Registration for engineers in Victoria has cleared its final hurdle and was passed into law Tuesday evening. What does this mean for the state’s engineers?
On Tuesday evening, the Victorian Legislative Council (the Upper House) voted on and passed the Professional Engineers Registration Bill 2019, which will introduce broad-based registration for engineers via the Professional Engineers Registration Act 2019.
This is a big step forward for the profession and for public safety, said Jonathan Russell, National Manager – Public Affairs at Engineers Australia.
“Until now, broad-based registration of engineers in Victoria was only a possibility,” he said.
“Now it’s gone from potential to reality, so the conversation changes from ‘if this happens’ to ‘the bill passed, it’s going to become legislation, it’s going to happen, what’s next?’.”
The mandatory engineers registration scheme will cover five disciplines: civil engineering; mechanical engineering; electrical engineering; structural engineering; and fire safety engineering.
Next steps for Victorian engineers
So, what do Victorian engineers need to do right now? Nothing, said Russell.
“For any engineer, nothing changes straight away — the world hasn’t just tipped on its side, you don’t have to start filling out any paperwork, pay fees or go through an audit,” he said.
The next phase is the development of regulations to support the act, which could take several months. Once those are gazetted, Russell said there will be a phase-in period to help the state’s engineers transition.
“Once it all comes together, there will be time for engineers to get registered in a sensible time frame,” he said.
In the meantime, Russell stressed that it’s business as usual for Victorian engineers. Something he did say engineers could start thinking about, though, is continuing professional development (CPD), as that is a crucial component of the engineers registration scheme.
“One thing engineers who work in those five areas of practice can do is think about how they maintain their professional knowledge through CPD, because that’s a requirement as well,” he said
“That’s the main thing. We assume that everybody is already working ethically and will have access to professional indemnity insurance and that they have a degree.”
Many engineers are already undertaking activities that qualify for CPD hours, he added. The most obvious sources are conferences, training courses, seminars and site visits. But activities like mentoring, volunteering, contributing to industry journals, reading industry-relevant publications, at-work training and teaching can also count towards CPD hours.
“Engineers are already undertaking continuing professional development, but many don’t realise it because the education can be done through a very wide range of means, most of which are free and very low cost,” Russell said.
“When the registration scheme is enacted, we will be able to help engineers self-assess their CPD. It’s making them aware of those opportunities and making sure they realise what counts.”
Communications vs consultation
Part of developing the detailed regulations that support the law will be consultation between Engineers Australia and Victorian engineers.
According to Russell, Engineers Australia is taking to heart member concerns that previous efforts at engineers registration did not incorporate enough engineering voices.
“We’ve heard feedback from members that they don’t feel like they were listened to enough by Engineers Australia in our work with government to bring in the bill,” he said.
“The next phase being the development of regulations, we are going to have a much more comprehensive program of engagement with members and consultation with Victorian engineers and members.”
The details for this will emerge over the next several weeks, and Russell encouraged engineers to keep an eye out for communications from Engineers Australia for opportunities to provide input.
Engineers Australia has been advocating for engineers registration for a long time — its first president even raised the issue in his first speech — and Russell called Victoria’s legislation “a fantastic step forward for broad-based registration of the prominent engineering areas of practice”.
Although there is already a registration scheme of sorts for the Victorian building sector, this is an important step for ensuring public confidence in the engineering profession, said Engineers Australia’s General Manager – Victoria, Alesha Printz.
“Currently, consumers have no real way of knowing whether they are dealing with an engineer who is currently qualified and competent, or if they maintain standards through ongoing professional development and are bound by a code of conduct,” she said.
The new laws might also enable more areas of practice to become registered at a later date. However, Russell said the focus right now is on getting it right for these five important disciplines.
“The legislation provides for expansion to other areas of practice down the track, and we will fully support the pursuit of that, but we’re going to need to bed-down the regulation, introduce it, get it working seamlessly and then look to support the government in expanding it,” Russell said.
Engineers Australia CEO Peter McIntyre said this law paves the way for a wider rollout of engineers registration in other states and for additional disciplines.
“Queensland has had a successful register of engineers in operation since 1930, and it shouldn’t take a crisis for governments to act in the interests of community safety and consumer protection,” McIntyre said.
“We urge other states and territories to follow Victoria’s lead and take immediate action on the introduction of compulsory registration schemes for engineers.”