Friday, 14 August 2009

Bus drivers, welders, CAD professionals - spot the odd one out...

What do bus drivers and welders have in common that CAD professionals don't?
Not sure? The answer is simple; bus drivers and welders need to demonstrate their professional credentials on a regular basis throughout their careers, in order to be allowed to do their job.

Bus drivers (and lorry drivers from next month) have to pass a 'certificate of professional competence' in order to drive their vehicles in the UK .
Here's the background; the CPC was developed as a requirement of the EU Directive 2003/59, which is designed to improve the knowledge and skills of professional LGV and PCV drivers throughout their working life. There are two parts to the legislation:
- An Initial Qualification that must be achieved by new (LGV and PCV) drivers along with their vocational licence to enable them to use their licence professionally.
- Periodic Training, which involves all professional drivers undertaking 35 hours of training every 5 years.

Now let's look at the humble welder;

Welder certification are specially designed tests to determine a welder's skill and ability to deposit sound weld metal. The tests consist of many variables, including the specific welding process, type of metal, thickness, joint design, position, and others. Most certifications expire after a certain time limit, and have different requirements for renewal or extension of the certification. Once a welder passes a test (or a series of tests) their employer will certify the ability to pass the test, and the limitations or extent they are qualified to weld, as a written document (welder qualification test record, or WQTR).

So if the driving industry has a recognised benchmark for performance and if the welding industry won't allow its members to pick up a blow-torch without first demonstrating they have the requisite skills, then why on earth does the AEC industry let anyone with a pulse loose with a CAD license??

A recent story on highlighted the dangers of unqualified staff working on projects. A warehouse in Philadelphia suffered a major structural collapse, resulting in damages of $3.5M USD. A building-collapse expert concluded, 'The team committed several engineering errors of "amazing proportions" that caused the Philadelphia warehouse to fail under the weight of snow'. He found that the warehouse had only one-third of the steel roof framing it needed.

Someone using analysis software grossly underestimated the quantity of materials, the error went unnoticed, the building was constructed, the snow fell... and they firm got hit with $3.5M in costs. Plus a bunch of people got hurt when the roof fell in. Ouch! Suddenly a few extra bucks on testing a person's proficiency using engineering software, plus a few hours training, seems like a good use of the company resources!

A CIO at a large US design firm recently said to me; “The minute you give someone a CAD license on their desktop – you are effectively giving them full access to your end product. You want to be sure they know what they are doing!”. This firm doesn't allocate a CAD license to someone's desktop unless they have first met the minimum threshold competence level for CAD performance, as identified by the firms CAD administrators (using CADsmart, in this instance).

A bus company doesn't give someone the keys to its shiniest double-decker without making absolutely sure that they have the current skills required to drive the vehicle. Isn't it time that the AEC industry recognised the need for clear skills certification in core authoring, BIM, Civil and analysis software packages? And a continuous improvement program for design and engineering professionals to demonstrate their credentials to their employers on an ongoing basis?


1 comment:

madj said...

Allowing a "CAD Operator" "free range" on any design is a bad idea. I've been designing and drafting with software exclusively for almost 2o years and have never let my design go out of the office without being thoroughly reviewed by a PE. Almost all firms have this policy in place.

The firm that currently employs me works a "peer review" into the schedule of every project that is designed in our office. Someone completely unfamiliar with the specific project gets to review every electrical connection from panel to panel, box to box, connection point to connection point. Then revisions get made and a final review takes place before the project is shipped.

Just because someone has the software experience, it is always the responsibility of the PE to ensure design parameters are met.

Certification requirements may make some feel better and may give an indication of minimal qualifications, but the actual work quality produced by the technician within his or her probationary period will become apparent. I have had to change engineering fields in order to secure employment and could not be hired by my current employer had a certification benn required as I needed to learn MicroStation after almost 20 years of AutoCAD. I thank God every day for my employer taking a flyer on me simply becuse of my experince.