“Where do you work?” “What do you do?” These are the questions that are used as ice-breakers in social interactions. Unless you live alone on an island, you will probably have to answer at least one of these questions hundreds of times throughout your social life. This conversation is a bit more awkward for Technologists than it is for Engineers.
The dialogue often goes like this for me:
New Acquaintance: What work do you do?
Me: Civil Engineering. I design roads.
New Acquaintance: Oh you’re an Engineer?
Me: No, I’m a Technologist.
New Acquaintance: What’s that?
Me: Well, I do Civil Engineering work but I’ve studied at a University of Technology. My BTech degree makes me a Technologist.
This conversation can vary in many ways for different people depending on time constraints and the knowledge of the new acquaintance. I have friends that just answer, “I’m an Engineer.” This is often the easiest answer that can help the listener quickly understand what you do. I personally like to say that I’m a Technologist for a few reasons, viz.; I’m a proud Technologist and I hold that title with pride.
I think awareness should be created around this subject. My experience has shown me that Engineers sometimes take offence to Technologists calling themselves Engineers.
What is the difference between Engineers and Technologists?
The Candidate Academy has provided more basic definitions in their Road to Registration guidelines:
“Engineers should be ‘innovators’ responsible for complex tasks and should use engineering principles where necessary to develop unique solutions.”
“Technologists solve broadly defined engineering problems by using proven techniques and are thus the ‘doers’ who implement broadly defined tasks or projects.”
Real Industry Experience – Experience is King
Within the Consulting Engineering Environment, I have found that experience is king in this industry. My real learning really began when I got my first job. I sometimes feel as though my qualifications were just a foot in the door.
I’ve seen first-hand that you can go as far as you want to go if you have the right attitude and never stop learning. I don’t feel limited by the fact that I’ve got a BTech degree. A Senior Engineer once said to me, “Some of the best engineers I’ve worked with have been technologists.”
Why Is This Important?
Stigma: The BTech degree was introduced into South Africa’s education framework relatively recently, and for this reason, much of the senior management in the engineering sector is made up of Engineers and not Technologists. Because of this, there still exists a certain stigma around this qualification within the Engineering Industry.
I know of companies that do not allow Technologists to carry out design work. Increased understanding and acceptance of Technologists and their capabilities will reduce this stigma. This will enable Technologists to reach their full potential and result in better administration of resources within the engineering environment.
Professional Registration: If you have a BTech degree you can only register as a Professional Technologist (PrTechEng). If a Technologist wishes to register as a Professional Engineer (PrEng) and he/she might want to do so considering the stigma I’ve mentioned above, the only way this is possible is if he/she completes a BEng or BSc Engineering degree.
These programs are only offered full time so it’s unlikely that a Technologist would opt for this after he/she has already spent five years getting that BTech degree. What if a Technologist is performing all the functions performed by an Engineer? Why can’t he/she register as a Professional Engineer? The answer that has been provided to this question in the past is, “Technologists lack the theoretical foundation required to be registered as Professional Engineers. There is a theoretical gap that exists between the two.”
The question now becomes: What if a Technologist attempts to close that theoretical gap by completing post-graduate studies like MTech (Engineering), DTech (Engineering), BSc (Hons) (Engineering) or MSc (Engineering)? The sad reality is that this person is still only allowed to register as a Professional Technologist (PrTechEng) as currently stipulated by ECSA.
Should Technologists Be Able To Register As Professional Engineers?
In my experience I have found that:
- There are Technologists who are not capable of performing the tasks of an Engineer.
- There are Technologists who are capable of doing some of the work an Engineer is capable of.
- There are Technologists who are capable of doing all the work an Engineer is capable of.
- There are even those Engineers who are not competent enough to be registered as Professional Engineers.
- There are those out there who hold BTech undergraduate degrees who are capable of functioning and performing as Engineers. Many of these Technologists have completed post-graduate studies to bridge that “theoretical gap.”
I strongly believe there should be a system in place to identify these people and allow them to register as Professional Engineers.
Allowing these Technologists to register as Professional Engineers would mean that a new set of requirements, policies and registration procedures would need to be developed. A pre-requisite for this type of registration could be a certain level of post-graduate study, e.g. MTech or BSc (Hons), since theoretical knowledge seems to be the area where Technologists fall short.
The University of Pretoria has created several Honours programs for those with BTech degrees. ECSA could work with institutions like these to ensure that these programs bridge that theoretical gap.
ECSA has created many valuable methods for various people to register professionally. For instance, mature candidates with more than ten years of experience who are not able to trace their experience adequately can still register. Surely, it’s possible to have another system developed that would allow certain Technologists to be registered as Professional Engineers.
Having this type of registration in place would allow for exceptional Technologists to reach their full potential, reducing the stigma that surrounds the BTech degree and ultimately reducing the severe shortage of Engineers in the South African Engineering sector.
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