Saturday, March 09, 2019

So where does my Irritation with Engineers Stem From?

My irritation with, "what is and is not engineering", stems from the viewpoints held by organisations like Engineers Australia, and the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO), and legislation such as they have in the USA, and legislation in Australia currently limited to the states of Queensland and Victoria.

Engineers Australia (EA) is the full trading company, of the institution of engineers Australia (IEAust). I never really considered the IEAust to be much of a learned society, it is not guardian of a body of knowledge and it doesn't actively share and disseminate  knowledge, to raise understanding or spread awareness. Most especially it does not provide any forum in which deficiencies in practice can be highlighted and fixed. Published information is important as a common point of reference.

Anycase in the late eighties and early nineties I mistakenly believed it was moving in the right direction and Australia's technical workforce would be strengthened. First it absorbed the institution of engineering associates. I believed this was a good thing and that knowledge would be better shared and it would reduce repetition of public information programmes.

However I later read an article which indicated that the reason the institute of engineering associate's was absorbed, was to deliberately dismantle an occupation. It has to do with Australia's industrial relations system, the ACTU and TLC's, and industrial awards. One of the primary awards prior to the modern award system, was the metal industry award. This started with unskilled labour, moved up through trades people, technicians, engineering associates, scientists and engineers. The award defines wages and working conditions. So irrespective of the business and its needs, an engineer gets paid more than a tradesperson, and more than an engineering associate.

An engineer has a 4 year bachelor degree (B.Eng), whilst an engineering associate had a 2 year Associate Diploma. Associate Diploma's were typically associated with educational institutions which did not have the required charter to issue bachelor degrees and therefore issued 3 year Diploma's. The associate diploma's were thus shorter than the diploma's. When the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) was brought in, the meaning of diploma was messed up: as a diploma is now around 1 year duration and an advanced diploma 2 to 2.5 years duration.

An engineering associate could do a lot of technical work based on first principles, no need for fancy software: more importantly such software didn't exist in any case. However duration doesn't define capability, content does. There were many associate diploma's some in engineering and some in drafting. The ones in engineering define an engineering associate those in drafting should not. However, to some extent it benefited EA to deliberately confuse the two qualifications, as its only concern was the 4 year B.Eng. Thus members of EA complained that engineering associates shouldn't be amongst their ranks, that drafters shouldn't be amongst their ranks: that it was an institution of engineers and no other occupation. Its membership also confusing the function of the IEAust with that of the labour union APESMA (or whatever name it had at the time and has now).

The result was that the academic programmes of engineering associates were watered down, and design-drafters added to the ranks of engineering associates, compounding the MIEAust/FIEAust view that drafters shouldn't be amongst the EA membership. Then EA signed the WFEO Dublin accord equating the engineering associates to technicians. As indicated above the industrial awards placed engineering associates above technicians: so the Dublin accord is disrespectful and insulting.

Now the MIEAust/FIEAust seem to spend a considerable amount of time complaining that train drivers and plumbers are not engineers. But thus far they have only been able to define that an engineer has a 4 year B.Eng and basically anything they do is considered engineering. Such is both a poor and unacceptable definition.

Also unions have tended to hold the view that potential is more important than actual contribution. So if job can be done by an engineering associate but occuptant has the B.Eng, then should be called engineer and paid at level of an engineer: even if the occupant is a dullard who is never going to contribute anything of higher value. Education is based more on ticket to high paid employment not actual interest. Therefore if can push the engineering associates out, it then becomes possible to raise the pay for the job, by redefining as the work of an engineer.

The governments clever country programme mostly based on increasing number of people with bachelor degrees, not increasing number of clever people. So give rise to professional cults built around bachelor degrees.

However, the AQF is about increasing occupational mobility, both sideways and upwards. Moving from one level to the next should represent an increase in depth of knowledge, increase in independent thought, and increase in personal responsibility. Whilst different awards increase breadth of knowledge. Clearly there are many different jobs which are dependent on knowledge in science and mathematics, so where is the common base qualification in such subjects?

Now I have never considered modern engineers to be anything more than technicians, low level industrial mathematicians. It is relatively clear from the built environment and the technology which surrounds us, that the knowledge and skills of engineers is inadequate. Engineers Australia and other organisations argue about such inadequacy of the education, but are unwilling to add extra content and increase the duration, or expand content and maintain duration of the programme by reducing coverage of each topic.

In Australia the typical bachelor degree is 3 years duration, and an honours degree typically adds an extra year. In the past an honours degree was minimum requirement to start a masters degree. The B.Eng is 4 years duration and therefore it has been equated to an honours degree (AQF-8), but it isn't anywhere near the equivalent to an honours degree. Occupational degrees are inflated with industrial experience, and project work: content which is not academic and has no real place in a degree.

Sure for years there were complaints and there still are complaints that education is inadequately linked to needs of industry, however industrial experience doesn't fix this issue.

The issue is STEM. Forget about STEAM and arguing about adding the "A", we need to drop the "E". Science and Mathematics are the tools used to plan, design, analyse, evaluate and manage technology. It is the technology which people need to be conversant with. A B.Eng doesn't provide adequate knowledge about the technology.

We create legislation to protect the public. The intention of the legislation is to ensure new implementations of established technologies achieve expected levels of performance. People who are not adequately conversant with the technology cannot possibly achieve such objective. Thus legislation based on the B.Eng grants the wrong people a monopoly.

But this does not matter to Engineers Australia and the over all politics of the situation.

Following the clever country programme, go produce more people with bachelor degrees, fast track these people to some higher status indicating they have appropriate work experience doing something which is being called engineering. This higher status is indicated by MIEAust CP.Eng NER. Having gained high numbers of these people, can argue that creating legislation won't create a shortage. However, a shortage is exactly what they want. They believe their wages are not high enough, that their importance is undervalued by society. They want to charge higher fees, and a monopoly will grant them the potential to hold the population to ransom.

An engineering associate who represents a substitute product is a threat, whilst an engineering associate who represents a complementary product to the engineer is not altogether required.

So taking that a B.Eng is an inadequate qualification, that B.Eng MIEAust is slightly better, and that B.Eng CP.Eng is still better, but all are incompetent to some extent, does it matter? The answer is no, it works in EA's favour. Clearly if a B.Eng CP.Eng cannot get it right, then need to further expand their education, and training, and make the selection criteria more rigorous. So had the numbers to get the legislation passed. Once the legislation is in place, and clearly the people on the register are not competent enough, then start to increase the rigour of the assessment, people are dropped from the register, and fewer people get on the register in the first place. A shortage arises, and fees start to increase: objective achieved.

But we already have experienced the situation of failure of several proclaimed potential mining and construction booms due to a proclaimed shortage of engineers. This has then resulted in exploitation of foreign workers and visa requirements. It takes time to become conversant with our industrial relations system, and realise that membership of EA is voluntary. Basically the visas expire, the workers are expelled, and another batch are brought in: when they should be granted permanent residency and continue with the job. Given that construction comprises of short term intermittent contracts it is difficult to monitor.

But a lot of this work doesn't require the 4 year B.Eng, and it didn't in the past. This is workplace politics not efficient design of jobs and workplaces.

The Associate Technologist

This is where my concept of the associate technologist comes into play. Accepting that engineering is that work done by persons with 4 year B.Eng, then modern industrial society has little need for engineering and little need for these engineer things {a manufactured product thrown of an educational assembly line}.

Nor does society have much need for the 3 year B.Tech. Most of the work can be done by persons with a 2 year Associate Degree (not the advanced diploma).

It is not the 4 years which is important, it is the subject matter which is important, and the perspective taken on the subject matter. A learned society needs people with a common educational base, so that communications, and publications can be written assuming such foundational knowledge and understanding.

So most 4 year B.Eng programmes now have a common first year. To reinforce the AQF, the occupational groups of: Associate technologists, technologists and engineer should all have the same common first year. The common first year will be an AQF-5 (diploma) in technical science and mathematics. Whilst WFEO technicians will have a 2 year Advanced Diploma (AQF-6), and pursue a different perspective: their first year will not be common with the other occupational groups.

As I have mentioned before the 4 year B.Eng contains breadth, it does not contain any dependent subject strands 4 years in length: it is basically an optimised bundle of AQF-6 qualifications. The breadth tends to comprise at most 5 areas of practice. So that is 3 years to cover five subjects, or 3/5ths of a year for each subject. Even if the breadth is reduced, it rarely is a single subject, so consider at least 2 subjects, so 3/2 or 1.5 years per subject. So a full programme in a given area of practice is 1 and 3/5ths of a year to 2.5 years. In either case more subject matter in the given area of practice can be included, to more thoroughly cover that which would otherwise be learnt on the job. (I am not impressed by M.Eng qualifications in structural engineering, which merely cover national codes of practice. Such are rubbish and unworthy of masters description. Such nonsense should be stopped)

Given programmes ranging from 2 to 3 years for specific areas of practice, would expect that the graduate associate technologists and technologists have greater knowledge than graduate engineers, and are far better suited for the task at hand than the graduate engineers.

I would then expect that, the dud invention, which is the 4 year B.Eng will expire and cease to be. Whilst the 3 year degree becomes the entry requirement for a 2 years masters degree through study: bringing total duration to 5 years. However, I don't believe there is adequate subject matter for depth to extend to 5 years through study. Whilst research degrees tend to be little different than, getting on with the everyday job of design and analysis. Put another way, why pay to get a masters degree when doing little different than would be paid for in the workplace. So the validity of masters degrees needs to be investigated.

Further to this is the government should provide greatest support for AQF levels 6 and down, whilst reducing support for levels 7 and above. I suggest that first priorty should be to create an army of people qualified at AQF-6, and then take the top 20% and encourage them to pursue AQF-7 and higher.

To which end I also suggest that it should not be possible to go from school to university, or at least not start on a qualification above AQF-5. Any programme longer than 1 year duration should be broken down into shorter qualifications. So further contributing to the demise of the 4 year B.Eng (AQF-8): the first year becomes a Diploma (AQF-5), the second year an Associate Degree (AQF-6), the third year a B.Tech or B.Sc (AQF-7), and the 4th year a graduate diploma (AQF-8), and the fifth year a masters (M.Tech, M.Eng, MEngSc).

And no one does engineering, and if we need to legislate we legislate planning, design, analysis, evaluation and management and do so with clearly defined areas of practice. We do not and should not allow the emergence of professional cults, and should not allow such cults to pursue objectives directed at holding us to ransom. We have enough problems with health care, we don't want to create other areas where more efficient systems cannot be implemented because a professional cults interests take priority over actual needs of society.


If the advanced diploma's will take a different path than the associate degree, there will be no common first year, though there will be common subjects. Basically subject matter which is irrelevant to the area of practice is eliminated from the advanced diploma program. Therefore less mathematics and less general science in the first year. The programmes will contain more qualitative coverage of subject matter and more practice work. Whilst two years in duration there will also be less depth covered. In short they will have the knowledge necessary to cover the majority of projects (eg. 80%).

They will be granted status to complete the AQF-5 in technical science and mathematics, and also the associate degree (AQF-6). Such study programme should require no more than 1 year to complete.

The advanced diploma will meet the requirements for WFEO (Dublin Accord) Technician. The Associate Degree will meet the requirements for Associate Technologist, more closely related to Australia's traditional engineering associates but better.

The Associate Technologists would achieve the educational requirements of the WFEO (Washington Accord), by completing associate degrees in 5 areas of practice, which given the common first year AQF-5 in technical science and mathematics, means 1 additional year of study for each area of practice: bringing the total study time to 6 years and surpassing the WFEO 4 year requirement: as will now contain far more content in each area of practice.

There will be few masters to specialise, as such specialisation will be covered by completing AQF-7 award (B.Sc, B.Tech) in the single area of practice, such as structures.

Occupational inflation of qualifications shall be halted. All academic programmes will be reviewed for division of breadth, and compression of depth into the minimum number of years. Breadth is permitted only to the extent, where two or more subjects branch into a higher level subject. For example mathematics and physics branch into engineering mechanics, which then flows onto mechanics of materials. But most of physics is irrelevant to engineering mechanics, therefore the dependent physics can be kept to a minimum. Furthermore both engineering mechanics and mechanics of materials could be covered in 1 year, instead of being spread over 2 years: but to do so would require eliminating breadth of subject matter from the year.

The point is we need people with B.Sc Applied Mechanics as much as we need people with B.Sc in Mechanical Engineering. The former has depth of knowledge whilst the latter has breadth. Mechanics should be taught by someone with the degree in applied mechanics not mechanical engineering. In terms of current qualifications therefore expect someone with B.Eng to get a B.Sc in a specialist subject area before permitted to teach that subject at bachelor degree level: they will also require qualifications in teaching. Though they can use B.Eng (AQF-8) to teach at AQF level 6.

When everyone matriculates then its value diminishes, but still everyone who is able should matriculate. A nation's priority should be to educate the people it needs to sustain its society and it should not kowtow to the wants and whims of professional cults. If a job cannot be performed by someone educated at AQF-6 then that job needs looking into in detail. Chances are it may require more than one AQF-6 qualification, but more likely it requires one AQF-6 qualification and additional AQF-5 qualifications.

Current Education

If think this does not apply to your profession, think again: it shall be applied across the board no exceptions. So includes medical doctors and lawyers amongst others. Traditional degree for doctor in some countries is: Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery. Or there is the University of Sydney double degree: Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Medicine.

Also note how concurrent double degrees currently can be studied in less time than the time normally required for both degrees. For example double degrees in law at Adelaide University: example given is Bachelor of Arts (three years) and Bachelor of Laws (four years) can be completed in five years if studied concurrently. whilst the duration of the law degree itself varies as follows: if you are a graduate, the duration of the program is three years full-time (or equivalent) as opposed to four years for non-graduates. Similarly get double degree: Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)(Mechanical) with Bachelor of Science, and complete in 5 years compared to (4+3)= 7 years. Or Bachelor of Engineering (Honours)(Mining) with Bachelor of Science, once again in 5 years. Such programs have the potential to increase both breadth and depth.

If can do this at the bachelor degree level (AQF-7), then can equally well do this at the level of AQF-6. For certain in terms of status people want the bachelor degrees. However in terms of creating a flexible and mobile workforce AQF-6 and lower are more useful.

For example mechatronics can be defined in terms of AQF-6 qualifications in mechanical and electronic technologies. Since such technologies likely employed in a manufacturing environment then additional qualifications in planning and management would be useful. Given work also typically done under contract, qualifications in contract and commercial law also useful.

If consider a 40 to 50 year career and need for continuing professional development, and consider that part time course typically takes double time of full time. Then a 2 year programme will take 4 years part time. A person can study part time and work full time, so that is 10 to 12.5 study programmes over a career. Basically enrol in an educational institution and remain for life.

So basically everyone has potential to complete AQF-5 or AQF-6 in:
  1. Science & Mathematics
  2. Design & Technology
  3. Graphic Arts & Fine Arts
  4. Arts & Humanities
  5. Business & Management
  6. Political Science & Law
  7. Health & Medicine
  8. Teaching & Education
They can also complete many qualifications in trade and crafts at AQF-4 and below.

Consider everyone attending an educational institution and becoming a part of a great repository of all human knowledge. Contrast with our ancient past and everyone attending their local village church. The capacity of the population to judge will be considerably enhanced. Public spending will require more rigorous assessment, as will infrastructure and mining projects.

Now whilst the focus is AQF-6 it doesn't mean that AQF-7 will disappear, rather it will mean that AQF-7 qualifications will have the depth they are meant to have, and people will have increased potential to pursue the most appropriate AQF-7 qualification. The multiple AQF-6 qualifications will give them breadth, and provide foundation for deciding higher level of study. Furthermore we can mandate that requirement for AQF-7 is at least two independent AQF-6 awards (eg. arts and science).

So no token generalist subjects thrown into the degrees, rather demand greater breadth in the first place. Not sure if still holds, but at one point the universities threw mandatory second language into the generalist subjects in engineering degrees. Not altogether necessary as typical student would have previously spent 2 years at school studying a second language, and really needed to build on that to attain a level of conversational fluency. However such is of secondary importance to the primary area of study. Therefore it is better to leave out and place in additional award.

So the engineering institutions/organisations are considering increasing qualification requirement to masters degree (M.Eng), but cannot get agreement from membership. Engineers are criticised for not having appropriate breadth of knowledge regarding technology, history, culture and society. Engineers also criticised for not designing systems which have adequate fitness-for-function.

Continuing education and AQF-6 qualifications assist to resolve these issues. The AQF-6 qualification makes them more competent in the specifics of an area of practice and associated technologies. The AQF-6 qualifications also give them greater breadth of knowledge to better understand the impact of technology.

We can then identify MIEAust as a qualification, rather than post nominal detritus. It becomes a qualification because neither B.Eng nor M.Eng will be good enough to get such qualification: such qualifications lack both required depth and breadth. Depth is lacking with respect to a given technological system, and breadth is lacking regarding that which is beyond technology.

Thus with new era will require something along the lines of:

  1. AQF-7 Science & Mathematics
  2. AQF-6 Design & Technology
  3. AQF-5 Arts & Humanities (geography, history)
  4. AQF-5 Business & Management (supervision, planning)
  5. AQF-5 Political Science & Law
  6. AQF-5 Teaching & Education (training, mentoring)

So that's a total of (3+2+1+1+1+1)=9 years full time. Assuming first 5 years are before start work, that leaves 4 years full time, or 8 years part time. So no one will become qualified until have at least 8 years of experience. Or assuming they start work after get AQF-6, then have 7 years of full time study to complete, taking 14 years part-time. Therefore set minimum experience at 14 years, they start out as GradAIEAust (irrespective of education), then become AMIEAust, and progress through TMIEAust, then ultimately MIEAust. (NB: The problem we currently have is jumping to MIEAust CP.Eng far too quickly)

The objective should be to get people into the workplace as quickly as possible doing  the work which needs doing: but not giving them undue status and prestige beyond their capabilities and contribution.

Female Participation

As for increasing female participation. Well a 1 year AQF-5 in technical science and mathematics provides potential and opportunity to pursue multitude of related occupations. also more people are required to draw, plan, and make than are required to crunch numbers (and a brainless unimaginative block of silicon can crunch numbers, so not a particularly desirable skill.). Easier to displace drafters and line supervisors than the trades. A design office should have more drafters in it than engineers. Drafters can be employed on contract on an as needs basis. Getting some 50% of drafters to be female, could probably be done in 2 years: train them this year, employ them next year. However, these drafters are not there to stay as drafters, they are studying part time to become "engineers". They have their foot in the door and are gaining experience, and each day they put a little bit more of their continuing education to use.

Also to be noted, is that as drafters retire or drop out of the workforce for other reasons, they basically get replaced by anyone near suitably qualified. For example studied mechanical get employed in structural or doing civil drawings. Studied civil get to do mechanical. As a drafter your task is to communicate information, not to design or solve problems, therefore working under the supervision of the engineer/designer. If you demonstrate the skills to jump ahead and act as design-drafter, then management will want to keep you around. If need constant supervision and drafting presentation needs constant correcting then your presence not important. In short drafters get replaced by design-drafters, and in turn by engineering associates. For small projects however it is inefficient to employ drafter and engineer, and both can be replaced by one engineering associate. Employee engineers are typically too expensive to have them producing own drawings, engineering associates are not.

Point is that can build an army where there is scope to build an army. For example this article: Female GPs outnumber male GPs for the first time in Australia, the specialities are just that, specialisations requiring very few people, but GP's are near enough everywhere. If there isn't one around then probably scope to introduce one: especially in remote rural and mining towns.

Little point complaining there are not enough female scientists or engineers, when also few female drafters and lab technicians. The bachelor degree in nursing for example along with potential for higher degrees, has probably increased the potential for female nurses to pursue further study and become doctors. Simply because they have their foot in the door of the universities, and more than likely attending some subjects which overlap with the studies of the doctors. How many females starting nursing switch to medicine?

Proper breakdown of study programmes, progressing from AQF-1 to AQF-7 is likely to attract more people to study to higher levels. When I was at school few people wanted to waste more time in education, they wanted to get to work earning money (or mostly claiming unemployment benefit). And that was approaching end of grade 10. The thoughts of another 2 years of schooling followed by 3 to 4 years of university wasn't desirable. But if one year of study, gets you into the workforce, contributing and earning money, whilst pursuing continuing education, well that becomes more tolerable. The bachelor of nursing degree for example should be equally broken down into smaller programmes, so that it is mandatory that start as enrolled nurse and progress to registered nurse, and likewise start as nursing assistant and progress to enrolled nurse.

Or there maybe other problems: Gender Equity in Medical Specialties, considering the army of female nurses: Nursing and midwifery workforce 2015 and registered nurses out number enrolled nurses (which seems like a major problem: top heavy organisation, not enough workers). And this is further description of potential problems: Red Cross to use nursing assistants on blood donors. Actually the army of female nurses probably just represents large number of females with bachelor degree who now have potential to pursue further study or research not necessarily related to medicine but more focused on social studies and health care. They don't become doctors because the proclaimed shortage of doctors is political, and the political barriers need to be overcome to improve health care rather than support the profession of doctor. Hence further education more in social studies.

And education is no exception Private school principals say culture must change. Here the issue is: do we need private schools, and the culture which supports them? That is what is the fault considered with the state schools? If a child is not interested in learning, then a private school isn't going to make much difference. If the child is interested in learning then a private school contributes zero of value: the child does the learning not the teacher. In the main the child needs access to study materials not teachers. As I mentioned in earlier posts, we should scrap grade 11 and grade 12, and start directly on AQF awards. Which thus means moving to TAFE or moving TAFE programmes into schools. The status of private schools should then diminish: and government funding be reduced not increased.{Parents typically seek to get their kids into private school for at least grade 11 or 12, if they cannot get them in from the beginning or otherwise cannot afford full schooling in private school. Personally I think its a waste of money.}

However that approach requires modifying the AQF, as I proposed in earlier post where I increased the number of levels to 15, one more than the original 14 levels, 5 more than the current 10. Where I also introduced Certificate I to V, Diploma I to V and Masters I to V.

Related Posts

[09/03/2019] : Original
[10/03/2019] : Minor Edits, and added more after the end.
[25/03/2019] : Minor Edits