Engineers do an important job. They design things that we use every day.
Some of those things we even trust with our lives.
Think about the car that drives you to work in the morning, an engineer had a hand in making that.
Same goes with the roads you drive that car on and the bridges, overpasses, traffic lights and intersections that connect the network of roadways.
That’s just a small sample of some of the things engineers help to build. But we can all agree that if something went wrong with anything on that short list, it would spell disaster and quite possibly death.
However, we aren’t terrified of driving or using roadways or crossing bridges. We trust that the engineers who designed these items knew what they were doing.
We do this because we know that engineers go to school for several years to earn their degrees and only do so after being rigorously tested many times to prove they know their stuff. But what if they didn’t?
In Alberta, only those with Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) accreditation can use the title engineer and practice as such. Individuals seeking accreditation must meet certain criteria, including academic requirements (such as having a degree in engineering) and passing the National Professional Practice Exam (NPPE) to receive a license.
Or at least that’s the way it used to be.
In 1999, Czech immigrant Ladislav Mihaly applied for APEGA membership. He was denied membership because his two master’s degrees, one from the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava and one from the Prague Institute of Chemical Technology, were deemed not be equivalent to a bachelor’s degree here.
In addition to not meeting the academic requirements, he also failed the NPPE. Three times.
So, in 2008, he appealed to the Alberta Human Rights Commission on the grounds that he was being turned down by APEGA not because he was grossly under-qualified, but because APEGA was discriminating against him for being Czech.
Even more bizarrely, the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal ruled in favour of Mihaly last month.
Now APEGA must not only re-assess his credentials (and presumably deliver a more favourable outcome) but pay him $10,000 in damages.
The disturbing thing to come out of this is not that we may have an under-qualified engineering legally practicing in Alberta, it is that this sets precedent and opens the door for other under-qualified ‘professionals’ to do the same.