Transitions in construction

Transitions in construction

Whatever you thought, think again.

Certify engineers. Now.

IndustryPosted by Dan Engström Mon, November 28, 2011 14:51:07

When my engineer brother married his physician fiancée, his physician best man spoke at the wedding reception, coining the phrase “The difference between engineers and doctors is that doctors only kill people in ones”.

We don’t want doctors to kill people, so we have a system in place to prevent that. We have certified doctors. Of course we do. The National Board of Health and Welfare is in charge of that. We have certified pilots, courtesy of the Swedish Transport Agency. From the other day, we now also have certified teachers, by the Swedish National Agency for Education. I’m all for that. People that are certified have shown a public authority that they are qualified for a job with responsibility for the safety of others. And like me, you probably have a driver's licence and approve of the need for one.

But Sweden does not have certified engineers. For bridges, houses, chimneys, harbours, towers, stadiums and everything else you can think of, we don’t. The only thing that prevents you from working as a structural engineer is that the insurance company might not want to insure your company if its engineers don’t have the experience for the projects they’re signing off on.

Designed by unchartered engineers. The 19.000 capacity Gamla Ullevi stadium.

We are accepting that the qualifications needed to be a professional engineer are being defined and enforced by proxy – by companies with a different agenda, doing different business. The opportunities and risks inherent in engineering are being measured by the one metric whether insuring this particular company is good business for the insurance company. Unlike in aviation, medicine and teaching, they are not an authority charged with the task of keeping track of the development of the profession and its consequences.

A chartered engineering degree or a certification for engineers in construction would provide us with an opportunity to develop our profession. Like the system we have for certifying architects. When you’re done with your education and have gained sufficient experience, you can be certified by the Swedish Association of Architects. It would make it possible to give the work of the engineer increased influence. It would provide engineering with a clear career path. It would perhaps even prevent some of the many roof failures we’ve seen in Sweden these last two winters.

The system could be developed by clients, contractors, designers, authorities and insurance companies together. Put the system in the hands of a professional organization. The UK has its Institution of Civil Engineers to oversee the chartering of professional engineers. We also have one. We have the Swedish Society of Civil and Structural Engineers, SVR, with a membership of a fourth of all graduated civil and structural engineers in Sweden. If the chartering of engineers is not a main task for SVR, I don’t know what is.

Image: Gamla Ullevi, Flickr Creative Commons, by Jacob Poul Skoubo

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Posted by Helena J Thu, December 01, 2011 07:32:59

Chartered engineers is a good thing for Sweden as a country. Let us take a look at who asserts the knowledge engineers have today? That would be the universities and colleges training our engineers. At those, two categories of people act as teachers; experienced, retired engineers or less experienced researchers with various interest in teaching. The consequence is that the minimum quality of engineering design varies substantially. This is why certification should be employed. It should ensure that all active engineers meet the requirements of a certain minimum level. Innovation and product development are activities that the really good engineers are engaged in (by natural selection) and is quite separate from applying codes. Being a university producing engineers to meet the standards in a chartered system would present the university with two tasks. Firstly, the educational body would always need to be updated on the latest codes and rules of conduct. This is not always the case today due to teachers normally not being active engineers. Secondly, universities should support product development and innovation through teaching students how to integrate knowledge to create new things. The certification should be issued by a separate body, not the university itself, to ensure that current standards are met. And what should be certified is the candidates ability to perform engineering calculations on the regular, basic level that occurs in most construction projects. That level should be set by the actors in construction and collected and presented by the certification body.

Posted by Christina C-J Wed, November 30, 2011 11:47:37

Patrik, I do not think we disagree. We just argue differently. We both see problems in the Swedish construction sector and we both agree that something needs to be done. Introducing a chartered engineering system may solve part of it though I do not think that just by adding a Ceng or eqiv to your name automatically make you design bridges that rocks the world. No, I would say it has more to do with being curious, continuing learning thoughout your career and working in an environment that promotes creativity and competence. As you mentioned in your example from the Czech company, there were people coming from different parts of the world. Well, I believe that is exactly the point. Very skilled people with different backgrounds, experiences and competences. Not the white, male, middle-aged, structural engineer from one of the 4 main Swedish universities...

Posted by Patrik L Wed, November 30, 2011 09:23:27

Sorry Christina, but I disagree.

I have some friends at a Chzech company designing bridges that makes Calatrava's designs feeling like a Swedish ´nyfunkis´-housing. The design engineers there are all chartered in different parts of the world; UK, USA etc. And they are definately not inside the box.

The problem that we had in Sweden when it comes to bridge design is the one you mention, handing in calculations. That's not have design reviews are done elsewhere. In the UAE for example, the checking is done by the means of an independent calculation done by a third part, where the results are then checked against the results of the design, i.e. the drawings.

In this way, the chartering is only avalidation that the responsible engineer has basic knowledge of the norms and the science. In that way, the actual calculations are unneccessary to review since most of it will anyway be norm checking, which is for me not design work.

What killed the bridge design in Sweden was the demands to check every calculation step done, every number must be validated and referenced. Easy on a small simple structure, almost impossible on larger structures.

Posted by Dan Tue, November 29, 2011 22:38:18

A comment well worth the effort. :) Good point too. But doesn't that scenario presuppose a chartering system based on detailed descriptions of working methods? What if it wasn't. What if it were based on recurrent training, procedures for how innovations are tested, and for peer-reviews? If we did that, I stand by my post.

Posted by Christina C-J Tue, November 29, 2011 18:43:57

Is chartered engineers the solutions to all our problems? Sadly, I think not. There have been attempts, and even in use for some time within bridge engineering, to have certified engineers carrying out the design but, honestly, I don't think that's where the problem lies. Actually, it may very well have the opposite effect. The way to become a chartered engineer is excelling in meeting the norms and regulations. This is of course necessary, for sure, we do not want to kill people or risk their safety, but unfortunately it also has the effect of killing any attempts of thinking outside the current regulations, thinking outside the box as you like to refer to sometimes. While we may believe that making sure the engineer has sufficient knowledge to apply the norms and thereby avoiding having buildings or structures falling down, instead we are only safe as long as we keep designing the same things over and over again. Because, shame on you if you try to hand in calculations based on latest research to the persons in charge of checking your calculations – they will just make you re-do them in accordance to the normal procedure. And what happens if you try to design structures that fall outside the norm, do you extrapolate or do you actually try to understand the structural behavior? Indeed, we do need to do something, of that we do agree. But how? Well, chartered engineers may be one solution, and it will probably have a positive effect on your salary (which is good but not the point here), but this should be done in combination with a mentorship within the companies and a continuous discussion on how to allow innovations to be introduced to our field of practice. Because we need innovations in order to stay competitive but to bring on innovations you must have knowledge. And how to we ensure that the young engineers that start at their first job continue to learn as they grow more experienced? That's the real challenge!