Internationally mobile engineers

30 April 2012
Katy Turff, Head of International at the Engineering Council

Engineers are a mobile bunch! One of the challenges for migrant engineers is finding out exactly how their professional qualifications are recognised in another country, says Katy Turff, the Engineering Council’s new Head of International

In 20 plus years working in the membership departments of professional engineering institutions (PEIs), I’ve bumped into various mechanisms that help or hinder those who choose to work in a different country to the one where they became professionally qualified. Having been deeply involved in the early development of the Sydney and Dublin Accords, as well as issues relating to recognition in the European Union (EU), when I joined the Engineering Council I was interested to see how far things have moved on.
Engineers moving into the UK face relatively few barriers due to the self-regulated nature of the profession. UK titles tend to be broad, generic, in common with other parts of the world where professional registrations require a combination of education and experience. The situation is often different in other European States. There are over 800 regulated professions across the European Union. By no means all of these are engineering professions; one of the challenges for migrant engineers is finding out exactly what is regulated and how.
The European Directive on Recognition of Professional Qualifications broadly states that a person who is recognised as a professional in their home member state should be recognised at the same level in any other member state. The directive specifically recognises regulation through professional title as well as through legislation, and the Engineering Council and several PEIs are listed in this context.
In many European States, professional qualification is by virtue of being awarded a recognised degree. The directive makes provision for those qualified through experience and provides mechanisms for comparing levels of practice. Sounds simple, and it mostly works. But not always. Some states define and regulate a wide range of very narrow fields, often linked to specific degree titles, and consequently don’t have mechanisms in place to assess experience or even degrees that differ to some extent from a centrally defined curriculum. This can result in migrant engineers facing some pretty hefty compensation measures. Often a simple letter from the Engineering Council or PEI, explaining the professional title and how this relates to the directive, is enough to resolve this. Where problems persist, we work closely with the SOLVIT unit at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. Each EU member state has a SOLVIT and these are tasked to iron out problems arising from the misapplication of EU rules. If this informal dispute resolution process doesn’t work, they can, and do, escalate cases to the European Commission.
However, the main focus for the Engineering Council is working to resolve the root causes of barriers to mobility for engineers. This we do through a variety of international partnerships and initiatives, aimed at providing mutual assurance of the parity of recognition and educational systems. On the European front, the Engineering Council is a member of the European Network for Accreditation of Engineering Education (ENAEE), and is authorised to award the EUR-ACE label to accredited degrees. Through ENAEE we are seeing increasing emphasis on Graduate Attributes (learning outcomes) as the benchmark for accreditation, replacing duration of study. This is good news as Graduate Attributes should offer a mechanism to assess equivalence of registrants who have followed flexible and work-based learning routes.
The Engineering Council was a founding partner of what has now become the International Engineering Alliance (IEA). This started with the Washington Accord in the 1980s, which sought to recognise the equivalence of the accreditation systems for CEng type engineering degrees. This led on to the Sydney Accord for IEng degrees and the Dublin Accord which looks at the educational base for Engineering Technicians. It also gave rise to the Engineers Mobility Forum (EMF) and the Engineering Technologists Mobility Forum (ETMF) which look at equivalence of the standards and processes for professional recognition and give access to the International Registers of Professional Engineers and Engineering Technologists.
Re-acquainting myself with these I was struck by the rapid expansion of the Washington Accord and EMF over the past ten years, with 20 and 17 participating countries respectively. These also seem to be offering benefits, judging by the number of requests I receive from visa and immigration services looking to confirm that a degree is recognised under the Accord. Unfortunately the picture is not consistent, and in some participating countries neither a degree recognised under the accord, nor professional registration in the home state provides the same access to the profession as those who have qualified locally.
Having been in at the birth of the Sydney and Dublin Accords and the ETMF, I’m disappointed, but perhaps not surprised, that the membership of these agreements has not grown at the same rate, although there are signs that this is changing.
I was also encouraged by the distinct shift within the IEA towards adoption of graduate attributes and competence frameworks. In the longer term, these should help to pave the way for recognition of those who gain registration through work-based learning, who are currently excluded from the International Registers.
All of this provides an increasingly sound framework for facilitating mobility of engineers globally. The next steps must be to translate it into simplified recognition processes for registrants who are moving between participating countries.

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