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Area of Competence + Ethics
3

Area of Competence + Ethics

Area of Competence + Ethics

(OP)
The NSPE Code of Ethics States the following:

Engineers shall perform services only in the areas of their competence.
-Engineers shall undertake assignments only when qualified by education or experience in the specific technical fields involved.
-Engineers shall not affix their signatures to any plans or documents dealing with subject matter in which they lack competence, nor to any plan or document not prepared under their direction and control.
-Engineers may accept assignments and assume responsibility for coordination of an entire project and sign and seal the engineering documents for the entire project, provided that each technical segment is signed and sealed only by the qualified engineers who prepared the segment.


Does "education" mean formal education (i.e. university coursework) only, or can it mean seminars, training courses or even self-education via reading established literature or other references? If the former, it seems that engineers would only be able to perform work that they had previously performed under the responsible charge of another engineer. As no two projects are the same and codes/ technology are always changing, it seems that this strict interpretation is not standard practice. For example, when new seismic force resisting systems were added to the building code, previous employers would read the applicable literature on the systems, perhaps attend a seminar and incorporate the new systems in their building designs.

It would be great to hear everyone's opinions on the matter.

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

"Education" is certainly not limited to formal education; I would consider the real world school of hard knocks to be of far greater value.

Just because a particular thing has not been done before, doesn't stop someone who knows the general subject matter from extrapolating from past experience and predicting what will happen when it's done the first time.

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

Considering that many of the state boards require continuing education, I think you'd be hard put to say that a seminar (or any qualifying activity) was not "education". If it's continuing education, it must be education.

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

(OP)
Thanks for your responses. Do you consider self-education via reading accepted literature to be "education"?

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

2
hell i consider reading eng-tips to be education. Ive picked up a lot of useful knowledge here. i claim my time spent on here for professional development hours too.

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

Are you concerned with satisfying the letter of the law of some legal document, or are you concerned with improving your own actual knowledge and abilities?

If the latter then anything and everything can help. You will learn more about building a house by actually doing it, including the underlying research and consulting with others beforehand on HOW to do it, than you will ever learn by just reading books. You will, of course, have to do some reading of books in order to get through this process. But there is no substitute for DOING.

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

"Education" to me is any form of study done independent of actual design activities. That being said, my biggest pet peeve in engineering is the "or" in the first statement, "Engineers shall undertake assignments only when qualified by education or experience in the specific technical fields involved." I firmly believe that it is highly unethical to engineer without a combination of education and experience in a particular niche as it presents real danger to the public, needless risk to employers and clients, and damages the reputation of others in the profession. If I had a nickel for every clown who believed their degree and license made them a subject matter expert, I'd be engineering Joe Public's product ideas for free in between lengthy vacations.

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

(OP)
My goal is to expand my knowledge and abilities and also comply with ethical standards.

I think the "or" in "education or experience" is important, as if both were required, it would limit an engineer to performing work that they have done previously. As technology and codes are always changing, requiring both education and experience would prohibit the use of new technologies and analysis methods. That said, mechanical engineering has many more relatively unrelated sub-disciplines than structural, so I can understand the frustration with engineers claiming expertise in areas in which they are not adequately trained.

I've also experienced the reverse to be true, in that I've worked for engineers who have "always done things a certain way," only to read the accepted literature and find that they were doing things incorrectly.


The bottom line is that an engineer must be competent in the areas that they are offering services, which means that they must have a clear understanding of the subject matter and the real world challenges in a particular area.

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

Quote:

I think the "or" in "education or experience" is important, as if both were required, it would limit an engineer to performing work that they have done previously. As technology and codes are always changing, requiring both education and experience would prohibit the use of new technologies and analysis methods.

Being ethically required to gain experience working under an experienced engineer isn't prohibitive to technology in the least, its a basic moral standard in many industries with far greater technology than SE and is how many consultants earn their paycheck. Its also the easier and cheaper way to become proficient vs blindly poking about with new software or other technology given little education as in your example above - garbage in = garbage out rarely is reflective of reality. If gaining experience under the supervision of competent engineers is a requirement for a task as simple as licensure, why shouldn't it be a requirement for complex work that actually impacts public safety?

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

(OP)
Sure it would be prohibitive of using new technologies. When a new technology first arises, no one has experience incorporating it into their designs. So should they never use it because they have no previous experience using it?

For example, mass timber is quickly becoming a popular building method which is facilitating the design and construction of high-rise wood structures. Most structural engineering firms do not have experience designing mass timber buildings, and initially, no one had such experience. Requiring "experience and education" would therefore prohibit engineers from designing such buildings unless they had done so before. However, there are many training resources available to allow engineers to gain understanding of and competence in this new and exciting type of construction.

Are you saying that engineering firms should not design mass timber buildings if they haven't done so already under the responsible charge of another engineer who has?

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

Quote:

When a new technology first arises, no one has experience incorporating it into their designs.

Sure they do, the team that developed and tested the particular technology has experience with it. To remain ethical others should gain experience through significant training under and/or hiring of those folks as consultants.

I cannot state a definitive opinion on designing mass timber buildings as I'm not a SE and unfamiliar with the challenges involved, however I'd question what aspects of this are "technology." To an ignorant ME looking in, this appears to be fairly straightforward given that the material and analysis necessary for larger structures seem to be well understood in your niche, albeit separately. To take this back into a realm we hopefully both understand, I run a lot of advanced FEA and CFD. Having seen far more incorrect "garbage in = garbage out" analyses than I care to remember, I would not entrust any such code to someone with little/no experience running them for safety dependent or complicated analysis without a thorough review by an experienced engineer.

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

(OP)
The definition of technology is broader than gadgets and gizmos:

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/technology

A wheel is technology, so is steel, mass timber, iphones and the like. My pet peeve is that these days, "tech" means computer science/ internet. Yelp is considered a "tech company", but exxon mobil is not, and exxon uses massive amounts of advanced technology in their work.

You stated:

"Sure they do, the team that developed and tested the particular technology has experience with it. To remain ethical others should gain experience through significant training under and/or hiring of those folks as consultants."

In my field, development and testing of a technology are not the same as implementing it in a real world situation, such as a building design, so even those who has tested and developed the technology would not have real world experience implementing it at first. A lot of the time, those who invest in the development of new technologies in my profession are manufacturers of building products and materials, who want their use and specification by design engineers on real world projects to be as ubiquitous as possible, which is often why they provide free training materials. They can also always apply for a patent to protect their invention from competitors.

Also, in my field, on a given project there is an "Engineer in Responsible Charge" who is required by law and ethical standards to be competent in the subject matter of their design. My understanding is that hiring an outside consultant to assist with the design of a new technology would often amount to "training" (i.e. education) but not "experience," as the consultant would have to be "in responsible charge" of that aspect of the project in order for the engineer to gain "experience" under them. Being in responsible charge would be bad for the consultant as they would likely be taking on more liability than if they could just provide training to the engineer. Also, after the initial project, the engineer could argue that they were competent by way of "experience" gained under the consultant and not hire them again.

Finally, allowing building technologies to be specified by all design engineers who are competent in their subject matter and use encourages competition (i.e. good for consumers) and the spread and adoption of those technologies into our economy.

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

When I think of the full meaning of education I think self-directed research, instruction by others, journals, code books, etc. all comply. The engineering degree means that you are also capable of learning on your own. Being a professional means a lifetime of study of your chosen career and NSPE, I think, reflects the same thought.

Engineers are capable of doing a lot of things; however, as an electrical engineer, I have no business designing a structure, highway, bearings, chemical process, etc. I don't have the education or expertise for those. But, if I wanted to get into signal analysis, circuit design, power generation and distribution, etc. I could because my degree plan covers those areas.

Industry has the misperception that engineers can only do what they've already done. I find that to be false.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC
NSPE-CO, Central Chapter
Dinner program: http://nspe-co.org/events.php

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

(OP)
Lacajun - I completely agree. I think the boundary of competency is pretty clearly drawn between the specific disciplines of engineering (civil, mechanical, electrical etc). I believe that if you have a degree, experience and if required, a license in a specific engineering discipline, then you are qualified to practice within the scope of that discipline, provided that you obtain and maintain competency with the subject matter of your practice through experience and/or education, which can include self-learning. I would never provide services outside of my discipline.

As an aside, however, there are some fields that overlap between disciplines. Mechanical/ Civil, Chemical/ Civil, Mechanical/ Electrical etc. all have some overlap. For example, Rigging Engineering is often practiced by mechanical and structural engineers, and environmental engineering can be part of a chemical or civil engineering degree program.

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

I agree about the overlap and have no problems with engineers working in those overlap areas.

Since you're quoting NSPE, I would guess that you wouldn't practice outside of your area of discipline. I've been involved in NSPE for a few years and have learned and grown a lot professionally.

Pamela K. Quillin, P.E.
Quillin Engineering, LLC
NSPE-CO, Central Chapter
Dinner program: http://nspe-co.org/events.php

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

Quote:

In my field, development and testing of a technology are not the same as implementing it in a real world situation, such as a building design, so even those who has tested and developed the technology would not have real world experience implementing it at first.

Its the same to some extent in every field. Rarely are the folks developing technology the same ones implementing it in the field, however lessons learned in the lab need to be applied or you run a decently high risk of needlessly wasting your customer's time and money which IMHO is unethical. My field (as I suspect they all do) has plenty of "experts" selling design services for products they have no experience with. When I worked for a large OEM I found it annoying as occasionally management would get hoodwinked into granting a contract and I was on the receiving end of several predictable failures as the project engineer/liaison. Working for a well respected design services firm now, it directly impacts my paycheck.

JMO, but experience designing small residences doesnt qualify a CE/SE to design a skyscraper or bridge, experience as a power engineer doesnt qualify one for designing microprocessors, nor does experience designing lifting devices qualify one for vehicle powertrain development. Regardless of education or field/niche of previous experience, if someone wants to risk their own time and money speculating that a design is viable based upon zero experience that is perfectly acceptable, however selling yourself as a "professional engineer" with zero relevant experience to the task at hand IMHO is unethical and fails the responsibility to the customer.

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

As an example, as chartered engineer, in order to maintain registration, it is required to fulfill certain criteria for continuing education with respect to a number of core competences (e.g. technical knowledge, leadership, communication/interpersonal skills, professional commitment, etc.). In view of the standard, continuing education includes formal education but is not limited to. Each of the following activities will count for example: formal education, self-directed studies, chairing meetings, publishing technical papers, conferences, participating to professional training, on the job training etc. Thus self-studying a technical book can be claimed as hours spent towards professional development. Of course, this is an example which is about the chartered engineering standard (in essence UK-based system or derived from) but it would makes sense that personal development implies an overall metric over several areas of competence. So if only one area is focused on (say formal education) and others neglected, it is counted towards continuing education but - on the overall - may fail to fulfill the requirements of the standard. So with regard to the continuing education, I could imagine that other professional standards vary in the way they interpretate the concept but would surprised if this is drastic difference.

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

My two cents:

This is for lawyers to decide in court if....an issue arises...

If you do good work and teach yourself, go take a class, webinar, etc. my opinion is that you meet the qualification. After all, you could sleep through a class, do poor work and claim to know what you’re doing. I really don’t think this comes into play unless an issue comes about.

With that said, good papers make good friends...so if you’re entering the Wild West frontier, maybe make yourself a memo of what you’re doing with dates, etc. Not if you’re in the same discipline, but me as a structural, if I wanted to do electrical, I’d start a spreadsheet and start documenting all the things I’m learning and doing to become qualified. If I get there by reading a bunch of books only, might be risky, but if my work is good, so be it.

Again, my two cents. Not being snarky, but lawyers define this...or at least I think that’s how it would go down

RE: Area of Competence + Ethics

My experience has been the structural engineers will avoid doing electrical. The real problem we have is civil engineers attempting to draw electrical designs (even the simplest of designs) and [obviously] having no idea at what they are doing. As a code professional, I wish there was an easier way than all of this "self-regulation." It makes it too easy for the unethical. I'm a proponent of having states license the engineers specific to their category of expertise.

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