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As I indicated (if didn't arrive in the Junk Email): business really is an
experiment. And who better to adapt and improvise than an engineer. But
introduce unwarranted licensing and trade restrictions, and ability to adapt
and improvise is hampered. Really want those Personal computers fixed by a
licensed computer technician don't we. After all what would ditch digging,
mud slinging civil engineers know about intricate electronics and computer
software. Part of the problem is duration of study programmes: does it
really need four years to complete a degree? Not if use all the days of a
calendar year it doesn't.

The US engineer licensing system seems to have spawned an entire industry,
producing PE Exam reference books, and example problems and solutions along
with exam review and study programmes. It may produce people with licenses,
but it doesn't produce engineers. And by all accounts only 25% of those
practising have a license and need one.

The first person to carry out heart surgery wasn't a heart surgeon. History
is important to our expectations. Also the original university education was
universal, not vocational or occupational. With specialised vocations there
is now significant overlap between medicine and engineering: the mechanical
or electronic engineer, specialised in medical engineering may well be able
to carry out heart surgery. The kitchen table however may not be the best
place for it. Though if in a war zone, the kitchen may be the cleanest place
in a house and the kitchen table the best place to operate.

The fundamental requirement of design and business is to understand the
expectations of the market, and the required performance of the product.
Most businesses ignore this in favour of grab and run profits with out long
term sustainability. Even licensed doctors fall short of the mark when it
comes to quality of service. So the license is not the issue, proper supply
of services is the issue. And from an engineering viewpoint licensed doctors
can be replaced by superior product. Doctors are a product of the industrial
system like engineers. And as products there are superior products round the
corner which better match the quality and performance expectations of the

So take up heart surgery, if you desire, but design and implement proper
supply systems. Licenses and degrees are irrelevant, to the supply of
quality product. Low fees are not what the market wants, it wants value for
money. When everyone competes on the basis of my rubbish is cheaper than
theirs, then low price counts: why pay a high price for equal rubbish. The
market will buy quality when it can recognise the quality and the value:
when it can differentiate product. As the add says: "oils ain't oils".

Engineers ain't engineers. Sell the pacemakers to those who actually require
them, and ensure have medical systems in place to back them up. Design and
develop superior health care services, with superior heart surgeons.

Sure can start lots of shoddy businesses. But engineers have the potential
to start and develop a whole range of superior businesses, supplying
superior services, by properly designing those businesses and their
products. Are doctors really competent to design health care services? Can
they really manage logistics of supply of scarce resources, are the waiting
lines and times acceptable. Are private hospitals owned by doctors, or a
motley crew of shareholders: mostly accountants? A great many businesses are
owned and managed by accountants: and not very well. Engineers could equally
well setup the same range of businesses, and design businesses that actually
perform and provide the services required. The accountant would reduce the
hospital staff, to working on kitchen tables, and surgeons with degrees off
the back off Kellogg's, if it cut costs. Engineers more likely to have
properly skilled people doing the job: but no greater and no lesser than
actually required for the job.

So transform sarcasm into more realistic business opportunities supplying
quality product: goods and services. Who knows it may generate a need for
more buildings, allowing you to get back to what you really like doing. For
example do you want the local hospital to invest funds in sending staff to
say Hawaii, for a holiday and seminar on something rare and exotic, or use
the funds to build a new clinic to deal with the common and immediate
problems which are queuing up in a poorly managed priority queue. Do you
need to be a doctor to be on the board of directors? What opportunities are
there to supply superior service than government departments, on the local
front? A professional may not be able to advertise, but they can participate
in all areas of the community. A business can advertise its products, so
transform engineering know how into something the community wants and which
can be advertised. But if it is what the community wants no real need to
advertise, the product just has to be there and available in that place the
people are most likely to look.

As for unlicensed engineers they can only stay in business if they provide
service of suitable quality to their markets expectations. Quality is
subjective. The greater market needs to know that superior service is
available, but that superior service as to be the right quality. No point
supplying a Rolls Royce if no one can afford. So whilst business can push
its prices as high as it can get, it also has to supply service appropriate
to that price. And many people are aware that high prices for architectural
and engineering services can supply junk, whilst lower prices can supply far
greater quality. Those operating at the lower prices are not necessarily
undercutting anyone: have more attention on the engineering than the fees
and are surviving on the fees achieved. The quality has to match the needs
of the industry and the market. The main housing market doesn't really need
engineers, but engineers none the less could provide benefits: but not if
their emphasis is on unnecessary documentation. Consulting Engineers really
need to think more closely about the value of the service they provide. For
in the main with respect to the building industry it really is low value
service: more of an added cost for no real benefit. For the most part the
industry knows the answers already, it has known the answers for nearly 100
years or more. So the added value needs to be clearly identified to the
builders and owners. If it is there then they usually recognise it. It has
little to do with getting building permits and code approval. Unfortunately
most of market does only want building approval: well at least until they
come to build the thing. Then they wished they got a sensible and practical
design rather than one that simply complied: with no real design effort.

So if the market works, then can rip the market away from the unlicensed
engineer. Only problem is shortage of supply, can you supply the demand for
the services you generate. If not then the unlicensed engineer will creep
back into the market to fill the gap. But not all the work needs to be done
by an engineer, thus by breaking the work load down and delegating to other
suitably qualified persons, can supply a larger market base: once again
taking work away from the unlicensed engineer. On the other hand just keep a
select few clients happy, their businesses expand, taking the work away from
say other builders. Those builders removed from the market are thus unable
to seek the services of the unlicensed engineer, who then has a reduced

You are the real regulator, not the government. Also sometimes performance
has to be reduced to supply demand, as the demand is satisfied then
performance can start to increase again, and the low performance products
start being displaced. Quality is not about the highest possible
performance, but the right performance for the situation and conditions at
hand. The original surgeons most likely used butchers wooden benches and
their tools. Now both occupations have specialised their tools, and the
original tools of trade would no longer be acceptable to either party or
their clients.

So some businesses lack quality because the performance of their products is
too high to meet the needs of the market. For there to be quality
performance has to be right: if it doesn't meet the needs of the market then
the design is low quality. Many engineers are low quality on the basis they
fail to design to match their clients needs, especially the clients wallet.
Why shouldn't the owner spend more money on their kitchen than the
structure? Design a building which better distributes the cost in the
clients favour. As the building starts to shrink the client may think
otherwise. But with more effort, maybe the design loads can be reduced, or
maybe the labour effort for construction reduced. The right quality
characteristics need to be identified, performance criteria determined, and
then a design-solution worked out. As we know it is time consuming and
iterative, and owners don't necessarily want to go with what experience
indicates is a bad idea. So that educating, informing and communicating
clearly with the client becomes important. Having the solutions ahead of the
clients needs is important for such task. Therefore being proactive and
forecasting the future demands is also important. And if you are the builder
then maybe you have greater opportunity to reduce the cost of construction
by eliminating waste in construction effort and materials: and designing
better product and process.

Survival is a complex business, and you cannot just be a structural engineer
all of the time: at some point the demand will drop and new activities need
to be found. It is better to be one step in front and already pursuing that
alternative activity when the decline in the first arrives. Though it could
be a shift into related activities: design of rainwater tanks, stormwater
drainage and rainwater harvesting, grey water systems. Business requires you
find the right people for the job, you just have to be the right person for
finding the others not necessarily doing the primary job.

It seems few engineers invest in technology and its production. Strange want
others to invest then complain about the bean counters. So why are engineers
with decent incomes unwilling to risk investment in business? Whilst trades
people are willing to build large factories and purchase expensive
machinery, and hope they can sustain an income to pay for it, whilst also
earning a living.

I mean what will it take to put the watch maker out of business? Why is he
still in business? What keeps him going in the face of mass production of
digital watches and analogue watches, and the use of mobile phones, data
organisers and computers. How many people have watches in need of repair?
Quality no doubt: the journey is more important than the destination. Steady
pace and no fast pursuit of material riches. Or may be a rich and wealthy
jeweller, and sales of gold and diamonds support watch repair as more of an

The market place very complex.

Conrad Harrison
B.Tech (mfg & mech), MIIE, gradTIEAust
South Australia

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