Piling Canada

Keeping Pace with a New World of Technology

The growing role of the engineering technologist in the deep foundations industry
Written by Deb Draper
March 2024

The deep foundations industry in Canada is committed to providing innovative, safe and effective solutions for a wide variety of construction projects across the country. As advancements in technology, materials and construction methods continue to grow at an every-increasing rate, skilled professionals are challenged to keep up with and be part of these exciting developments.

Deep foundation design teams produce solutions tailored to each project’s specific needs, and one important member of those teams is the engineering technologist.

This challenging career requires working with complex data and analysis to creatively solve real-world problems. As described by the worldwide job site Indeed.com, “an engineering technologist applies a fundamental understanding of math and engineering and uses strong practical skills to complete their work.” These professionals take a hands-on, applied approach to engineering theory that emphasizes problem-solving, analysis and design, and then bring their drawings and data to the engineer managing the project.

With the expertise and passion of today’s engineering technologists on the team, the deep foundation construction industry will grow into the future with unprecedented success and sustainability.

While engineers work largely within theory to develop new concepts and designs, the engineering technologist focuses more on the practical application of those concepts and designs.

“I always say that engineering technologists are the problem solvers. Architects and engineers identify problems, but don’t necessarily have the technology to solve those problems,” said Reva Bond, dean for the School of Construction at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary, Alta. “As far as compensation and job satisfaction go, they’re equivalent in many organizations to an engineer or an architect. The hierarchy of construction is starting to whittle a little bit as organizations see how each role has a distinct scope of work. Companies invest in fairness and transparency, and the engineering technologist can speak up and be a part of the problem-solving process. That’s how some of the best projects are run.”

Becoming an engineering technologist

A successful engineering technologist must be curious and have a passion for problem-solving. They are willing to understand and apply theory at a deep level to help bring creative and effective innovations to foundation processes. Analytical thinking and attention to detail are essential qualities for success in this career. Technical skills gained through education and experience form the foundation of the work, while communication skills, the ability to express technical information to the design team, stakeholders and clients are becoming vital in an increasingly complex world.

There is a growing demand for engineering technologists as reliance on technology increases in the construction industry. Competitive salaries and good opportunities for advancement, and the challenge of creatively solving real-world problems make this an attractive career choice for many individuals.

The education pathway

In Canada, the journey to become a certified engineering technologist usually begins with registration in a post-secondary technology or applied science program offered at colleges, institutes of technology, polytechnics and universities across the country. After completion of a two- or three-year diploma program – depending on the province – graduates must finish two years of supervised work experience in an applied science or engineering technology occupation to obtain provincial certification.

Students at desks with man in background raising hand
Photo: xreflex/123RF

“The education pathway in Alberta is two years long, where we introduce students to all the different possibilities and directions for a career in engineering technology,” said Bond. “Once they’re out in the workforce, they can begin to build their niche. By nature of the project they’ve been a part of, a reputation will begin to follow them from project to project, and they start to become a specialist. Or depending on the scope and skills required for the work, they may also develop a great career being a generalist.

“We’re introducing a dozen or more pathways that a student as a graduate can pursue. In their final semester they do a capstone project, where they get to drive their own learning, tackling a real-world problem that holds great passion for them. They spend the entire semester really getting into it. It’s the process of problem-solving rather than knowing the data that changes according to the situation. The students work to find solutions that adapt and are better for that particular situation. That’s where we see the breadth of specializations really starting to come out.”

The civil engineering technologist in the deep foundations industry

An engineering technologist can specialize in many different areas of engineering. For example, mechanical, electrical and mining, but perhaps the closest to the work in deep foundations is the civil engineering technologist.

“This discipline provides technical support and services to scientists, engineers and other professionals, or the technologist may work independently in such fields as structural engineering, construction design and supervision, geotechnical engineering, etc.,” states the Government of Canada’s national occupational classification.

Duties can include preparing construction specifications, cost and materials estimates, project schedules and reports. The civil engineering technologist might supervise or conduct field surveys, technical inspections into topography, soils, drainage and water supply systems, field compaction testing of soils and concrete, pile construction and monitoring to provide data for engineering projects. Their responsibilities may include a combination of indoor and outdoor work.

At SAIT, the School of Construction runs three civil engineering technology programs under construction design and management with three majors: construction management, municipal, and virtual design and construction. All three are two-year diploma programs. The first year covers building science and the building process: engineering, drafting 2D and 3D, construction management, virtual and augmented technology, structural design, geotechnical engineering and construction management principles. Students will also develop knowledge of material science by exploring the strength of building materials, building science and sustainability, mixing concrete, testing materials and asphalt samples, discover the importance of soil mechanics to building projects and other topics essential to construction management principles.

In the second year, students choose options to specialize in their major. Construction management will focus on buildings construction design, estimating, and construction execution for residential and commercial construction. The municipal major focuses on infrastructure services and road design.

Virtual design and construction students focus on advanced construction communication technology, digital drafting and design delivery in the virtual world from 2D to HoloLens.

Every student completes a capstone project to produce a report on a defined situation, completing an investigation through research, data collection, data analysis and drafting. The students present their findings to faculty and industry guests.

There is a growing demand for engineering technologists as reliance on technology increases in the construction industry.

“We have some great industry partnerships at SAIT,” said Bond. “Sometimes they will approach us with a problem for a capstone project or maybe the problem has been solved, but they want to see what else a student might come up with.”

Secondary institutions across the country offer similar engineering technology programs that are nationally accredited at the technologist level by Technology Accreditation Canada. The Canadian Technology Standards are a set of general and discipline-specific learning outcomes for each engineering technology and applied science discipline at the technician and technologist level. These standards are used for the purposes of accreditation, certification and program development.

Engineering technology graduates are eligible to join the professional association specific to each province. Most provincial engineering and applied science technology associations offer Certified Engineering Technologist certification after registering with the provincial association and fulfiling specific requirements. For example, in Alberta this means graduation from an accredited program, at least two years of acceptable technical experience, professional references, a competency report and successful completion of the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta’s professional practice exam.

Certification is voluntary; it is not a regulatory requirement or a statutory required license, but it does indicate the professional values of the code of ethics of the association and gives credibility when representing to hiring managers, demonstrating commitment to the profession. With experience and the motivation to continue to learn, engineering technologists can progress through their careers to construction supervisor, project engineer or manager, construction estimator or construction manager.

“After completing an engineering technology program, a graduate may be able to get further training through the company they’re hired with or they may choose to go on to an engineering degree program, learn more theory about how to go about solving problems,” said Bond. “Sometimes a manufacturer will provide a day program about specific materials and equipment. And new software programs are being developed all the time. New technology is coming on board that is really going to affect the day-to-day work of those engineering technologists. They’re going to be able to go through huge amounts of data sets much more quickly to help identify patterns and solve problems, perhaps to a higher level than we’ve been able to in the past.

“There is a paradigm shift that is happening as we move away from a mechanistic world view towards an ecological world view. Buildings are an extension of the earth we’re on, and we are starting to tie in systems much more tightly to each other. Disciplines that could perhaps work through a whole project in isolation, need to understand each other’s scope of work, need to be much more integrated in their design and problem-solving abilities because of that reality.”

The field of engineering technology is growing and evolving at a rapid pace with innovations in automation and robotics, advanced materials innovations, geotechnical innovations, soil improvement techniques, and advanced sensory and monitoring systems. With the expertise and passion of today’s engineering technologists on the team, the deep foundation construction industry will grow into the future with unprecedented success and sustainability. Piling Canada

Category: Feature

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.

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