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.
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