The engineering profession, much like other professions, is facing disruptive change due to emerging technology. 

This fact formed the basis of a panel discussion at the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE)’s Future of Engineering conference, held on October 6 and 7, 2021. The panel, entitled The Future of the P.Eng. in the Face of Emerging Technology asked, what can be done in Ontario to ensure engineers remain relevant? 

The panel was moderated by former Engineers Canada president and current chair of the Electrical Safety Authority, Annette Bergeron, and featured panellists Charles Tremblay, Director, Digital Transformation, Notarius; Rick Guerra, President, National Society of Professional Engineers; APEGA’s Matthew Oliver; and Beryl Strawczynski, Manager, Regulatory Research and International Mobility, Engineers Canada.  

The panellists each shared their vision for the future of the engineering licence based on their experience and perspectives from their respective jurisdictions. Below, Engineers Canada’s Strawczynski recaps the thoughts she shared on the panel. 

Engineers Canada: The panel focused on the future of engineering and the P.Eng. What does the future of the engineering licence look like to you? 

Beryl Strawczynski: To me, there are three things to consider in the vision for the future of the engineering licence—the what, the who, and the why. That is to say, what needs to be licenced? Who needs to be licenced? And why get licensed, or put another way, what does the licence represent? 

EC: Can you expand a bit on each of those considerations? Let’s start with the ‘what.’ 

BS: We know the practice of engineering is becoming more complex and interdisciplinary, challenging existing regulatory models with the pace of change and proliferation across sectors. That means that we are at a junction regarding the future of engineering licensure.   

In one vision of the future, engineering licences are more concentrated than they are today. They exist for only a small number of disciplines. These are the more traditional and safety-related fields, such as civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering.   

In an alternate vision of the future, engineering regulation has fully embraced emerging, contemporary, and overlapping areas of practice, and licensure is much broader than we find today. This model goes beyond a traditional safety focus. It generates awareness and acceptance for the social value of licensure. This model succeeds when stakeholders recognize the definition of engineering and its activities. Regulators are proactive in educating and encouraging compliance.   

For example, this is what has been happening in software engineering. Many individuals and companies are not aware they are performing engineering, let alone the need for licensure. By emphasizing how this work constitutes engineering, connecting it not only to public safety but broader social impact, some regulators have been able to improve licensing rates. This could be a way forward as engineering extends across new and different domains.

EC: And what about the ‘who?’ Can you expand on that aspect? 

BS: The ‘who’ considers who is getting licenced—greater social awareness and understanding of engineering practice ties into a future where licences are not just for individuals. Entities that provide or sell engineering would be licensed too.  

Organizations have a significant influence on the behaviours and attitudes of engineering employees. The Charbonneau Commission in Quebec highlighted this connection between work environment pressures and individual behaviours. The findings called for more regulation and oversight at the entity level.  

As another example, BC’s new Professional Governance Act introduced entity regulation to strengthen the connection between individuals and their employers and ensure both have responsibility for their actions.   

EC: And finally, what do you mean when you referenced the ‘why’ of the engineering licence? 

BS: This third aspect about the future of the engineering licence is about why be licensed? What does the licence represent? The future of the engineering licence will continue to reflect the public’s expectation that the profession practice within their competencies and be bound by a code of ethics.  

With respect to competencies, a rapidly changing nature of work means that engineers will need to pursue lifelong learning to maintain technical and systems-wide competencies.   

Similarly, ethics will go beyond traditional concepts of “duty to the public” and whistleblowing and the public will increasingly expect engineers to consider the greater social impact of their work, including matters such as sustainability, equity, and social justice. Engineers will not only be responding to user needs but leading change.  

I’d predict that in the future, there will be more awareness of and emphasis on how the licence acts as a social contract, requiring the profession to uphold ethical conduct and take responsibility for addressing social challenges. 

EC: On the panel, you were also asked about how engineering is being modernized across Canada. What recent changes have been made to modernize the practice of engineering in this country? 

BS: There are many changes underway that have been helping to modernize the practice of engineering, and I highlighted a few of them on the panel, including: 

  • Public protection: Many regulators start their journey to modernization by re-establishing their role in public protection. Regulators have been working hard to change the perception they exist to serve the needs and wants of their registrants, instead reiterating how their mandate is to protect the public interest. They provide registrants with technical standards and help create the values and ethics of the profession which keep the public safe.   
  • Legislative updates: As part of the public protection mandate, many regulators have been seeking support from governments to update their legislative frameworks, which often date from a time in the last century when most technology we take for granted today didn’t exist. Regulators need modern and responsive legislation to deal with the changes we are experiencing in the profession.  
  • Modernizing governance structures: As part of legislative reform, more regulators are performing self-assessments to review their governance models and the roles of their Councils, Boards, and committees. This includes moving towards merit-based appointments instead of elections for representatives, controlling the size of key decision-making bodies, and pushing for fairer representation and more equity, diversity, and inclusion in governance matters to better reflect the population being served. 
  • Application procedures: As the nature of engineering work expands, most of the regulators have already changed their licence application procedures to evaluate work experience using competency-based reporting methods. This requires applicants to demonstrate where and how they have gained and applied key competencies, such as technical competence, communication, and professional accountability. Applicants describe their work stories and have them validated by supervisors and colleagues.
  • CPD programs: Continuing professional development programs have grown to help practitioners stay current and develop new competencies as the workplace shifts and expectations for lifelong learning become more prominent. The frequency of training and the types of acceptable experience are changing. The future of engineering will depend on broad foundational skills like creative problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication, which these CPD programs attempt to impart to engineers at all phases of their careers.
  • The impact of globalization: Globalization is another modern challenge as the mobility of work and practitioners continues to grow. Recognizing how many practitioners are educated and/or practised engineering internationally before coming to Canada, regulators have started to adjust their licensing procedures to accommodate those with international and diverse experiences and explore alternative pathways to obtaining a Canadian licence. Licence categories such as limited licences and temporary licences are also making the profession more accessible to those who may have been excluded previously.