Despite being in my mid-thirties, I still dread visiting the dentist where, on a recent visit, I noticed that the other teeth and gum conscious citizens, together with the receptionist, liberally referred to the dentist as ‘doctor,’ sometimes in the presence of the dentist herself.

Is a dentist a doctor – in the traditional sense? And was it alright to ask this question to the dentist without being insensitive and offensive? I did ask the question – and her instruments squealed and spun a bit more than usually that day.

So in engineering, who does what, at what level and in what context?

Without being insensitive or offensive can and may an engineering technician (Pr Techni Eng) do the work of a technologist (Pr Tech Eng), or the technologist the work of a certified engineer (Pr Cert Eng) or engineer (Pr Eng)? There are several technicians and technologists that run consulting engineering businesses or head government departments where engineering services are procured. I have also noticed that very often all categories of engineering practitioners often refer to themselves as engineers. In my experience the one cannot function without the other, and we all have our parts to play in the various phases of the project cycle, but apart from academic training, there appears to be limited definite and deliberate criteria that define our titles, roles and how we relate to one another in engineering practice.

On another related matter, and for the ease of writing, I will refer to the Pr Eng registration, but the principle refers to the other categories of registration as well. ECSA registers engineers. Upon registration, one becomes a professional engineer with a suffixed title. Without further clarification on the title and abilities, and by implication, the engineer is therefore positioned to take on responsibility over any engineering work or project. In my case, I am allowed to practise engineering across all disciplines despite my personal expertise being limited to experience in mining and municipal waste disposal, i.e. as a civil engineer, I am able to practise as an electrical engineer.

Some may argue that the code of ethics, the code of conduct and even SAICE’s similar documents, which include the recently published Credo of the African Engineer (where engineers solemnly accept to not practise outside of their field of qualification, training or expertise) would prevent this. But I dare say, even in light of these documents being made available on websites and in hard copy, their contents are not well known or adequately practised. I myself am not readily aware of its contents if questioned. Feel free to accuse me of setting a bad example, but let him who is fully aware of the holy contents of these documents cast the first stone. Furthermore, these documents are equivalent to guidelines or codes that are not enforceable. For adherence they rely on the goodwill and good intentions of engineers and the system in which we function. In addition to the common saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, we are quite aware of how good the nature of mankind really is, let alone the engineering business entrepreneur.  

It is clear that ECSA protects the interest of the public by ensuring that engineering practitioners register in their specific categories, and in doing so ensures that the fly-by-night practitioners are kept out of the system. It follows then, that if an individual is not a registered engineer, then that individual may not practise as an engineer in South Africa, irrespective of the client. Take the government, as client, as an example – not all tender documents insist on registered professionals tendering for engineering work. Arguably, while ECSA, which is a government organisation, may be doing good work in terms of registration of professionals, the system does not come full circle by enforcing that registered professionals carry out professional engineering work.

Expanding the issue further, if a person registers as a civil engineer, it remains unclear in what category that civil engineer may practise. In SAICE we have eight unique civil engineering divisions or disciplines, including structural, water, geotechnical, environmental and transportation engineering. Is it acceptable for an environmental engineer to practise as a structural engineer because he is a registered engineer? What prevents an unqualified but competent person from doing the work and requesting a qualified and registered person from signing the work, where that registered person is incompetent in that area of expertise? It appears that we again rely on the codes of conduct, practice and ethics to keep the baddies at bay.

Some of the outcomes of the issues discussed may include multiple registrations with the same organisations or institutions, further examination processes in addition to the traditional Pr Eng process, extended CPD requirements, and so on. It is therefore vital that, as engineers, we engage in a process to map out the way to clarify these issues, and to hold ourselves in readiness for what may be a turning point in our industry.

If these concerns are insufficiently addressed, I would infer that as a professional industry, we have not taken sufficient steps to protect ourselves, our clients and the general public. We can choose to be reactive or proactive.



  1. This article is misleading and ill-informed in its references to the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) and the registration of engineering practitioners. The response below by ECSA seeks to place the matter in its true perspective.

    Reduced to its essentials is about two issues: first, the conduct of persons who are registered with ECSA; and second, protecting the public interest against unregistered practitioners, described in the article as “fly-by-nights”, implying that they are neither competent nor accountable for their work.

    Regarding the first, there are two issues for already-registered persons: obligations relating to the Code of Conduct and “who may do what”. Regarding the CEO’s assertion that the ECSA Code of Conduct is not widely known or practiced and is a guideline and therefore not enforceable, the position is as follows. All applicants for registration sign a sworn undertaking to abide by all the provisions of the Engineering Profession Act, its Rules and, in particular the Code of Professional Conduct.  The Act is clear: failure to comply with the code of conduct is improper conduct. The not-insignificant number of registered persons who face ECSA disciplinary investigation and tribunals for misconduct are always charged in terms of the Code. Two points are worthy of note: the Code is enforceable and ignorance of the Code is no defence. Each engineering practitioner should therefore internalize the Code of Conduct – a very accessible document.

    Regarding “who may do what”, the first and most essential level of regulation is section 3(1)(b) of the Code:  Registered Persons may not undertake or offer to undertake work of a nature for which their education, training and experience have not rendered them competent to perform. The education and professional competence at the level of registration is defined for each professional category. These standards differentiate the categories largely by the levels of underpinning knowledge, problem-solving and engineering activity.  These competencies, for example, place the Professional Technologist in the middle ground as the applier of established technology to families of problems amenable to the technology. The Professional Engineer, by contrast is expected to be able to address problems and requirements that may be ill-defined, unfamiliar, require original analysis and not lie within standards and codes. On the other side, the Professional Technician’s competency is to apply established procedures, usually in support of wider engineering activity.  

    The CEO’s personal assertion that, as a civil engineer with experience in mining and municipal waste disposal, he is able to practice as an electrical engineer is an erroneous belief. Such practice, without significant further education, training and experience in electrical engineering, is clearly actionable under the Code of Conduct. Similarly, a registered person signing off the work of an unregistered person without detailed insight and checking and assuming the responsibility for the work is clearly misconduct and such cases have been effectively actioned.    

    The logical conclusion of the article is somewhat veiled. It suggests that “we rely on the code of conduct to keep the baddies at bay” without being clear on whether this is considered good or bad. It goes on to hint that more detailed regulation of those already registered, for example by requiring multiple registrations and further examinations is needed. As the Code only applies to those already registered, so would the additional regulation. Evidence from ECSA’s disciplinary cases does not indicate that there is a significant problem with practitioners working outside their areas of competence, either discipline-wise or across categories. Rather, the majority of disciplinary cases reflect less than competent work in the person’s professed field. The disciplinary process is capable of handling a complaint about a registered person working in an area requiring greater competence. The question naturally arises: given that the disciplinary process is effective in the cases in which it invoked, what is the benefit of increased regulation of those who are already in the registration net? No such need has been demonstrated.

    Consensus in the profession is that the greater problem is that of unregistered persons, who may not be adequately competent and who are not accountable for their actions in a way that a registered person would be.  Where the “baddies” are those not registered, the intent of the Act, which was to make registration in any category a license to practice at the category level, has not yet been achieved, despite the existence of a simple, proven method to determine whether a given piece of work must, in the interests of the public, be performed in a responsible capacity by someone registered with ECSA in a particular category. 

    The test is whether the work requires the competence of a registered person for technically and economically acceptable outcomes that are safe, healthy and environmentally sound? Inherent in this question is the risk associated with the work and its solution. The test comes down to the following. What are the risks associated with the work and the delivered product? What level of competence is required for effective mitigation of the risks? Is the determined level of competence at or above the level defined for any category of registration?

    The test above is analogous to one that a registered person should always apply in contemplating taking on a particular assignment: What are the risks? Am I competent to produce a solution with the risks mitigated to an acceptable level?

    Reverting to the Code of Conduct and the way the CEO’s article seeks to diminish it, Engineering is a profession that requires significant technical and organizational ability, coupled with the attitudes and skills to ensure that the work brings benefits and minimizes harm. This requires a truly professional approach, staring with self-regulation by every professional. The Code of Conduct supports this first level of regulation. This is backed up by a process for complaints, investigation and tribunals.    

    As engineering practitioners, we take pride in our problem-solving ability. The first step is to solve the right problem, namely, to achieve compulsory registration for all work where the risks to the public require the competence of a registered engineering professional.

    The CEO is correct that engineers must engage in a process to map the future. Such a process exists and is ongoing. It just needs clear engineering professional thinking.

  2. To excel in any field of engineering you need to have at least these three abiltiies.1 Think one step ahead.2 keep on learning new things that are related to aerospace engineering.3 Good with programming because they are helpful in computer all engineering fields , mathematics is necessary to understand atleast. For example you may not know how to solve the problem exactly but you do happen to have a vague idea what the question represents in real life and what kind of solution should be expected.ofcourse you can’t have all these unless you have deepest interest in engineering. If you love engineering because it exactly fits in the way you think about life then yeah you can do it very well. But if you are a party type person then you are going to have some trouble in gaining these abiltiies.also keep this in your mind always”to be a successful engineer, you must know when to, where to and what to look , for a solution of a problem” about the college well i can’t answer that due to my limited knowledge.References :

  3. One of SAICE essay question (17) ask
    “Why should a Registered Professional Engineer not undertake work of a nature for which their education, training and experience have not rendered them competent to perform? What in your view ought to be the punishment for contravening this competency prescription in the Code of Conduct?
    I think that as a Civil Engineer, you can be a project manager in an electrical or software engineering filed, that is, any field of engineering as long as you are competent in project management. Another issue that we should be aware is the emergence of soft systems engineering. Problems we face these days are multi-facet, complex and beyond the classical engineering boundaries. As such, engineering learning should not be limited to one discipline after registration.
    The danger lies where one wants to design. Design is a specialised field in which someone knowledgeable must undertake the design and the risk associated with it. A designer must be someone competent. The same can apply with supervision of works at the construction sites of which competence is required.
    Most of the problems lie with fabrication or construction because that’s where chancers and baddies dominate. In the country construction companies are run by teachers, politicians, ex-foremen and families who do not have competent staff to execute the works to the required quality and standards.
    I have seen Architects, Construction Managers and those who are not registered running multiple disciplinary projects. I think the issue here is that if you are not competent to design an aspect of a project, do not admit competence. You should refer to those who can do it properly.
    Finally, ECSA does not register Project Managers and Entrepreneurs, though these are part of the requirements of a Pr. Engineer. Even if you are not registered, you can be an entrepreneur and run a company of Engineers provided that your company is furnished with knowledgeable Professionals who will design and certify the works.

  4. A person that holds Beng or BSc why are they allowed to register as Pr Eng and the one with a Btech, Pr Tech Eng

    Would be fair for also the person with BSc to register as Pr Sci Eng. Not Pr Eng…….. The true engineer is the one with Beng.

    Simply because their is a scientific and Btech is technical qualification.and we are all benchmarked by our qualifications let Bsc be Pr Sci Eng and Btech be Pr Tech Eng and Beng be Pr Eng

      • ECSA registers BEng and BScEng(not BSc) for PrEng. The course content for BScEng at UKZN is closely related to BEng at UP and its very easy to switch between these universities anytime during the degree. Go check out it out for each specialisation module by module

  5. Dear readers,
    the ultimate code for an engineer should be his own ethical behavior. Where this can not be guaranteed one needs guidance and membership in organisations etc. I observed the engineering landscape in South Africa since 2001 and note that not much technical achievements have been made. I am from Europe and we do not have any compulsory membership at any National council only voluntary ones to represent our interests towards the standard organisations. If one takes a EN standard for example EN 13000 (mobile cranes – design) one will not find any reference to “competent persons” or “registered persons”. If one undertakes an design project, one must comply to the relevant standard without deviation. and… stand to it and takes full responsibility in the court of law if something goes wrong. This on its own requires education which is provided in universities and even technical colleges. There is no discrimination or “snobbish” undertones from PrEng downwards. One should investigate the advance in Germany where today already processes and technologies are developed which the world will see in 20 years. Take example Tesla Motors: All the big auto houses in Germany had the blue print for electric cars since 30 years (Volvo too) and only now as the disruption from USA appears they can change their production lines within weeks where the other is struggling to produce merely 3500 cars a month. While i find the system of engineering bodies and especially ECSA a very good idea, there must be a change from the protecting eagle of the fraternity to the more advisory and technical know how transmission. SAICA for example (for auditors in the accounting field) has immense knowledge of all new international regulations, rules and practices and constantly updates their members. All in All, my thoughts are maybe just mine but in my own enterprise i strive to teach my Junior engineers to watch beyond the borders and oceans to see what and how is done their and learn only from the best in each field. One last comment, i noted over the years here in SA: I saw, met and worked with hundreds of engineering firms yet none was actually run by an professional. The reason is of the English translation in ca 1800 where the original french word was “Ingenieur” (from Genius,- he has made something technical “ingenious” and became the “Ingenieur” and attached to it received a very high social standing), the British with the advent of Engines and whoever worked on them became “Engineers”. Almost every country in Europe, China and even South America retained this original “Title” and never any confusion or misrepresentation of competence can arise. ENGINEERS UNITE!

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