“One of the first things you learn in engineering school is ERTW (Engineers Rule the World). However, the E in ERTW doesn’t stand for engineers anymore. It stands for economists,” stated Sandro Perruzza, the CEO of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE), an advocacy group for engineers. “The problem is that engineers are really seen as problem solvers, and not as strategists. The government doesn’t consult us in engineering-related projects until after they’ve defined the problem. We need to be involved in the problem identification process.”
Cue the creation of OSPE’s #AnEngineerWasHere, a social media campaign to “remind Ontarians that engineers make the world work, and to remind the government that it needs to appreciate and consult with engineers.” To get the message out, OSPE asked post-secondary institutions, engineering firms, engineering associations, and the public to take a photo of anything an engineer has designed with a yellow tag with the caption“#AnEngineerWasHere”. They were then asked to share the photo on social media on September 20, 2016.
OSPE was also out on Bloor and Church for most of that day, handing out tags, coffee, donuts, and engaging the public in a conversation about the role that engineers play in society. “[The public] feels that engineers are important. However, they were surprised about how [the work of] engineers [is] actually everywhere,” remarked Baijul Shukla, a member of OSPE. “The public isn’t aware of all the innovations that engineers do in the province.”
To engineering students, the notion that engineers are being forgotten may seem unbelievable. However, the evidence proves otherwise: the Ontario government put together a complex Climate Change Action Plan, composed of engineering related projects, without input from Ontario’s engineers. “The [government] put together a panel of 20 experts, and out of those 20, not one is an engineer,” commented Perruzza.
Why are engineers being forgotten?
Perruzza believes that there are two reasons that engineers are being forgotten. One, engineers are not as engaged in the political process as other professions. Out of the 80,000 PEngs and the 250,000 engineering grads in Ontario, less than 10% join OSPE. “Other industry groups are lobbying the government to be involved and included. Engineers, on the other hand, expect that the government will involve them. That simply isn’t true anymore.”
How can we change this state of indifference? Perruzza suggests that we need to “change the [self]-perception that engineers are there to serve. Engineers need to lead the way they did in the early 19th century when they were the captains of industry.”
The second reason Perruzza lists is that engineers don’t have one central voice: “The government is hearing mixed messages from the engineering community because there are too many voices muddling things up. You have the OSPE, PEO (Professional Engineers Ontario), EWB (Engineers without Borders), OSCE (Ontario Society for Chemical Engineers), IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), etc all giving the government different, and sometimes conflicting, advice. And what does the government do in response? Ignore us. We need a singular voice like all the other professions.”
How can we change this? “All the different groups need to understand their different roles, stick to their core mandates, and if they want to get involved, they should partner with another organization, engineering or not.”
What kind of input can engineers contribute?
Traditionally, the input that engineers have contributed was focused on technical issues. Engineers would run simulations and do some calculations to answer questions like “Is wind energy better than solar?” OSPE is trying to shift the discussion so that engineers can help scope the problem and are involved before key decisions are made.
In the case of the Climate Change Action Plan, Peruzza states that “[OSPE wants to] have a conversation about long term objectives [of the plan]. The [government hasn’t] really defined it yet.” OSPE has been able to schedule meetings with senior policy analysts to shape the agenda prior to meetings with ministers.
Success of the campaign?
Overall, there have been 430 tweets with #AnEngineerWasHere, 169 Facebook posts, and 45 Instagram posts. “We’ve had a lot of positive responses,” noted Perruzza.
The hashtag trended in the top 8 on Twitter and has even had participation at the federal level. “Not only federal ministries, but also elected members in Ottawa rebroadcasted and encouraged others to think about how engineers shape their lives,” observed Patrick Sackville, a member of OSPE. “The public was excited to think about how engineers affected their daily lives, and you could see the wheels starting to turn: ‘What are all the things I take for granted?’”