September 21, 2017

One reason we are not getting enough engineers in Canada: the professional associations

The CN Tower in Toronto: construction supervised by an engineer originally from Iran

From nearly 2,500 posts over nine years, none has generated so many comments as Can you teach ‘real’ engineering at a distance? 

What you will see from the comments from readers is a deep and widespread frustration at the lack of recognition by Canadian professional engineering associations of any courses or programs taken by distance. This is now getting to the point where it is becoming a national scandal. Rather than your having to read through the 120 comments or so on this post, I will summarise them for you.

Accreditation as a professional engineer in Canada

I am not an engineer by background, so please correct me if I am wrong about the process. But this seems to me to be how it works.

In order to obtain work as a professional engineer in Canada, most employers require you to be accredited through the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB). However, this means applying to one of the provincial accreditation agencies such as the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) or the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA), who assess your qualifications and issue membership to their organisation.

These organisations are groups made of of professional engineers and educators (usually Deans of Engineering Schools in universities and Institutes of Technology), so it is a self-regulating process. Usually the minimum qualification for membership is a four year bachelor’s degree in engineering from a Canadian university or its equivalent (i.e. a university in the USA whose engineering program is recognized by the U.S. Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

The decision about what foreign qualifications will be accepted is entirely at the discretion of the Canadian professional associations. This is not unlike other professions in Canada, such as teaching, medicine or nursing.

The professional association will require an individual to take further qualifications if it deems the existing qualifications do not meet the standards set.

Engineering and online learning in Canada

Until very recently, there were no fully online undergraduate courses, let alone degree programs, offered by Canadian universities in engineering. That is beginning to change. For instance:

  • Queens University, Ontario is now offering a fully online Bachelor of Mining Engineering Technology. This program is particularly directed at those already working in the mining industry. Queen’s University is one of the oldest and most well-established public universities in Canada;
  • McMaster University, Ontario, is developing an online B.Tech (mainly software engineering) in partnership with Mohawk College. Students can take a diploma program from Mohawk then take the third and fourth year courses from McMaster University. Although the campus-based B. Tech. is well-established and successful, the online version is still in development and not yet available at the time of writing. McMaster University is another well-established Canadian public university with an outstanding reputation in engineering, especially in the automative and steel industries;
  • Cape Breton University, Nova Scotia, offers a one year online B.Tech Manufacturing degree. It is available to students with technology diploma programs from colleges across Canada which have an articulation agreement in place with CBU providing for immediate advanced standing in the BET (Manufacturing) program. Students complete the B. Tech program via distance format in as little as one academic year.

These are the only online programs in engineering from accredited Canadian universities that I know about. If you know of others please let me know.

In addition there are more (but not many) accredited universities in the USA that offer fully online engineering degrees, for example:

  • the University of North Dakota (a highly respected state university) has been offering a range of engineering courses (civil, mechanical, petroleum) mainly or fully online for several years. 
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics)

Will these qualifications be recognised?

Here’s what Queen’s University states about its Bachelor of Mining Engineering Technology:

The BTech program is unaccredited. Graduates seeking professional licensure would need to apply to write the Board Exams in mining engineering. In Ontario, the application would go to the Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO). As with applications from an accredited program, graduates would also need to write the law and ethics exam, and complete the required supervised work experience program in order to be considered for licensure.

Neither the McMaster nor the Cape Breton web sites provides any statement about professional accreditation.

What do the professional associations say about online or distance learning?

The Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) stated in 2016 that

  • ‘PEO does not recognize online or distance education.’

Similarly from APEGA:

  • ‘The current Board of Examiners practice is that they do not recognize distance learning programs.’ 

So frankly, don’t bother to take an online program in engineering in Canada if you want to be a professional engineer.

Determining eligibility: obfuscation and confusion

Furthermore the whole process of identifying from the professional associations whether an online program would be accepted is circuitous and unhelpful. One reader of my blog wrote and told me that he had written to APEGA to ask whether the University of North Dakota engineering degree would be recognised as a qualification towards membership of APEGA. Here is the response he received:

The eligibility of any courses you’ve completed will be determined by our Academic Examiners. If the courses were completed in Canada, you will need to submit the transcripts for them to be reviewed. If they were from outside of Canada, you will need to obtain an Academic Assessment Report from World Education Services (WES).

In other words, spend several thousand dollars in tuition fees, THEN we will tell you whether we accept your qualifications or not.

Note that the UND program had already been accredited by the ABET in the USA. Alberta’s APEGA was in fact prepared to make an exception for this degree, but this was not acceptable to Ontario’s PEO. Discussions were to continue with the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board, but I could find no record of such discussions in a search of their recent documentation. So who knows whether or not the UND degree will be accepted by which provincial association?
Or let’s say you are a recent immigrant with an engineering degree from another country. In Alberta, the Alberta Council for Admissions and Transfer (ACAT) is the official body that provides information on admission requirements to engineering programs in Alberta universities and colleges. If you go to the ACAT web site to find out whether you degree would be accredited in Alberta, you are referred to another web site, The Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials. They then refer you back to APEGA.

Why it’s a scandal

Without obtaining a P.Eng. from the professional engineering association in a particular province, it is difficult if not impossible to get a job as a professional engineer. Of course such associations are important to ensure that engineering is being done professionally. Nobody wants their bridges to collapse or car parks on shopping malls to crash into shoppers below (Oh, wait – both of those did happen recently in Ontario).

Why we need high standards in engineering qualifications: Elliott Lake shopping mall collapse

But are these organizations making it unnecessarily difficult for people to qualify as professional engineers? From the 120 comments or so to my blog, there is strong evidence that they are. Yet at the same time we have great hand-wringing from employers, especially, about the lack of qualified engineers.

Let’s be clear about this. This engineering gap is not going to be met purely from high school leavers going into engineering programs at conventional universities. The demographics mean that many of those already working at the technical level in engineering will need upgrading and further qualifications, many while still working – hence the brave but unaccredited program from Queen’s University in mining engineering. Presumably employers will take these graduates even if the PEO holds its nose and sniffs at them because the program was done online.

I heard recently on CBC radio there are currently 18,000 engineers in Canada who came from Iran, one of whom was the supervisor for the construction of the CN tower in Toronto. We will need more engineers from immigrants who should be able to upgrade their existing engineering qualifications online while working at a lower level, without having to start from scratch.

I am not arguing that all engineering can be done fully online. Hands-on experience with equipment and laboratory work are essential. However, increasingly we are seeing co-op programs where employers provide that hands-on experience, often with more advanced and newer equipment than the universities have. Furthermore, more and more engineering is itself virtual (automation for driverless cars, for instance). Simulations and animations are increasingly replacing hands-on training. All the theoretical components of an engineering degree can be handled just as well online, and probably better, than in a face-to-face lecture class.

APEGA and PEO, like many professional bodies, are basically a closed shop or guild that restrict entry to create shortages so that members then can charge higher fees. More importantly they are often run, on a voluntary basis, by older engineers who are blissfully ignorant of new developments in engineering education. At a time when we need more highly qualified people we need greater flexibility in accepting credentials from other countries and more openness to online and distance education qualifications.

It’s time the professional associations in engineering realised that this is the 21st century and recognized appropriate online qualifications.


  1. Philip Mueller says:

    How I had to move back to Germany.

    I am an Engineer by training but never became a P.Eng. This had multiple reasons. I did all my engineering education in Germany, which I always believed has a high standard on education and a very good reputation in engineering. I admit the German education system is a bit confusing as of before 2000 there was basically no Bachelor/Master system in place. Germans went to Engineering school and left after 4 to 5 years with a so called Diplom-Engineer degree, which is actually internationally recognized and comparable to a Master degree. How is this possible? Imaging, in Germany one semester is actually 6 month long and not 3 month like in Canada. While Canadian students have the summer from April to August off, Germans go to school full time! Germans have a winter semester (October-April) and a summer semester (April-August). That’s why we can make a “master” in 5 years and now these days a Bachelor in 3.5 years.
    So what is the problem, I studied very hard and fast and finished all my courses in 4 year. Yes this was possible in Germany. My Degree was not recognized as I was only enrolled for 4 years not 5 years. Another problem I came across is that I was not able to provide the documentation they ask for. So called “Transcripts” did not really exist in Germany before the Bachelor/Master system was put in place. As an example, my final degree says “Process Engineering” mark “A” but it doesn’t say how long that course was and it doesn’t say that this mark consist of 8 combined marks from different 8 courses, which I have taken over 4 years. My university in Germany was not willing to provide me with additional documents for many reasons I don’t want to explain here. The Canadian site had no interest in listening to my explanations or look deeper into this issue. Unless the P.Eng Institution has a direct agreement with a specific university in Germany, it is literally impossible to get a P.Eng.
    So if you are German and you graduated in the 90s or earlier and/or you hold a traditional engineering degree and not a Bachelor or Master degree, you will have significant issues to gather all the documents required. I gave up on it and moved back to Germany as my career changes have been much higher over here as they would have ever been in Canada.

    • Thank you, Philip. What a sad story and what a good example of the inflexibility of the professional engineering associations. It is Canada’s loss. I hope you are having a great career in Germany.

    • Hi Philip,

      this is really shocking to me. I would have thought there would be no problems for a German degree to be recognized.

      I have a follow up question: you posed the quesiton “How is this possible?” regarding a Master’s level degree. This suggests that it is not possible to get a Master’s degree in 5 years in Canada. Is this true? It was my understanding that a Bachelor’s degree is 4 years and a Master’s only 1 year in Canada. So this would add to 5 years in total to get your Master’s.

  2. This is Kenny from Germany .I would really like to live and work in Canada! I have two questions I hope somebody can help me :/.
    I am about to visit a University and to get a Engineering degree in either Mechanical or Chemical Engineering.
    Are these good degrees to have chances on the canadian Job Market as a German or should I go for something completly different ?
    And another question of mine :
    Are German Universities well known and renowned in Canada ? I have an offer from an english University if thats better I will go for it and get a degree from the UK (If Canadians care ) 😀 .
    Any advice is appreciated .I really want to immigrate to Canada I love BC Whistler and the Bikeparks:D
    Kind regards

Speak Your Mind