WHAT IS ENGINEERING?
Engineering is the practice of science, engineering science and technology concerned with the solution of problems of economic importance and those essential to the progress of society. Solutions are reliant on basic scientific, mathematical and engineering knowledge. Solutions rely on analysis and synthesis, underpinned by sound techno-economic analysis. Solutions must take into account the needs of society, sustainability and the protection of the physical environment. Engineering work requires management and communication, and must be conducted ethically and within the bounds of applicable legislation.
Engineering work is essential to both economic activity and to national development. Engineering work, while offering such benefits also involves health, safety, environmental, economic and sustainability risks that must be managed. Effective, safe and sustainable engineering work is founded on the competence and integrity of engineering professionals.
Engineering thus involves activities or contributions to activities that serve economic, social or human needs, including:
- Designing materials, components, systems or processes;
- Planning the capacity and location of infrastructure;
- Investigating, advising and reporting on engineering problems;
- Improvement of materials, components, systems or processes;
- Managing or operating plant and processes;
- Managing implementation or construction projects;
- Implementing designs or solutions;
- Research, development and commercialization of products, and
- Education, training and development of engineering personnel.
Where effective persuit of these engineering activities is enabled by:
- The performance of problem solving, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, communication, self-management, teamwork;
- Application of specialist and fundamental engineering knowledge and technologies, underpinned by relevant fundamentals of basic science, engineering science and mathematics;
- Taking measures to safeguard the general and occupational safety, health and welfare of people;
- Ensuring that solutions are economic, sustainable and protect the environment;
- Using judgement, guided by engineering knowledge, in decision making; and
- Effective employment of people, work processes and resources; while, at all times, the Professional;
- Adheres to the code of ethics, and
- Takes responsibility for the results of the work.
Management of projects is a fundamental aspect of all engineering work and is employed by engineering personnel of all disciplines in the performance of their daily tasks.
The practice of Engineering thus means the performance of one or more of the engineering activities requiring at least the level of competency defined for Stage 2 categories.
PROFESSIONAL STATUS IN PERSPECTIVE
These questions are often asked, with some justification, particularly since registration is largely voluntary. In the era of the Engineering Profession of South Africa Act, 1990 it was more difficult to answer these questions because there was no compulsion for any engineering practitioner to be registered and be subject to a Code of Professional Conduct. There was a lack of political will on the part of the then Government to place a higher premium on public safety and health in engineering than free-market principles. The Competition Commission did not make things any easier for the engineering profession to justify reservation of work for registered persons who have at least been assessed as competent by their peers and who are professionally accountable for their professional behaviour.
The old Act has now been superseded by the Engineering Profession Act, 2000 (Act No. 46 of 2000) (pdf file) which not only emphasises compulsory registration but is fully supported by a Government that insists on public protection from unprofessional practices by individuals who are not accountable for their actions. The Built Environment Councils have been given two years in which to implement compulsory registration of all persons practising their profession.
It is, therefore, easier to answer the questions now than before. Why? Because reserving work constitutes a form of licensing, and without a license a person is prevented from earning a living! This is in itself sufficient motivation to register and not to ponder over potential benefits registration can offer.
However, probably more importantly, the real motivation for registration is rather to be found in the noble aims and objectives of the engineering profession and the government. The ECSA, as the statutory leg of the profession and the Voluntary Associations, as the voluntary leg of the profession both aspire to improve professionalism amongst practitioners in the engineering profession. However, their objectives have different perspectives - the ECSA focuses on public safety, health and interests and the Voluntary Associations’ focus on the interests of their own members (i.e. the practitioners).
Looking only at the ECSA perspective for the moment, promotion of professionalism is achieved by setting and maintaining standards relating to education (Accreditation), practical training and professional development after formal education as indicated in the Policy Statements listed below, the Code of Professional Conduct and taking such other action as is necessary, at least, to ensure the maintenance of standards:
- Policy Statement R2/1A for Engineers
- Policy Statement R2/1B for Technologists
- Policy Statement R2/1D for Certificated Engineers
- Policy Statement R2/1C for Technicians
- Policy Statement R2/1F for Lift Inspectors
- Policy Statement R2/1J for Lifting Machinery Inspectors
Every registered person who subscribes to the setting of standards, and the enforced maintenance thereof, should be registered with the ECSA. In so doing they not only make this fact known to the public but also make a statement to the effect that they are prepared to subject themselves to the scrutiny of their peers should they conduct themselves improperly. By registering, the hands of the statutory profession can further be strengthened in achieving its goals.
Financial gain or the achievement of status in themselves are merely by-products of registration and not the principal aims, however important to the majority of the practitioners.