Government of Alberta proposes changes to clear path for tech firms to use ‘software engineer’ title

Alberta Provincial Legislature
The province’s new bill follows tech sector clash with engineering regulator.

The Government of Alberta has tabled changes designed to enable technology companies in the province to use the ‘software engineer’ title to attract and retain skilled talent.

Bill 7, introduced in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta on Monday, amends the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act to allow individuals, companies, and other entities to use the title of software engineer to refer to non-licenced engineers.

The legislation comes a year after more than 30 leaders from Alberta’s tech sector penned an open letter to Premier Danielle Smith over concerns that the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) was discouraging workers from locating to the province by effectively taking over the title of software engineer.

“The proposed changes to the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act will allow the technology sector to use the global industry-standard designation of software engineer when recruiting, making it easier for Alberta companies to compete in the global job market,” Nate Glubish, Alberta’s minister of technology and innovation, said in a statement.

In a statement, Benjamin Bergen, president of the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), said his organization is “thrilled that Alberta has removed onerous restrictions” around the software engineer title.

“The bill represents significant red tape reduction that will allow the province’s innovative entrepreneurs to shore up the skilled talent they need to scale up their operations,” Bergen said.

The 2022 letter, which was coordinated by the CCI and included signatures from Benevity, Jobber, Neo Financial, Platform Calgary, and Thin Air Labs, argued that the APEGA had made the software engineer position subject to “onerous, restrictive, and unnecessary certification requirements.”

The letter claimed APEGA actively targeted companies in Alberta with legal action to restrict the use of “globally competitive job titles and descriptions,” with the letter calling these actions a “classic case of regulator overreach.”

“If we cannot effectively compete for the best employees while headquartered in Alberta, we must seriously consider whether this is a place where our companies can succeed,” the letter stated.

The APEGA is responsible for licensing both individuals and corporations looking to engage in engineering in Alberta. The professional body has argued it has the legal right and requirement to “restrict the practices of engineering and geoscience, along with the related titles and designations, to licensed individuals and companies.”

RELATED: Alberta Technology Minister’s mandate letter appears to support reducing restrictions on title ‘software engineer’

Speaking with the Edmonton Journal in September, Katrina Haymond, a lawyer for APEGA, said the association has a strong interest in the unsanctioned use of titles and cited concerns over the potential confusion over who is permitted to identify as an engineer.

“Imposing excessive regulations on the ‘software engineer’ title is a flawed approach, and the public safety argument hardly warrants curtailing Alberta’s potential to attract elite software talent,” Brett Colvin, co-founder and CEO of Calgary-based Goodlawyer, said in a statement sent to BetaKit. “In a fiercely competitive global market, regulating the language of our job titles only amplifies existing talent challenges.”

James Lochrie, managing partner of Calgary-based Thin Air Labs, has also criticized the APEGA’s crackdown on the title.

“There was nothing practical about this dispute and the whole thing could have been avoided if some people who were holding on to an outdated status quo decided to look beyond their own narrow interests,” Lochrie said in a statement sent to BetaKit. “I feel badly for the companies that were caught in the middle of this and I hope they can get back to work without this type of foolishness holding them back.”

“While recognizing that PEngs will continue to play an important role in safeguarding Albertans’ safety, the province is making room for tech companies and their employees to use the credentials that are recognized by the broader global technology labour force,” Bergen said in his statement Monday.

In July, Smith addressed the tech leaders’ concerns in a mandate letter tasking Glubish with ensuring “appropriate governance of software engineers that will not hamper the efforts of tech companies to attract these needed-professionals from competing jurisdictions.”

Attracting tech talent has been a key priority for the provincial government in recent years. This effort includes the “Alberta is Calling” campaign, initiated by former premier Jason Kenney, as well as a dedicated provincial tech and innovation strategy, which aims to create 20,000 new tech jobs in Alberta and help local tech firms increase annual revenues by $5 billion by 2030.

With files from Josh Scott.

Feature image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

UPDATE (07/11/2023): This story has been updated with commentary from Thin Air Labs’ James Lochrie.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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