Although ethics codes for engineers have been seen as “self-serving, unrealistic, inconsistent, mere guides for novices, too vague, or unnecessary” (Davis 1991) the majority of the participants in this study expressed positive sentiments towards ethics codes and regulatory boards.
In Alberta the code of ethics regulating the profession is the Engineering, Geological and Geophysical Professions
Act) and is made up of five “Rules of Conduct”. These rules include that professionals “hold paramount the health, safety and welfare of the public and have regard for the environment”; “undertake only work that they are competent to perform”; “conduct themselves with integrity, honesty, fairness and objectivity in their professional activities”; “comply with applicable statutes, regulations and bylaws in their professional practices”; and “uphold and enhance the honor, dignity and reputation of their professions and thus the ability of the professions to serve the public interest.” The ideals presented in these rules were frequently reported by participants and reflected in textual materials as critical. Integrity, in particular, was frequently cited.
Participants also reported the importance of safety, with some relaying concerns over liability and issues of working in organizations where participants felt corporate pressures had lead to questionable standards of work. Indeed, despite APEGGA's continued emphasis on ethical compliance, the tension between the "bottom line" emphasis of corporations and the responsibility of individual engineers was clear, particularly as APEGGA has limited power to protect engineers as there was no whistleblower protection legislation.
“...numbers always matter. It’s a numbers industry.”
The importance of the financial resonated throughout both the textual materials and engineers words. This was reflected in discussions of creativity: while engineers pride themselves on finding creative solutions to problems, this creativity gains its worth when translated into dollars and earnings. This is reflected in what has been termed the “long hours culture” (Bacik and Drew 2006), in which the model of work is based on extreme commitment to work that is expressed through being present, complete flexibility to work long hours, and available at all times, rather than through the quality of one's work. Participants further related feeling that the emphasis on the bottom line was becoming increasingly important. A participant in the study, for example, stated:
A critical outcome of this bottom line mentality, according to some participants, is that people, quality of work, and creativity become secondary.
The PEGG (2007)* presents an ad for APEGGA that draws upon three other prominent themes: innovation, science, and making a difference. The advertisement shows a compact florescent light bulb followed by “Proudly brought to you by Professionals in Engineering and Geoscience” in a very large font. The text continues below, in a slightly smaller font, “Since 1920, Members of APEGGA, The Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta, have made a difference in the daily lives of millions of Albertans by bringing science and innovation to life” (italics added). Engineers are innovators – they use their technical skills to create new and important things. Engineers are scientists – their work is objective and grounded in rationality. Engineers are making a difference – they are people with the ability and responsibility to change the world.
While innovation, science and making a difference are themes frequently used alongside each other, when used independently innovation tended to be aligned with entrepreneurialism and creativity; science with objective and concrete problem-solving; and making a difference with leadership and professional development.
*NOTE: The PEGG was APEGGA’s official publication until January 2010 when it was replaced by The PEG.
Bacik, Ivana, and Eileen Drew. 2006. “Struggling with juggling: Gender and work/life balance in the legal professions.” Women's Studies International Forum 29:136-146.
Davis, Michael. 1991. “Thinking Like an Engineer: The Place of a Code of Ethics in the Practice of a Profession.” Philosophy and Public Affairs. 20: 150-67.