Monday, October 28, 2013

Engineers Australia : on wrong track.

Light bulb moment! That's why I don't like Engineers Australia's activities. The institution of engineers Australia (IEAust), basically became a full commercial trading company: Engineers Australia. It is basically in the business of selling post nominal detritus.

The IEAust is not a learned society. A learned society is curator, guardian and disseminator of learning.

The IEAust rightly recognised that the B.Eng was not adequate indicator of competence, it also recognised that MIEAust had lost its reliability as an indicator of competence.: further more few people were interested in acquiring. The problem was that many people previously held graduate status for most of their careers, especially those who worked on construction sites. The contention was that those who worked in a design office could easily get site experience, whilst those who worked on site had problems gaining design office experience. Further the contention was that the site experience that those in design office acquired was worthless compared to that acquired by those who worked on site. The problem: a failure to recognise major areas of practice and the specialised knowledge required for these areas. Therefore no one has any real certainty as to whether any individual as the necessary skills for a given job. Jobs are not really civil engineering or mechanical engineering, or any other major engineering discipline.

Rather than tackle the problem, Engineers Australia dreamed up a long string of post nominal detritus: MIEAust CPEng NPER : all totally worthless and meaningless and fails to resolve the original problem. Additionally they absorbed the institute of engineering associates, and introduced the concept of engineering technologist. The technical engineering team of knowledge workers thus expanded from 2 occupational classes to 3. Engineers Australia primarily promotes the occupation of professional engineer and gives scant regard to the rest of the team.

It seems they are expecting the Big Bang or something to give spontaneous existence to engineering technologists, and achieve critical mass or something and form their own group and direct their own occupation. Its a totally stupid idea.

The specification for the engineering team states that there is overlap between the knowledge base of the three occupations. There is not equality, there is not hierarchy. From the specification Engineers do not know anything that engineering associates know, there is no overlap with their knowledge base. Which seems a stupid definition: but that's what those all knowledgeable MIEAust/FIEAust's dreamed up. Having dreamed this up however, they continue to exercise an arrogance that they know more than anybody else, that they are the best, and seemingly the only people society needs. Further more the industrial relations system is set up such that get higher wages based on education and potential of that education, not based on actual contribution to an organisation. The result: get a B.Eng become an Engineer, get higher wages. More nonsense.

Yes there is a shortage of engineers in terms of the traditional meaning of someone pushing forward the frontiers of technology. Yes there is a shortage of competent managers and technical designers. This does not however mean we should set a propaganda machine in motion and churn out people with degrees.

Graduates are not engineers, nor graduate engineers or graduate anything else, they are simply graduates with an education which may or may not have been any value. They are at best technicians part conversant in the use of a variety of mathematical tools and techniques: but not otherwise highly proficient in the use of these tools, nor highly conversant in any given technology to which these tools need to be applied. Industry cannot be relied on to provide the necessary training: more over such on the job training can be an unwarranted hindrance and expense to getting on with the job at hand.

However, it is not the task of an engineer to assess the suitability of a beam, a building or a bridge, or any other established technology. The role of engineer is at the frontiers of science and technology: technologies for which we do not yet have any established body of technical science.

Where we do have a body of established knowledge we can train Associate Technologists (my preferred name for the engineering associates).

No need to bring in any silly post nominal's, no need to split one group of people with a B.Eng from others with a B.Eng. Just a need to pay attention to the design and specification of the engineering team and role of each player. Also a need for many of the professional engineers to stop being derogatory about the competence of engineering associates: because to put it bluntly a large number of MIEAust's are not actually smart enough to know their own limitations and neither competent enough to do the research to expand their knowledge. Why would they? They think they know it all, already.

I attended an introductory chartered workshop a few years back, it put me off the whole idea, just reinforced the view that its all nonsense. It was a mixed group, one of the engineering associates asked if they needed to be able to design a concrete column. The response was an uncertain maybe.

There is no uncertainty about it. The academic studies of an engineering associate covers the design of reinforced concrete beams, columns and slabs. If they work in the structural area then they are expected to design reinforced concrete. Engineering associates are not drafters nor trade technicians. Those engineering associates are spending their own time programming AutoCAD because their jobs are boring them to death, their education is not being used.

The task of Engineers Australia wasn't to cause division and confusion, but to clearly separate education from industry. Just because a person has a B.Eng does not mean that they will ever achieve the on the job training and experience to ever become an MIEAust. But a B.Eng OMIEAust clearly has more potential than a Assoc.Dip OMIEAust. Thus OMIEAust is a first stage stepping stone, not something to be sniffed at with disdain. Further more such stepping stones through OMIEAust to TMIEAust should be the only way to get to MIEAust. If we are to consider there is an hierarchy, then the MIEAust's should have a knowledge base which fully over laps with the lower grades. We want the people pushing the frontiers to be fully conversant with the established technologies and the accepted procedures for proof of concept and evidence of suitability, before they start re-inventing the wheel and place society and the whole planet at risk.

In 2 years we can train engineering associates, and for them 3 years of experience after graduation is probably appropriate for them to become OMIEAust and then CEngO: if really need such post nominal detritus. Similarly in 3 years those with a B.Eng also become OMIEAust. Are they going to choose to do this. No they are not, they will only do this if it is the mandatory stepping stone towards MIEAust. Further they will only consider doing so, if the legislation requires registration on the national engineering associates register( NEAR) in a specific area of practice for submission of engineering work to regulatory authorities.

No legislation should restrict practice or restrict the supply of services. The legislation should merely identify that regulatory authorities do not have time to waste with incomplete submissions and therefore will only accept submissions which have been at least reviewed and endorsed by someone on a national register: depending on the complexity it could reference NEAR, NETR, NPER. But the requirement should be that no higher registration than NEAR is required for 80% of the work. If there is any apparent reduction in this percentage, then the requirements for registration on NEAR should increase, and cascade through to all the other registers. However I contend that very little requires more than 2 years of tertiary education, and that anything that pushes up to requiring NETR in fact requires additional areas of practice to be defined on NEAR and appropriate two year qualifications developed to produce specialisation in this area.

I reiterate, no engineering associate should be educated in the broad area of an engineering discipline, they are to be educated in a specific area of practice: such as storm water drainage, or structural design. However would not expect them to design massive dams, railway bridges or multi-storey buildings greater than 6 storeys high. (3m per storey x 6 storeys = 18m potential supply of steel, without a splice if you're lucky, 12m is more common.)

This is not to say they are not capable, they are most certainly capable of contributing to a significant extent. The issue is that persons with far greater breadth of knowledge should be supervising the design function for more complex technologies. These people with greater breadth of knowledge should also have greater breadth of experience.

I have heard some professional engineers talk about throwing graduates in the deep end. This is all very good as long as it does not cause unwarranted expense to the client or hazard to factory and construction workers, nor create hazard to the community. The deep end is not that of a professional engineer: the deep end for a graduate is that for an engineering associate.

An engineering associate can take project from concept to implementation, the issue is that these projects have little uncertainty and little risk. All the technologies and procedures are established, including those for assessing suitability of purpose and proof of concept. There is little unexpected to turn up.

The unexpected always turns up: and that's because no individual can know everything and few are ever given all the time really required to review all that is needed. So there is always some issue to be resolved working fast on your feet in real time. Further there is hopefully someone who can assist to get out off the trouble because they have been there before and/or know the solution. The alternative is that there is the ideal and there is reality, and no need to get pedantic about process if it doesn't really make much difference: hopefully get it right on the next one. Because until get it right on the simple projects, the individual is not going to be moved to more complex projects, more to the point the business is likely to avoid complex projects, if the simple and predictable keep turning into nightmares.

There are a multitude of small businesses which need to be employing engineering associates on staff so that engineers can get on with the more complex stuff.

In the larger organisations, engineering associates can be taken off drawing boards and allowed to put their education to work typically doing what engineers are currently doing. The engineers can then be freed to put their actual education to work. {Ah! But they want the status without actually using their degree.}

Drafters can be more readily trained. Also people have not necessarily chosen Associate Degrees due to lack of ability, its more likely lack of funds: the need to expend the minimum amount of time to get a ticket to employment, and start earning income. So if got engineering associates on staff, push them, give them opportunity to prove themselves, and assist the best to get higher education., and move up through technologist to engineer. Of course a company has to be doing more than the routine to unleash the potential of graduate engineers.

Also to put it bluntly, in the main industry is better served by people with multiple associate degrees than persons having a single bachelor degree, masters degrees are also of limited value. Its not depth that is sought, it is breadth, and adaptability. Also 2 people with associate degrees can accomplish far more than one person with a bachelor degree in a given time frame on the routine tasks that are typically carried out.

{NB: The problem is that at present too many academic programmes are biased towards the breadth of the engineering disciplines, rather specialist areas of practice. The result is no one is job ready. Engineering Associates should be job ready, only need a few days of supervision to get started, and be up to speed after 12 months on the job. Not interested in what happens. This requirement is the specification, if its not happening then the education needs changing.}