In order to protect public safety, engineers must receive a certain level of education and experience in order to practice independently. The Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta (APEGA ) works to ensure that the practicing engineers within Alberta have received proper education and experience, including individuals that have received training in other countries.
Some believe that the standards put forth by APEGA are too strict for people from certain countries. They believe that it prevents those individuals from practicing within Alberta. One case in particular, Ladislav Mihaly vs. APEGA, the Human Rights Commission ruled that APEGA was discriminating against Mr. Mihaly. They ruled in favor of Mihaly because of an inconsistent manner of assessing the education and experience of candidates from other nations.
Here is APEGA's stance in a release video from their YouTube channel.
APEGA Credential Requirements
APEGA has a set of requirements in place for international engineers that wish to practice in Alberta:
The first requirement is for the applicant to have sufficient academic training. One task that must be completed is to verify that an applicant’s education is in compliance with Canadian standards. I personally have run into a problem in which a company I was with did not check credentials. It was very quickly apparent this individual did not posses engineering skills and knowledge.
Every country has different accreditation criteria for universities. If his or her education is found to be lacking in any area, or the country’s accreditation standards are not on the same level as Canada’s, the applicant may be required to take confirmatory exams to ensure that he or she has sufficient technical expertise.
Fifteen countries have entered into the Washington Accord, headed by the United States, to assure that the accreditation processes are essentially the same across all fifteen countries. Any country wishing to join the Washington Accord must be unanimously approved by all participating countries.
Because the education standards across these countries are similar, there is less scrutiny on the applicants from these nations. However, they may still have to take extra exams if there is some irregularity in their credentials. Individual institutions can also apply to the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB) to have their credentials reviewed.
The practice in which the Human Rights Commission found to be in question was the use of the Foreign Degree List. Countries that are on this list have been researched through “open source” documentation to determine if the educational requirements are similar to those in Canada.
Applicants from these nations are not required to take as many confirmatory exams as applicants from countries not on this list. The problem that arises is that the country of origin is used to determine the number of exams rather than an individual’s specific education. This is where one source of the implied discrimination lies.
APEGA will waive the confirmatory exams if the applicant can show that he or she has at least 10 years of “progressively responsible experience”. Although Mr. Mihaly could prove that he had over 10 years of experience, the board did not feel that he showed an increase in responsibilities and aptitude over the years. Regardless Mr. Mihaly was granted a lot of credits for his education and only had to write three of the Fundamental Engineering exams along with the Professional Practice Exam.
APEGA is increasingly using the United States’ Fundamentals of Engineering Exams from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) to assess the level of education from people of varying backgrounds. This exam covers much of the basic material that is to be expected from a Canadian Bachelor’s Degree in engineering.
Even though this basic exam tests the individual on basic principles of engineering, the opinion of the Human Rights Commission in Mr. Mihaly’s case is that this exam is a “one-size-fits-all” approach and is not flexible enough and that experience should be considered as an alternative.
The second requirement for the board to approve an applicant is four years of engineering experience. At least one year of Canadian engineering experience must be under a licensed professional.
The one year in Canada provides the applicant with the knowledge of Canadian laws and standards. This aids the applicant in the fifth requirement of passing the National Professional Practices Exam (NPPE), that is required of all engineers, Canadian and international, wishing to practice in Alberta.
The board felt that the work Mr. Mihaly performed in Canada was not at the “engineer” level, but more of a “technician” level. Thus it would not apply to the requirement of one year Canadian engineering experience. Mr. Mihaly also attempted the NPPE three times and could not pass, citing the language barrier as the cause.
The fourth requirement for an applicant to be approved as a professional engineer is “English language competency”. Most of Alberta is English-speaking. In order for an engineer to perform his or her essential duties, he or she must be able to communicate effectively.
The purpose of the Human Rights Commission is to protect individuals from discrimination because of many factors such as “place of origin” and to prevent these factors from being a disadvantage to their well being.
The opinion of the Human Rights Commission against APEGA is that “the requirements to pass the confirmatory exams, the FE, and theNPPE exams and possess one year of Canadian experience do perpetuate a disadvantage”.
However, these requirements are put in place to protect the public by ensuring that an engineer is competent enough to perform his or her duties effectively and safely. If an engineer cannot prove that he or she is competent by passing these basic exams, it is putting the public at risk.
Let's Wrap It Up
This is a tough one to conclude. Looking deeper into Mihaly's story has me definitely siding with APEGA. However it a different individual was brought forward there would definitely more of an argument.
Pass along your thoughts in the comments below.