Engineers as trusted advisors: An ACENZ perspective

Kieran Shaw, Chief Executive, Association Representing Consulting & Engineering (ACENZ)

In an increasingly risk-averse country, engineers can create and lead a wave of innovation, and develop new advances in social infrastructure.

Kieran Shaw Chief Executive, Association of Consulting Engineers (ACENZ)
Kieran Shaw

OVERALL, 2015 WAS a positive year for ACENZ as we continued to advocate on behalf of our members and prioritised strong relationships with all sectors. Significant issues and milestones included discussion documents issued by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s Engineering Advisory Group Procurement & Rules Reduction Taskforce, and Ministry of Education stakeholder liaison gaining strength and credibility.

Meanwhile, increased funding for roading works maintained a positive work stream. The Building (Earthquake-prone Building) Amendment Bill provided new criteria for assessment. We continued to await reforms to the Resource Management Act. Local government structures, amalgamations and Council Controlled Organisations (CCOs) were evaluated.

Clustering and shared services within authorities have become more prevalent. And a surge of council in-sourcing and in-house engineering and design has raised questions about efficiencies and councils’ professional competencies.

The year ahead

The key issues and themes we see emerging for 2016 are: consulting industry contracts review and updates; occupational registration of engineers; a focus on development and training for young professionals; succession planning for SMEs; joint resourcing initiatives with tertiary education providers; closer alliances with contractors and other professional bodies; and broadening the scope of ACENZ Annual Project Awards.

Representing the first major New Zealand international professional consulting sector conference – ACENZ is hosting ASPAC2016 in Queenstown in May. Upwards of 300 delegates from the Asia Pacific region including CEOs, industry experts and ministers, will come together to explore the challenges and opportunities our industry faces.

Stand up and be counted

Over recent years ACENZ has been underlining the need for professionals in the built and natural environment, and particularly professional engineers, to step forward and demonstrate a willingness to be leaders within industry, and take a similar strong role in the wider public environment. Engineers are known to be modest individuals who like to stay in the shadows and not rock the boat.

From Galileo and Da Vinci to Eiffel and Brunel, past recognised leaders in engineering-related sciences shared one common feature: they were prepared to be innovative beyond the practices of their time. And they were willing to take a risk in following their own judgement and pursue radical solutions and visions. Despite being subjected to criticism, and even ridicule, from their peers and the public, they became recognised leaders in their lifetime.

The operative word is risk. Engineers are often called upon to manage (constrain) their exposure to risk and are cautioned against incurring any potential liability, especially outside of their defined scope of work. But can innovation (and leadership) flourish without risk? And who should bear that risk? The client who benefits from it or the provider of the service?

We frequently criticise risk-averse clients who try and pass their risk and liability to the engineer in an unreasonable manner. Many central and local government bodies are increasingly focused on passing liability to the service provider. This has been exacerbated and embedded by leaky building issues that were closely followed by quality and performance issues raised around the Canterbury earthquakes.

Apart from the political angst, these matters cost government and local authorities significant money in related payments. A user-pays philosophy has expanded and morphed rapidly into a contract-driven service provider liability strategy.

It is noticeable that after the Royal Commission released its Canterbury findings, there was yet further shedding of public and private sector appetite for carrying any risk and liability. That continues to be the situation.

If clients, building consent authorities (BCAs) and government bodies continue looking for any repository in which to cast their own risk and liability, where is the opportunity for engineering innovation to be nurtured and grow strong?

The government desires more innovation within industry, but can also be responsible for shackling and inhibiting its evolution through prescriptive or poorly conceived legislation. Similarly, local authorities are able to stifle the birth of innovation in bureaucracy and onerous processes.

The public sector client must be prepared to pay for, or share, associated risks to nurture innovation and new ideas. Proportionate liability would be a major improvement.

Somebody has to show leadership and move forward to recognise new behaviour patterns to encourage progress in adopting alternative technological and design solutions that provide better outcomes.

Engineers are among the risk-averse parties in this repetitive same-as culture that retreats from confronting innovation head on. But they also have the capability and skills to create and lead a wave of innovation in the industry, and develop new advances in social infrastructure as they did in the 19th century.

Our vision

ACENZ aspires for its members and the engineering profession to be recognised as trusted advisors.

This goal applies to all arenas in which engineers operate – public, private and commercial. We are focusing on leadership values and objectives in addition to professional competence and performance. Only by demonstrating courage, innovation and robust leadership will engineers gain true recognition and respect, and be considered as trusted advisors to industry, government and the public.

Engineers in central Europe and Asia formally carry a professional title ‘engineer or ingeneur’ as would a doctor of medicine. They introduce themselves, and are introduced, as ‘Engineer Mr So & So’. They are proud to carry their title and are regularly consulted on matters of public interest and are often quoted in the media.

The Kiwi attitude of being backward in coming forward as the face of engineering means we are often only heard when something goes wrong, or when somebody wants to point a finger at those who seldom fight back.

ACENZ has achieved the status of being a leader in government and industry circles. We are frequently called upon to provide input and advice to government, councils, clients and fellow industry bodies.

However, for influence to grow and for related professionals to escalate in public status and recognition, it is time for engineers to stand up and say: “We are proud to be engineers, we are not afraid of leadership, and we will help you.”

photo credit for main image – Patrick Reynolds

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