Alberta to loosen rules around use of 'software engineer'

Bill 7, the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Amendments 2023 Act, changes existing legislation to allow companies to use the software engineer title in job postings in an effort to draw and retain tech workers

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The Alberta government is seeking to amend legislation to permit the broader use of the title “software engineer” within the technology sector amid an ongoing struggle  between industry and its provincial regulator over the term.

Bill 7, the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Amendments 2023 Act, changes existing legislation to allow companies to use the software engineer title in job postings in an effort to draw and retain tech workers.

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“If you are a software engineer in Alberta, applying engineering principles in your position, you still have to be regulated by the regulator,” said Advanced Education Minister Rajan Sawhney ahead of introducing the bill in the legislature.

“But if you’re not applying engineering principles, you can really call yourself a software engineer now after the legislation passed, and that wasn’t the case earlier.”

Sawhney said the use of “software engineer” was common outside of Alberta.

In Alberta, engineering is a regulated profession overseen by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA).

The bill, if passed, would make three changes — exempting the use of “software engineer,” affirming that the title of “professional engineer” remains limited to those registered with APEGA, and allowing the minister to make regulations prescribing titles related to “software engineer” for similar exemptions.

The number of Alberta technology companies has almost tripled since 2019, to 3,083 from 1,238, according to government estimates, which also put Edmonton and Calgary’s tech workforce at 31,000 and 52,000 respectively.

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Before Bill 7 amendments are passed, the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act defines engineering as the use of math, chemistry, physics or related subjects in work “aimed at the discovery, development or utilization of matter, materials or energy or in any other way designed for the use and convenience of humans.”

In October 2022, more than 30 companies and related groups signed a letter sent to Premier Danielle Smith claiming APEGA “has taken the aggressive position that software engineers must be regulated, and subject to onerous, restrictive, and unnecessary certification requirements.”

Signatories argued that “software engineer” is a standard job title for anyone building technical programs and argue APEGA shouldn’t be treating it as a role in need of certification and regulation like professional engineers.

They went on to call on Smith to remove the “regulatory red tape” around the terminology.

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At the time, APEGA said use of the term “engineer” implies compliance with its organizational standards.

The proposed changes come amid an ongoing legal battle between Edmonton tech company Jobber and APEGA over the use of “engineer” in job ads.

The regulator argued the use of that term breached government legislation and that software engineering is a recognized engineering discipline that can have significant public safety impacts in areas related to transportation, nuclear energy, and biomedical fields.

The company countered that the term “software engineer” is widely understood to be distinct from engineers who are governed by APEGA, who it accused of “regulatory overreach.”

Sawhney said it was “never really a consideration” to wait for that court dispute to conclude.

“We have been working on this file for some time,” she said. “It was very clear this was a change the tech sector wanted to see.”

— with files from Jonny Wakefield and The Canadian Press

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