Niagara Gazette

Bob Confer

June 24, 2013

CONFER; New York needs to correct engineer training loophole

Niagara Gazette — New York state’s Office of the Professions regulates 50 professions that require licensure or certification. Some of the 800,000 practitioners under its watch are certified public accountants, physicians, and psychologists.

Engineers, just as those other professionals, have to meet specific criteria in order to be licensed.

Among the requirements is mandatory continuing education. During every three-year period during which an engineer is registered by the state, he or she must complete at least 36 hours of continuing education.

That makes perfect sense. Engineering is a fluid science — an art — that must adjust to new technologies, materials, and standards in order to offer the strongest, most-attractive and safest designs possible.

Only with a lifelong engagement in learning the ever-changing nuances of his trade can an engineer appropriately do his job.

This standard of NYS Education Law (Article 145; SS7211) does have its weaknesses, though. It’s most glaring? Engineers who work for the state of New York, its public authorities and local governments and were employed by such entities as of Dec. 31, 2003, are excluded from the training requirement.

So, unlike their private sector brethren, the long-tenured government engineers are not required to make themselves better or learn the intricacies of, or new developments in, their chosen career path.

This disconnect is not only an insult to the licensed engineers in the private sector, but it is also an insult to our citizens. The impact that the under-trained public sector engineers have on our day-to-day lives is vast. Their handiwork is anywhere and everywhere. They are the ones who design the roads we travel on, the bridges we drive across, the power plants that supply our electricity, and the facilities that provide our drinking water.

Being now more than nine years removed from their degree and/or constant and appropriate education these engineers may not offer the best concepts possible. Their designs might not reflect the use of newer materials or methods. Because of that, their designs have the potential to impact taxpayers in extraordinary ways: With no certified exposure to what other engineers practice, government engineers may be unable to apply some of the less-costly, energy-conserving and material-saving tactics that others use. For that reason, construction and maintenance costs will be higher than necessary.

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