A Standard Individual: A Licensed Engineer

A Standard Individual: A Licensed Engineer

By Chris Hills

Overload, 11(58):, December 2003

Are you an Engineer? Pause and think before you answer.

Recently I saw one of those TV programs about changing houses. The couple were introduced: She was a "nursing assistant" and he was an "engineer". In fact he was a mechanic. Now, can you imagine the outcry had she been described as a Doctor? Several professional bodies and individual doctors would have complained before the program had got to the commercial break.

Today as I am editing this I am waiting for the "service engineer" to swap out the dishwasher. They assure me he is a "fully trained and qualified engineer". Last time he was here he plugged in a laptop to the dishwasher and set it running. He told me he had started City & Guilds Part 1 but had given up. The laptop then told him the control board needed replacing... It seems that any one can be "an engineer".

In the software industry I have seen people who have taken a short programming course and become "software engineers". Now, you try taking your degree in electronics or software and doing an "architectural appreciation course" and calling yourself an Architect... or a six-month first aid course and call yourself a [Medical] Doctor. There are laws against this but you will have to be a barrister to defend yourself in court. This is because it has been deemed dangerous to have unqualified people as Architects, Lawyers, Doctors, Civil (structural) Engineers, Gas Fitters etc. However, there is no virtually no restriction on embedded engineers no matter how safety critical the work.

My central heating fitter has to be CORGI registered before he can fit a cooker, fire or boiler. This involves passing and regularly re-passing legally mandated, and expensive, exams to be able to fit these appliances. Although many of these cookers and heating systems are microprocessor controlled there is no requirement for the programmer to have any form of qualification at all.

The options for some sort of registration, certification or licensing for engineers have been looked at and legislation attempted several times over the last century, from statutory and mandatory licensing in various forms to a purely voluntary system. Strangely, for various reasons, in the past it is the Engineering Institutions that have objected to mandatory systems. Some of the major points are:


The Architects and Engineers Bill was defeated. This was lobbied against by the Institute of Civil Engineers, I.Mech.E. and the IEE. It was at this point the Worshipful Company of Plumbers started the register of plumbers, but this was voluntary.


The Institute of Civil Engineers had come round to thinking it was a good idea to have a statutory register of Engineers but again this was vetoed by the other Engineering Institutes.


Another Engineers Bill for Statutory Registration of Engineers was vetoed by the Civils, Mechanicals and IEE. The reason being that the Institutes felt that they should be the judges of standards not the government.


Again the Government was persuaded not to implement a Register of Engineers qualified to work on public contracts.


The Finnison Report lead to the creation of the Engineering Council and protection for titles Chartered Engineer, Incorporated Engineer and Engineering Technician. Unfortunately the term "Engineer" was not included. The Royal Charter protects these titles with Civil Law. Note this was set up by the Government not the institutes.


A veritable library of reports and papers turned up at this point: "Engineering into the Millenium" (Eng Council Steering Group), "The Statutory Question" (Porter), "Report of Licensing of Competent Persons" Working Group, "The UK Engineering Profession: The Case for Unification" (Millman), "Engineers and Professional Self Regulation" (Jordan) and others. Note I will dig out URLs for these as I can. They will be added to the version on http://www.phaedsys.org

Interestingly these preceding cases all seem to be connected in time with major upheavals and wars. 1886 was the middle of the rapid expansion of British interests in Africa, 1919/20 was the end of WW1, 1926 the General Strike and nationalisation, 1943 WW2 and 1980 was the middle of the Thatcher era, free market and high unemployment. In the early 1990's I recall that we had a recession that no one talked about. I am not suggesting a conspiracy! Just looking at the factors.

That brings us up to the present. There have been another flurry of reports mainly in the last two years. These have culminated in the report of May 2003: "Licensing and the UK Engineering Profession" for the Engineering and Technology Board. You can judge for yourself what the major upheaval behind this new interest in licensing is.

I will hazard a guess at the renewed interest. At this point my employer ( http://www.hitex.co.uk ) would like me to point out these are my personal views and I am not legally qualified! As with last month's item on Corporate Manslaughter, it is sadly not the professional bodies but the insurance companies who are likely to be (indirectly) behind the changes. Product liability. Money talks. Corporate Manslaughter comes into the report "Licensing and the UK Engineering Profession". Engineering, especially software and embedded systems are playing a larger part in our lives. With the pace of modern life there is more scope for causing more "insured casualties". Perhaps I am just a cynic.

The other problem is partly what are you actually trying to license, certify or register? It ranges from the CORGI type system for gas fitters where there is a legal requirement to pass and continually re-pass exams before one can work, through to a voluntary register such as C.Eng via one of the Institutes, the IEE for example ( http://www.iee.org ). C.Eng is a one off assessment with no reassessment. As long as I pay the dues to the IEE and Engineering Council I remain Chartered.

If you think the C.Eng requirements are difficult gas fitters have to re-take the exams every five years for each category of work the undertake: cookers, fires etc. This can cost up to £5000! In other words £1000 a year. This gives them a card that shows the categories of work they can undertake. It is illegal for anyone to work on gas equipment for gain unless they are CORGI registered. It has been noted recently that the high costs are proving to be creating problems with the legitimate fitters. It is leading to some non-registered working. This is of course illegal which is the get out for the insurance companies... The claim is void if you used illegal fitters. I am getting cynical again! There is an HSE paper on where the gas competencies are going at http://www.hse.gov.uk/gas/wg3/wg3_co2.pdf or you can look at http://www.corgi-gas.co.uk . You could also ring up my local CORGI registered gas fitter/central heating expert and ask him about CORGI but you had better be prepared for some strong language!! It's not the regulation so much as the cost.

However for the professions the UK is one of the least regulated countries in Europe. As you would expect Germany and Austria lead the way for Engineers along with Italy and Luxembourg. Most of the others fit in between. Strangely, Scandinavia, home of some well known engineering excellence is also low on regulation for Engineering. However, when it comes to Accountants, Architects, Lawyers or Pharmacists they are right up with the rest, again the UK is trailing behind. There is a study that explores the regulation of professional Engineers in Europe at http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/competion/publications/publications .

There has been an attempt to harmonise the engineering professions across Europe with the Eur Ing (European Engineer) Register run by the European Engineering Federation FEANI ( http://www.FEANI.org ). This is currently voluntary in the UK and is open to Chartered Engineers. Whilst it is currently little used in the UK it will become more important as time goes on especially if you work with European companies. There is a study on where it is expected to go at http://www.upf.es/dcpis/esf/papers/2bcn.doc . I recommend that all Chartered Engineers should ask their professional Institute for the forms and join the FEANI register. The forms are relatively simple and the C.Eng means you are already at the required level. Also it is inexpensive, I think it is £35 for 5 years registration.

Recently in the USA there have been moves to certify and/or license Engineers to practice. In June 1998 Texas established Software Engineering as a recognised and licensed profession. You get the right to call yourself an Engineer and can offer software engineering services for gain. This is for any software for "engineered systems including embedded systems, real-time systems, mechanical devices, electrical devices and power systems". The requirements are a suitable degree, 16 years experience and references from 9 people 5 of which must be Licensed Engineers. Interestingly the following year in 1999 the ACM decided that it was opposed to licensing. This was for a variety of reasons. The report is at http://www.acm.org/serving/se_policy/report.html .

Several other US states and Canadian provinces are following the lead from Texas. Also in Australia there is a similar "Professional Engineer" or PE title. These are at the level of you must be registered before you can practice for gain. IE on license you cant write SW and get paid for it.

Many of the studies have looked at what it is they want to certify or licence. There have been studies on the impact on the costs to the Engineer, the companies using them, administering the schemes and the economy in general. Also how it will affect the industry as with the gas fitters, railway signalling and aircraft maintenance. The ideas range from (as now with C.Eng.) when you get a suitable qualification and a minimum amount of experience you are registered, through being required to do so much training (the Continuing Professional Development scheme), and on to annual re-testing. The IEE and BCS both looked at running CPD schemes and tried them for some years. They modified them and they seemed to disappear.

Whilst the specific requirement will vary from profession to profession many of these studies call for a unified "Professional Engineer" status. This was partly realised by the Engineering Council having the Engineering Institutes as members and overseeing the Chartered Engineer. The proposed merger of the IEE, IMechE and IIE will make this idea even easier to implement a general Professional Engineer status.

That said, various industries are already expanding their licensing. For example The UK Civil Aviation Authority licences pilots, air traffic control and maintenance engineers. Since 2001 (remember 2001 was the start of the current flurry of licensing reports) this has been via the JAR-66 and JAR-145. The JAR or Joint Aviation Requirement is world wide and is expected to widen its remit to encompass more of the smaller light aircraft that are currently not covered. They are regulated by Maximum Takeoff Mass. See http://www.caa.co.uk and http://www.jaa.nl for the licensing regulations. These licences require (for some levels) Chartered Engineer status and the reports are proposing mandatory amounts of CPD or training that must be undertaken each year. Information on this at http://www.sbac.co.uk/files/newsdocs/84/Interim%20Report%20final.pdf .

The Institution of Railway Signal engineers ( http://www.irse.org ) have operated a licensing system since 1993... That's another of the dates when licensing came to the fore. They have many categories of licensing that require CPD and retesting at regular intervals.

The US proposals suggest that only 20% of their IT/software people will be able to gain the licensing for the safety critical work. I have heard a similar figure of 20% Chartered and 80% Incorporated Engineers mentioned by a member of the Engineering Council for the UK.

However it finally ends up, licensing for Professional Software and Embedded Engineers is going to happen in the UK. Across the world and in some sectors within the UK these schemes for registering, certifying or licensing professional Engineers are being strengthened and expanded. The UK will become more regulated if not for engineering reasons then for reasons of insurance and liability. Money and commerce are the most powerful forms of energy there are.

In the UK the government wanted to (wants to?) introduce a professional qualification and license. The obvious starting point is Chartered Engineer. In fact this was part of the original thinking behind the Engineering Council and C.Eng. I think that whatever develops it will come from the C.Eng., especially with the tie in to Eur. Ing. There is no reason for any degree qualified embedded engineer not to join the IEE and go for Chartered Engineer status. See if your employer will assist. Tell them it is tax deductible and they may need staff who are Chartered in the not too distant future.

For embedded engineering, both hardware and software engineers would get a C.Eng. via the IEE ( http://www.iee.org ), pure software engineers could also talk to the BCS. For Chartered Engineer you require a suitable degree and experience. For older applicants, experience and other qualifications are taken into account so, at the moment, a lack of a degree if you have experience is not a bar. Note: For the UK and Europe you will need the IEE not the US IEEE. The IEEE, obviously, cannot confer Chartered Status.

As there is more licensing (and more pressure for licensing) within the UK, EU, USA, Canada, Australia and rest of the world and as embedded SW becomes more integral to most (safety related) parts of modern life, the UK will have to follow the rest into some form of licensing. This is inevitable.

Eventually the term "Engineer" might actually become a respected profession in the UK the same as it is in Germany and Texas. On the bright side, last month being a Chartered Engineer got me a reduction on my house insurance! So it is of practical use now.

Well, can you answer the question: Are you an Engineer? More importantly will you still be able to call yourself an Engineer in five years time?

This article was originally published in Embedded Systems Engineering ( http://www.esemagazine.co.uk/ ) and is reproduced here with kind permission of the editor. It is also available with the other columns in this series on www.phaedsys.org under the SW Engineering button.

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