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Why are Engineering Professionals Required to Take Ethics Courses

There are about 2 million engineers in the U.S. It’s not easy to become an engineer. You have to get a college degree, pass board certification exams, and gain experience in your field.

The one thing that people don’t realize is that engineers have to take ethics courses.

Ethics courses? For engineers?

Yes, it’s true. Engineers are bound to live up to a code of ethics, and they need to take the appropriate courses.

It might not make sense for something so straightforward. As you’ll see, nothing is straightforward in engineering.

Read on to learn why a code of ethics exists in engineering and where you can take the top ethics courses in your profession.

Why Are Ethics Important in Engineering?

Engineers bear a lot of responsibility in their work. They are responsible for machinery and structures that members of the public use every day.

Any failure to perform their duties could result in serious injuries or worse.

Unfortunately, a code of ethics is necessary in engineering. It’s far too easy to cut corners on a project to save money and increase profitability. It’s also easy to put personal interest, such as a promotion, ahead of the quality of work.

All of these things can have dire consequences if engineers aren’t held to that higher standard.

One of the most cited case studies on the topic is the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986. The other is the Columbia disaster in 2003.

In both cases, engineers were aware of design flaws and failures that lead to these disasters. Yet, NASA proceeded with both missions. We all know the unfortunate circumstances that followed.

Ethics is so much more than just knowing the difference between right and wrong. It’s a set of standards that protects the reputation of the industry.

That’s really at the heart of ethics in engineering. If engineers didn’t have a high standard, they wouldn’t be valued as much as a profession.

That’s despite the fact that engineers play a vital role in society. The public trust would be diminished and engineers wouldn’t be able to command high salaries.

The Professional Code of Ethics

Who gets to decide that higher standard? The various accreditation agencies for engineers have a code of ethics. The National Society of Professional Engineers does, same with the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The NSPE is the leader in the engineering field, and they are also the agency that approves the Professional Engineering certification in the industry.

There are six main pillars of its code of ethics:

  • Public health and safety always come first.
  • Stick to your area of expertise.
  • Be truthful and accurate in your public statements.
  • You have a responsibility to your clients and your employers.
  • Don’t commit fraud or other acts.
  • Act in a way that furthers the good reputation of the engineering profession.

There’s a seventh, which is that engineers continue down the path of personal and professional development.

These seem straightforward, but they aren’t in daily practice. The NSPE goes into lengthy detail about what you can and can’t do in your work.

For instance, if you’re a civil engineer and are asked to sign off on plans unrelated to civil engineering, you can’t do so. That’s outside of your scope of practice and a violation of the code of ethics.

Shaping Your Moral Compass

Ethics is a moral code that defines how you act. Plus, you can feel good about your work. There are also situational ethics, which means that you’ll only act ethically in certain situations.

When you look at how you shape your moral compass, you can look at four areas. You act with integrity, compassion, and forgiveness. You also commit to taking responsibility for your actions.

The ethics courses that you take should help you define and shape your moral compass. You’ll find situations that aren’t always clear cut and you’ll need to turn to your ethical commitment.

Finding Engineering Ethics Courses

What courses in engineering do you need to have? According to this comprehensive guide, certain states have ethics requirements.

In New Jersey, engineers have to have two hours of continuing education in ethics. The course must be approved by the NJ Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors.

Check the requirements in your state. You should also check to see if you have to use certain providers that are approved for continuing education courses.

As you look at different providers, look at the course offerings.

At the very least, the course should cover what the expectations are in your state. They’ll go over the ethics rules that you have to stick to.

The course should also cover how ethics rules are enforced and what the consequences are of violating ethics rules.

Ideally, you’ll have an ethics course that has in-depth case studies that apply directly to your area of engineering.

When you evaluate ethics courses, look at the course overview and the learning objectives of each course. Then you can decide the best one for your needs.

Ethics Courses in Engineering Are a Must

If you ask a million people to define ethics, you’ll get a million different answers. That’s why engineers have a code of ethics when they become licensed professionals.

The code of ethics defines the role that engineers play in society. They also hold the entire industry to a high standard, which creates trust.  

The engineering courses you take depend on the requirements of your state and professional society. Be sure that you go through an accredited agency in your state to get your continuing education credits.

Be sure to read the other articles on this site for more personal development tips.

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