In the UK, the title of a professional Engineer is not protected compared to other technical professions, such as doctors or architects. Anyone can call themselves and practice as an engineer, regardless of their level of knowledge or experience. In countries like the US and Canada, the engineering title is protected by law. It is illegal to claim to be an engineer without being registered. The process to do this is similar to attaining chartership in the UK. This article discusses ethical arguments for and against making the title of engineer protected by law in the UK. The initial decision made by the group is against it.
The Ethical Arguments For Protecting the Title of Engineer in the UK
According to utilitarianism, an argument for protecting the title could be that many countries, such as America, Canada and Germany, have already made it illegal to practise or call yourself an engineer without being registered. Therefore, if the UK followed suit, it would encourage movement of engineers between the UK and other countries. This will enhance the sharing of knowledge across the global engineering society. Furthermore, protecting engineers’ titles will raise the status of engineers, placing them on the same level as other technical professions, giving them more dignity in their work. This will do the most good for most people in the UK and other countries.
Applying Duty ethics, it is considered a norm for technical professionals such as; doctors and architects to have their titles protected in the UK. This applies in reciprocity as the title of an engineer is protected in other countries like the United States1. Kant’s theory supports an action if the individual is okay for others to perform this action. In this case, other technical professions have protected titles, and other countries have the title of engineer protected; therefore, Kant’s theory supports the title of engineer being protected in the UK. A protected title would bestow a person who achieved that status with the recognition and acknowledgement of being a ‘good’ engineer; protecting it would make it harder to achieve and therefore an aspiration. Virtue ethics states that people who maintain a moral character make good decisions and so protecting the title encourages engineers to act in integral and competent ways to maintain the ideal of a ‘good’ engineer. Therefore, virtue ethics supports this as well Protecting the title of engineer increases the level of trust between engineers, their clients and customers; this is because they are assured that the services provided by these engineers are of the highest standards. It will also improve the relationship between respective engineers as they would have gone through similar processes to become certified, instilling a sense of mutual respect. Care ethics argues that an action is right or justified if it improves the quality of the relationship between the individual and those the actions affect, i.e. the stakeholders. Protecting the engineering title enhances the relationship between engineers, customers, and other engineers; demonstrating that care ethics supports this argument.
The Ethical Arguments Against Protecting the Title of Engineer in the UK
The basis behind protecting a title is to ensure a competent standard of work that those with the title should maintain. Having a protected title would inadvertently raise one’s expectations in their work, causing one to strive to achieve this standard and meet the target. Therefore, in the theory of virtue ethics, one would strive to be the best person one can be, which means that a title should not be the motivation to become a “good” engineer. In this manner, Virtue ethics opposes protecting the engineering title as a “good engineer” will perform to the highest standards regardless of a title.
Guarding engineers’ titles will bring a sense of pride and superiority to those with the title. This may cause them to view other professionals in the industry (such as mechanics and technicians) as less valuable. Directly comparing engineers to professionals in the industry through a title, will make it harder to foster a healthy working relationship between the two. Care ethics supports an action if it improves the quality of the relationship between the individual and those the actions affect. For these reasons, care ethics argues against protecting engineers titles.
Attaining the protected title as an engineer is a lengthy and costly process that requires at least a Bachelor’s degree in engineering and four years of service as an engineer in a company. In addition to this, the title is not a permanent fixture; a further cost ranging between forty to three hundred dollars, depending on your age, is required yearly to maintain the right to use the title as seen in the United States. Many engineers see this as an unjust requirement as additional payment should not be the deciding factor on the quality of an engineer. An alternative path currently employed is a route through an apprenticeship program taken by a large proportion of engineers. There were about 162,000 engineering apprentices in 20202, while the UK only produces 46,000 engineering graduates yearly3. Protecting the title of an engineer will segregate people who have taken the apprenticeship route; this negatively affects a more significant number of people hence utilitarianism is against this.
The golden mean ethical theory states that moral behaviour exists as a middle ground between two extremes. The Uk’s system is a current working model existing between the extremes of full, and no protection. Chartership in the UK offers some recognition and protection for experienced engineers who choose this route. To obtain a chartership, an engineer needs a master’s level of knowledge and significant professional experience. According to the golden mean ethical theory, the UK’s current system is the optimum method of resolving the binary decision, arguing against protecting the title.
- En.wikipedia.org. n.d. Regulation and licensure in engineering – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_and_licensure_in_engineering#:~:text=In%20the%20United%20States%2C%20the,is%20specifically%20granted%20by%20that> [Accessed 30 March 2022].
- House of Commons Library. 2022. Apprenticeship statistics for England. [online] Available at: <https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn06113/> [Accessed 30 March 2022].
- Times Higher Education (THE). 2012. Engineering graduate numbers ‘need to double’ by 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/engineering-graduate-numbers-need-to-double-by-2020/422014.article> [Accessed 30 March 2022].