilities of their education are dragged down by those working subordinate to professional engineers (B.Eng only) along side CAD jockeys. The B.Eng MIEAust CP.Eng are also dragged down by these B.Eng only professional engineers when they get fast tracked to their ranks without any real experience. Whilst the engineering associates have no reliable indicator that the B.Eng. MIEAust CP.Eng actually have superior skills and can be turned to for assistance. Yes thats right! Work is generated from the bottom up, not from the top down. Some 95% of all businesses are small business with less than 20 employees in non-manufacturing and less than 100 employees in manufacturing. Most consultancies, some 80%, are very small business with less than 5 employees. Projects are generated by private individuals or small business, seeking further assistance. Projects are not broken down and delegated to subordinates by profesional engineers. Projects first go to builders, to be built or drafters to be drawn up, from here the work flows upwards to higher educated persons  until reaches someone who can assist to complete all that needs to be done. It is a real headache, when the only thing getting them to seek further assistance is regulatory authorities, and the project has already gone too far in the wrong direction.

This status and prestige culture needs to be curtailed, unfortunately just about everything that Engineers Australia has done, has sabotaged their owns efforts at raising the competence of engineers. Under no circumstances what so ever should educational awards equate directly to occupational status. So I have the educational qualification for engineering technologist, so what, I know full well that all the structural engineering is within the capabilities of engineering associates. It should not be graded any higher. Yes, I have the potential to operate at higher level, but I consider that the increasing complexity of projects encountered all to be within the learning capabilities of engineering associates on the job, and not in any way demanding any higher level of formal education. We have too much of a Jackanory culture.

The government as announced new funding programme for education., and it seems to follow one of those usual poltical pathways. Check the statistics of other countries and declare we have to few doctors per head of population compared to others, too few scientists, too few engineers, too few teachers with masters and doctrates. Some how graduating more people at higher levels of education are suppoed to make the "clever country". It doesn't. Its not the education that is important but what the graduate can do with the education. They need opportunities, and those with B.Eng have not been getting experience and opportunity compatible with their level of learning, and nor have those with lower level education.

Once again we can get back to Engineers Australia shooting itself in the foot. During engineering week, and the schools programmes throughout the year, school kids are introduced to activities which are in the main the work of industrial product designers and engineering technicians. That is designing things without any major mathematical modelling and quantitative assessment of fitness-for-function, and otherwise taking things apart and putting them back together. The kids are told this is engineering, and they need a B.Eng to pursue. Not surprising that only 25% of those who start a B.Eng eventually graduate. Also not surprising that some 60% are in jobs which are primarily of a management nature: they should have pursued business degrees or industrial engineering, but they didn't. Of the other 40%, they are not all operating at the level of engineer.

It would be far better if the articulation requirements of the Australian Qualification Framework were more rigourously implemented. Then whilst sticking with that 50% minimum pass mark, make the move to the next level dependent on a minimum pass of 80%. Thus if get less than 80% can only move from Certificate I programme to another Certificate I programme. until find the right programme which fullfills the individuals interests and motivations, and they have the apptitude to complete. Also introduce AQF certificates of practice, so that the main AQF awards can concentrate on the body of knowledge and enabling competencies. Then require minimum time in industry between each AQF level. Or if not practical between each, then accumulated to a minimum to be obtained before can move beyond Associate Degree. That is once get Associate Degree, the graduate is expected to go into industry, and industry is expected to provide the required development.

The objective should not be to increase the proportion of the population with bachelor degrees and higher, but to ensure 100% of the population has an AQF award, and that all have the opportunity to put their learning to use. A population that wants to be more than retail assistants standing around talking about the weekend ignoring customers. Going into retailing is diminishing as an option has bricks and mortar stores loose business to online stores. Online stores where goods can be obtained for 1/2 the price obtained in stores.

If we are to promote engineering then we have to promote the right engineering disciplines, the IEAust generally dominated by civil engineers promotes the wrong discipline. If we should concentrate on primary industry (mining and agriculture), then we should be promoting mining engineering, agricultural engineering and industrial engineering, and materials engineering.

We can then build our manufacturing around added value to our primary produce. For example more directly turning iron ore into steel from the ground, so have no iron ore to export just steel. Sorry! Cannot supply iron ore, its the way we mine it, it comes out off the ground as steel. Not sure how we can do that, but doesn't seem too extreme. We do have continuous casting, tunnel borers, and also paving machines which can rip up a concrete pavement and lay a new concrete pavement at same time, recycling what it rips up.

Similarly we could spin cotton directly on the farm, or transform other agricultural fibres. Just further extend and expand combine harvesters into mobile factories. Its a matter of integrating more chunks of the industrial food chain into a single entity. Instead of a sheep dog, have a robot that chases the sheep around and shears them, and spins the wool.

We need to get people having a different attitude at work, and also giving them opportunities. If we give people the opportunity to go to night school or take day release and teach them design and science, and get them to apply to their job for their own benefit. Then we have the potential to stimulate innovation and the development of new products for export. We have few people and an abundance of materials. Most have what they need, but few seem to be pursing stuff just for the challenge: other than education without end, and sport.

Education however isn't producing people with the required competence to bring things to practical reality with expected levels of performance. We therefore need to better differentiate between the enlightenment that education provides, and the real competence to perform a task correctly. With enligtenment, a routine task shifts from blind ritual to one of understanding, with understanding the task can be transformed.

Now educating people with Associate Degrees in engineering doesn't make them engineering associates, it simply provides them with tools to transform their job or even their industry. It is upto the individual as to whether they do or not. Its a matter of perspective. Occupational qualifications and industrial awards based on those awards, push people into getting the awards and expecting to find an employer of such occupation. Displaced from occupation, humanity has a body of knowledge that can be applied to a multitude of activities within our society. The population should stop thinking about profession and occupation and starting thinking about humanity.

Tue 2012-Sep-04  23:24