A new licencing regime for engineers

The regulation of engineers has achieved greater public attention in recent years, particularly following the Canterbury and Kaikoura earthquakes and the lessons learned in the aftermath. To give the public confidence that professional engineers are acting within their area of competence and to provide greater protection for the public, a bill is in development that will change the way engineers are regulated in New Zealand.

The new regime will have two tiers. All engineers will be required to be registered in order to practice. Engineers will need to hold a minimum qualification to be registered. Once registered, they will be subject to a code of ethics and be required to meet continuing professional development requirements to renew their registration.

A second tier of registration will be required for engineers who work in higher risk areas (those that are hazardous to life, health, property, economic interests, public welfare or the environment). To acquire this second tier registration, an engineer will be subject to greater scrutiny including being required to meet more comprehensive competency requirements.

The transition will be gradual, and it is expected it will take up to six years fully implement the new regime. The bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament later in 2022.

This is a significant change from the current registration system under which a person may call themselves an ‘engineer’ without any requirement that they are registered as a Chartered Professional Engineer or a member of Engineering New Zealand. In such circumstances, the protection of the public often falls to Building Consent Authorities, many of whom, at their discretion, do not accept producer statements and other certifications from engineers who are not registered as Chartered Professional Engineers, but this approach is not consistently applied.

The current system also relies heavily on self-regulation by engineers. Engineers are assessed in a certain practice area although they are not required to work only within that practice area, provided they are still acting ‘competently’. Rather than being determined by the boundaries of the engineer’s registered practice area, the engineer’s ability to practice competently is either self-determined or is assessed by reference to the Code of Ethical Conduct as part of a disciplinary investigation when the damage has often already been done.

The specific details of the regime are still being determined, however, in principle, this regime is likely to provide more clarity on areas of competence for engineers which will assist all parts of the sector including BCAs and members of the public. It is a meaningful step towards replacing the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff with a fence at the top.

Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter. No warrant or guarantee whatsoever is given as to the accuracy of any information contained in the article, nor is any liability accepted for any actions taken based on this information.