The consulting engineer is not simply one that provides services as a professional engineer working for his or her own company. PEO defines a consulting engineer as those professional engineers with "significant experience" providing services directly to the public.
Let's have a look to determine if you have what it takes to be a consulting engineer.
Consulting Engineering in Practice
It is important to realize that the Consulting Engineer title is reserved in Ontario. You need to be more than a licensed member to utilize the term. As such there are certain requirements to ensure members are suitable for the unique challenges of independent practice.
Independent practice introduces the complexity of business aspects to the professional's practice. Imagine the consulting engineer who is going to lose money for the fifth consecutive month if he does not win the next bid. It is easy to see how business pressure has the potential to weigh on a professional's decision process. When such decisions involve the environment and the protection of the public the Associations tend to provide framework.
The requirements in Ontario to be designated as a consulting engineer are:
Note that independent professional practice is defined as:
Take note of the experience requirement. The individual must be a professional member. Thus they have at least four years of satisfactory experience to achieve that status. Then the individual must have five years of experience acting as a professional member for a total of nine years. In addition, two of those year must be engaged in independent practice. It is a significant requirement.
APEGA and the other Associations do not directly protect the designation of consulting engineer in a way any different from the title professional engineer. That does not mean that they are not fully aware how business pressure affects the professional. All Associations regularly deal with this special situation.
We have covered this subject in a superficial manner .... a brief overview. However, we would be stodgy, grey beards if we didn't dig a little deeper into everyday professional practice involving consulting engineers. Let's have a look at an example to gain a deeper understanding.
Davey Danger, P. Eng. is a managing parter at a firm called Fly By Night Consulting Engineers. Davey spent three months designing a detailed construction plan and worked with the client, Shining Halo Enterprises, to bid out and award the contract to a suitable Contractor.
In a decision, including both Davey and Shining Halo Enterprises, the construction contract is awarded to Dirt Cheap Contractors. Davey is later asked by his client, Shining Halo Enterprises, to approve a claim by the Contractor for additional payment.
First let's review a few different duties of Mr. Davey Danger, P. Eng.
If Davey approves the claim of the Contractor for additional payment, then it may be considered an admittance that the design was not sufficient. Davey also wants to continue providing quality work for the client as this Shining Halo Enterprises provides Davey's firm the majority of their revenue.
What is the best course of action for Davey?
Suggested Course of Action
There is a lot of information missing and that is typically how a PPE exam question goes. You will never have all the information and very often additional information is found as time passes. Regardless the decision making process and a recognition of the ethical dilemmas is critical.
A very important point to recognize is the conflict of interests that Davey faces. I have written more thoroughly about conflicts of interests here. There is a conflict between Davey's duty to himself and a duty to his client. There is also a conflict of interest between Davey's duty to his client, who pays his fee, and a duty to the contractor.
A professional can handle this in many ways and there is no one correct course of action. However, the examiner will be looking for a few key points. As a suggested course of action, I would first and foremost announce and discuss the conflict of interest with both the Client and the Contractor.
Red Hot Exam Tip
Announcement is a key step involving conflicts of interests and it is often acceptable to carry on in situations involving a conflict of interest. Consider a small town in which there is only one consulting engineer with expertise in the area. He will, of course, have various degrees of relationships with each of the contractors.
Next the course of action really depends on the scope of the Contractor's claim. If the scope, and monies involved are small, then after a quick discussion with all parties the process can move along with that consulting engineer.
However, if the scope involves a significant amount of money and time it may be wise to involve a third party engineer to make the decision.
How Would You Act?
I think you can see the potential for business pressure to affect the consulting engineers decision process. Also I think you can see how quickly these situations become complex.
I hope you understand that questions involving ethical dilemmas and consulting engineers, do not have a single correct answer. The examiner will be looking for a recognition of the important ethical situations and your identification of the different duties owed.
Mike Grossman, P. Eng.