Professional Status in Perspective as described by ECSA
This question is often asked, particularly since registration is largely voluntary, and with some justification. It would be easier to answer if clearly defined work reservation in terms of the Engineering Profession of South Africa Act, 1990 was a reality. Reserving work constitutes a form of licensing, and without a license a person is prevented from earning a living unless registered. This should in itself be sufficient motivation to register.
However, probably more importantly, the real motivation for registration is rather to be found in the noble aims and objectives of the engineering profession than in direct financial advantage. ECSA, as the statutory leg of the profession and the learned Societies, as the voluntary leg of the profession both aspire to improve professionalism amongst practitioners in the engineering profession. However, their objectives have differing perspectives, because ECSA focuses on public safety, health and interests and the Societies' focus on the interests of their own members (i.e. the practitioners).
Looking only at the ECSA perspective for the moment, promotion of professionalism is achieved by setting and maintaining standards relating to education (accreditation), practical training and professional development after formal education (Policy Statement R1/1), professional conduct and taking such other action as is necessary, at least, to ensure the maintenance of standards.
Every registered person who subscribes to the setting of standards, and the enforced maintenance thereof, should be registered with ECSA. In so doing they not only make this fact known to the public but also make a statement to the effect that they are prepared to subject themselves to the scrutiny of their peers should they conduct themselves improperly. By registering, the hands of the statutory profession can further be strengthened in achieving its goals.
Financial gain or the achievement of status in themselves are merely by-products of registration and not the principal aims, however important to the majority of the practitioners.
Whatever one's motive for registering some identifiable benefits can be directly attributed to registration :
Peer recognition of qualification and experience - recognition by ECSA's committees that you meet the minimum requirements expected of a professional person. This recognition extends to one's colleagues and other practitioners in the profession.
Public confidence in professional competence - professional recognition instills a sense of confidence in the mind of the public, namely that a person meets minimum levels of competence. Furthermore the public feels assured that a person's competence has been assessed by other professionals knowledgeable in one's field of expertise.
Eligibility for membership of certain professional societies - Institutions, such as the S A Institution of Civil Engineering, require that a person must be registered as a professional engineer before Corporate Membership will be granted to a person
International recognition - ECSA is a co-signatory to the "Washington Accord" in terms of which the registering bodies in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Ireland have agreed to recognise each other's accredited university degrees in engineering. This not only confirms that one's academic qualification is internationally acceptable, but also enhances one's marketability
Lifestyle benefits - Having negotiated, in collaboration with the vocational societies in the profession, a financial benefits package with Standard Bank of SA for the exclusive use by registered persons, a registered person can now enjoy special financial benefits, such as reduced lending rates and increased investment rates.
Marketability in employment market - more and more employers are requiring registration as a prerequisite for appointment to certain engineering positions. Non-registered persons find it increasingly difficult to find employment in responsible engineering positions
Exclusive use of reserved names - Every registered person is entitled by the Act to use a particular name (and abbreviation) which describes the particular type of registration, such as Professional Engineer (Pr Eng) or Professional Technologist (Engineering) (Pr Tech (Eng). Non-registered persons who use any of the reserved names or abbreviations are guilty of a criminal offense.
Statutory empowerment - The Engineering Profession of S A Act, 1990 as well as other Acts provide for the reservation of work of an engineering nature for the exclusive performance by registered persons. Examples of work reservation in terms of other legislation can be found in :
Water Act, 1956 (section 9(c)) - in terms of which a professional engineer must be "approved" before being permitted to undertake certain dam safety related tasks; National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act, 1977 and regulations, in terms of which a "competent person" is defined as a person registered with ECSA; (Lifts, Escalators and Passenger Conveyor Regulations) promulgated in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993
Confidence in professionalism of staff - since not all employers have been educated and trained in engineering, registration is widely regarded as an additional, and objective, indication of competence.
Recourse in the event of improper conduct - employers may lodge a complaint of improper conduct in the event that a registered employee conducted him/herself unprofessionally. This conduct may range from gross negligence to incompetence. ECSA will investigate a complaint on its own merits and take appropriate action. An employer's benefit lies in the fact that a finding of "guilty" by ECSA may provide grounds for dismissal.
Marketability of firm or organisation - the public and clients respond well to the fact that an organisation employs professional people as a matter of principle.
Compliance with statutory requirements - Legislation, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993 and Regulations, holds employers responsible for the safety of their employees. By appointing an appropriately registered person the employer not only takes appropriate action aimed at safeguarding public safety, but also complies with statutory requirements.
Recognition amongst other professions - systems of professional registration is common in South Africa and across the world and are generally recognised as conferring professional status on those registered under such a system.
ECSA provides the only recognised registration system for engineering in South Africa and this is also recognised by other professions, both locally and abroad.
Public recognition of competence and adherence to minimum standards - for the same reason as in inter-professional recognition, the informed public recognises the value of professional registration, mainly because this affords them an additional measure of protection and "peace of mind".
Safety, Health and Interests of Society protected - apart from precautionary measures taken by the State in its own right, registration serves as an additional safeguard against unsafe practices. This is the engineering profession's contribution towards promoting public safety, health and interests. In this context, ECSA sees itself in partnership with the State.
Preservation of professional standards - with South Africa's increasing globalisation, it has become critical for this country to become competitive at international level. Registration contributes substantially to this process, and ECSA's continued international recognition is in no small measure important for the maintenance of high standards
International recognition - Due to ECSA's efforts, South Africa as a nation is recognised by many other nations as an engineering "powerhouse", which has distinct political and socio-economic advantages for the country.