On November 8, 2017, Barry Cavanaugh, Chief Executive Officer and General Counsel of the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET), posted a news item on ASET's website regarding scope of practice for technologists and the many conversations that APEGA has had with ASET over the decades on this topic.
Although it was presented as if APEGA is at odds with ASET, we resolutely agree with ASET on many things. APEGA and ASET share the same core values:
- We agree that public safety and the public interest are paramount in all decisions regarding the professions.
- We agree that engineering and geoscience must be regulated.
- We agree that engineering and geoscience professionals should be licensed.
- We agree that engineering and geoscience technologists are respected and valued members of any team.
As of 2009, APEGA and ASET have shared the crucial responsibility of regulating the designations of individuals in the engineering and geoscience professions in Alberta. Each plays a unique and important role in the process.
- Professional Engineers
- Professional Geoscientists
- Professional Licensees
- Certified Engineering Technologists
- Certified Technicians
APEGA and ASET jointly regulate Professional Technologists because they have an independent scope of practice and have the authority to authenticate their work.
APEGA and ASET have been successfully regulating these designations. That's why we were surprised and dismayed by Mr. Cavanaugh's post. We respect Mr. Cavanaugh's right to his opinion. As with any partnership, each party can see things a bit differently. This can be healthy. It can ensure robust discussion in our mutual goal to strengthen the professions and our regulatory functions. Nonetheless, opinions must not substitute for facts, and we need to correct some of the information in the post and share APEGA's perspective on the topic.
Mr. Cavanaugh is correct that APEGA and ASET discussed scope of practice for technologists in 1994. However, APEGA Council did not agree to a definition for a scope of practice for technologists, nor has it ever rescinded an agreement.
The confusion stems from an August 1994 report by a joint APEGA-ASET Discussion Team, consisting of four APEGA members and four ASET members, that was created to discuss multiple topics, including a definition of practice for engineering technology and applied science technology.
We don't know what authority the ASET members had. We do know that the APEGA members had no authority to reach an agreement on behalf of APEGA Council nor to bind APEGA Council. The recommendations of the Discussion Team were simply that, recommendations.
In September 1994, APEGA Council carefully considered the Discussion Team's recommendations. Council worried that the public may have difficulty distinguishing the proposed definition from the existing definition for the practice of engineering because they were so similar. In addition, many codes and practice standards are written for use by Professional Engineers who are expected to exercise judgement in when and how to apply them. Because of these reasons, Council strongly believed that public safety could be seriously compromised if it accepted the proposed definition. Therefore, APEGA Council rejected the recommendations and advised ASET by letter. No prior agreement was rescinded. No prior practice rights for Certified Engineering Technologists (C.E.T.s) had been promulgated.
Fast forward to July 2016. As part of the legislative review process (that started in 2014), APEGA continued to collaboratively discuss with ASET options for regulatory improvements for technologists. During those discussions, ASET stated a desire for universal registration of technologists.
APEGA believed that universal registration would describe the occupations of engineering and geoscience technologists and that this description would identify who needed to register as C.E.T.s. APEGA wholeheartedly agreed with this concept, and we included the description in our submission to the Government of Alberta as one of our more than 80 recommended changes to the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act.
Unfortunately, as can happen, there was a misunderstanding of terminology. By universal registration, we now understand that ASET meant an independent scope of practice for C.E.T.s, not a description of the occupation of technologists. In January 2017, APEGA suspected that perhaps there was a misunderstanding. We repeatedly asked ASET for clarification in writing. In June 2017, ASET finally confirmed that universal registration was synonymous with independent scope of practice.
ASET has been requesting an independent scope of practice for technologists since 1984. APEGA has always and consistently stated that this is not in the public interest and could jeopardize public safety. When ASET confirmed its definition for universal registration was independent practice, APEGA explained that we could not endorse it.
We know and appreciate the importance of this topic for ASET. We completely understand and support a pathway for experienced C.E.T.s to advance their careers. That's why, in 2009, the Professional Technologist and Professional Licensee designations were created. Both of these designations give qualified technologists independent limited scopes of practice. In this regard, Alberta led, and still leads, Canada in providing a path for technologists to advance their practice based on specific experience and expertise.
Regarding Mr. Cavanaugh's concern with APEGA filing our recommended legislative changes to the provincial government independently from ASET, some background is required.
Starting in 2014, APEGA and ASET held collaborative, biweekly meetings to discuss how best to modernize legislation that hadn't been updated in more than 35 years. As of September 2015 to December 2016, these discussions evolved to weekly meetings with ASET and the Government of Alberta.
During this three-year process, proposed recommendations were thoroughly reviewed, and all parties had the opportunity to discuss any concerns. At no point did ASET disagree with any of the recommendations. In fact, both ASET and the Government of Alberta representatives gave us the impression that they supported the recommendations. Therefore, we were surprised when, late in the process, ASET brought forward the universal registration topic for C.E.T.s.
Naturally, we were extremely disappointed when ASET informed us that they would not file a joint submission to the government with us unless we included a recommendation for an independent scope of practice for technologists. Due to our concerns for public safety, we couldn't support this request. In addition, as we had committed to the government that we would submit our joint submission with recommendations by the end of January 2017, we had no choice but to file separately, copying ASET on our submission.
Mr. Cavanaugh mentions in his post that ASET members are deserving of recognition and respect. We completely agree. Technologists are valued and important members of any engineering or geoscience team. We would hope that all engineering and geoscience technologists are treated with the respect they deserve.
Nonetheless, respect is not a criterion for an independent scope of practice. Public safety must always be the first consideration, not self-interest. Other professions, such as professional biologists, professional chemists, and information systems professionals, are also self-regulating professions. These professions, the same as ASET technologists, require that their members be qualified, adhere to a code of ethics, and be subject to disciplinary action, but they do not have independent scopes of practice.
Most disturbing to APEGA is ASET's view that work within codes and standards and applying established and accepted principles is work that anyone can do without the work being authenticated by a licensed professional. Mr. Cavanaugh states that codes and standards are themselves authenticated, thus requiring no additional authentication by a Professional Member. If this were correct, anyone from the public could alter or design a pressure vessel or design the wiring system for an office building without oversight or taking responsibility for the work.
Codes and standards are not recipes with step-by-step instructions. For example, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers' Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code, which has been adopted for use in Alberta through the Alberta Pressure Equipment Safety Regulation, explicitly states:
"The Code is not a handbook and cannot replace education, experience, and the use of engineering judgment. The phrase engineering judgment refers to the technical judgments made by knowledgeable engineers experienced in the application of the Code."
American Society of Mechanical Engineers' Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code
Mr. Cavanaugh has proposed that the roles and responsibilities of technologists have evolved and matured; therefore, the time has come for technologists to be granted independent scopes of practice. However, what has not changed is the fundamental nature
of codes and standards.
Modern building and safety codes are outcome-based guidelines requiring complex problem solving using complex methodologies. For those technologists who have expanded their education and experience and believe that they are ready for an independent scope of practice, they have the option of applying to become a Professional Technologist or Professional Licensee. Expanding scope of practice to C.E.T.s is not only unnecessary, it is potentially harmful to the public – a risk APEGA is simply not willing to take.
We agree with ASET and Mr. Cavanaugh that Albertans should be entitled to know who is qualified and trusted to do a given thing, which is why APEGA maintains that the current pathway provided to C.E.T.s should remain as is.
For more information on this important matter, please view our YouTube video that explains it in greater detail.