Ethics and Engineers
Engineers need the ability to write and converse verbally. This is how you get clients. You also need to create a useful resume, not only to get a job, but for use in proposals. Most engineers in the private sector get work through submission of proposals that must clearly articulate ideas, qualification, experience and the ability to accomplish the work. Many think this is a consulting engineer from civil engineers only, but large defense contractors use engineers to create conceptual design packages and convey that data to prospective clients for multimillion dollar projects.
But engineers are licensed and with that comes certain expectations concerning the public trust. Given that a large portion of the public does not really know what engineers do but expects that the job was done correctly while protecting everyone’s interests, and that we will be forthright and truthful with them in all cases, engineers the need to communicate what they do, and make good decisions that can be defended transparently. This has become more important than ever given that the infrastructure that built this nation, is now crumbling around us as noted in the infrastructure grades handed out by ASCE every four years.
It also means that the public citizenry is often very quick to identify any actions believed to be self-serving and to therefore violate the public trust. This is the crossroad where the work we do and the public trust, our ethical obligation, can conflict. As a result, there is a need to understand why ethical engineering is critical, and to identify who the stakeholders, audience, or evaluators are that are making these judgements. So I developed this graphic of the results of students taking the fundamentals exam on the ethics question.
Does this bother anyone as much as it does me? The percentage of students scoring correctly on the fundamentals of engineering exam questions specifically concerning ethics has consistently declined over the past 15 years. That means somewhere there is a failure in training young engineers on the importance of ethics. We can point to academics, but many of them are not practicing in the field. So, we need to consider how mentors and professional society people present the ethics as well. I have had a member of the Florida Board of Professional Engineers come talk to my senior capstone design class for the past 5 or 6 years. They listen, but they will not understand the magnitude of the opportunity for another five years. In the meantime, ethics will have jelled in their minds. We need a better method – clearly.