Professional Engineers – The Invisible Profession

Many people in our community, including reporters and community leaders, think that things such as spectacular bridges, skyscrapers, aeroplanes, manufacturing plants and space ships are designed by Scientists and that Engineers do the welding or use their spanners to put the bolts in. In reality, these technological items are designed by Professional Engineers using mathematics and scientific principles from physics and chemistry while the welding and bolt assembly is carried out by skilled welders and mechanics. Professional Engineers also seek assistance from Scientists when they are looking for some scientific breakthroughs to apply to their designs so as to make improvements for the benefit of the community. For example, to design buildings to be more energy efficient to reduce our greenhouse gases and help minimise global warming.

The wide community perception of the Engineers putting in the bolts or driving the trains and the fact of Professional Engineers being largely invisible occurs in many English speaking countries around the world due to the wide use of the “engineer” title to designate pretty well all groups in the engineering workforce as well as many related occupations. The “engineer” title is used to designate “Professional Engineers”, “Engineering Technologists”, “Engineering Associates” (or Engineering Technical Officers), “Engineering Drafters”, “Engineering Technicians”, “Engineering Tradespeople” such as “Mechanics”, “Engineering Assistants”, “Petrol Pump Attendants”, “Engine Drivers” and “Ships Engineers”, etc.

In the field of telecommunications, for example, the most visible Engineers are Technicians with their Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, Cisco Certified Internet Engineer, etc technician qualifications. The Professional Engineers themselves often go by the job title of Manager, Professional Officer, Executive or Chief Technology Officer, etc but rarely by the title of Professional Engineer. Hence, Telecommunications Professional Engineers are largely invisible in the community and virtually no one is aware of their achievements in the high level design of microwave telecommunications systems, for example. This situation applies more or less to all fields of engineering of which there are many. Thus there are virtually no visible Professional Engineer role models for students to aspire to. This results in a lack of student knowledge about professional engineering and a lack of interest in students doing professional engineering qualifications at universities. As a result the profession struggles to keep pace with the demand for competent Professional Engineers to help advance Australian manufacturing and industry generally to be world competitive.

The Ingenieurs Australia Society sets out to remedy this problem for Australia by helping Professional Engineers and their achievements become more visible in the community along with their roles of high level technological design, project management and executive management.

Written by: Ing. Kelvin Lillingstone-Hall, FIEAust, CPEng.