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Pay to Play in Civil Engineering: Analytical Essay

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The field of civil engineering should be taken more seriously, considering the role that it plays in society. Unethical standards, such as requiring people to pay to practice the profession, have the potential of affecting the quality of work output. Such situations occur because people who tend to pay lack the necessary qualification required to be admitted to pursue the profession or practice it. The fact that they do not possess these needed qualifications is an indication that their quality of work output will be substandard. Since the majority of people in society depend on civil engineering works such as roads and buildings, poor work output places their lives in danger. Therefore, it is essential to adhere to ethics in this profession because they are in place to give necessary guidance.

Ethics plays a significant role in engineering. Ethics encompasses the moral behavior that guides our actions. In this case, it is evident that the issue of ethics should be a motivating factor to an individual's behavior as well as in the business setting to achieve the organization's objective. Due to the importance of ethics in the society, as well as in business organizations and institutions establish a 'code of ethics' that guide their employees, members and other stakeholders on their interactions. Hence, the American Society of Civil Engineers which is the premier American institutions responsible for developing and implementing policy frameworks for civil engineers, has established and developed its own code that require students and its member, engineers to adhere to the set code in their activities. As a future civil engineer the organization and the code of ethics established by this engineering body is the focus of my ethics project Hence, I will focus on the code of ethics as identified by the American Society of Civil Engineers and its implication on its members while paying particular attention to Canon 5. Though the capitalistic concept of pay-to-play is itself old, the phrase pay-to-play emerged in the 1920s, with one early use referring to a pay-to-play card game for a Catholic association. A prominent use of pay-to-play occurred in the music industry in the 1980s, when some venue owners in Los Angeles began charging new and fledgling artists a pay-to-play fee if the artists wished to use their facilities. This model has received much criticism, and been referred to as a “scene killer.” In 1992, the idea of a “pay-to-play plan” for schools was first discussed as a way to address diminishing revenue. It consisted of forcing students to purchase “activity tickets,” that is, pay a fee, if they wanted to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities. This approach had reportedly led to a decrease in student participation, but due to continuing funding concerns, there has been some speculation that it could become a fixture of school sports in the future. By the late 1980s and 1990s, the phrase pay-to-play became increasingly identified with US politics, specifically referring to the practice of companies or industries giving contributions and gifts to candidates in exchange for political favors, influence on policy, tax breaks, and so on.

Assurance is a virtue that has allowed the civil engineering industry to grow and become widely accepted by people in society. Once an engineer completes a particular project, people freely utilize it without fear since they are assured that the construction and the people concerned abided by the expected standards. This is in line with the principle of making sure that all engineering projects uphold the public safety and health (ASCE, 2008). Assurance has supported the industry to grow over the years. The rules and regulations in place guide engineers on how to acquire education and skills to practice the profession accurately. Nonconformity to these regulations is what amounts to unethical practice and has the potential of affecting the growth of the civil engineering industry. Once constructions are not up to the expected standards, people will lose confidence, thus leading to low demand.

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One of the cannons that might be violated as a result of pay to play in the civil engineering profession is one that requires engineers to practice only in the areas of their competence (Atola, 2015). The fact that individuals pay to acquire certain tenders is an indication that they do not possess all the required qualifications needed for the job. This cannon is made to ensure that construction projects meet all the required standards. Not only does it guarantee the safety of the people who use these facilities, but it also ensures that only professionals with the right skills and experience are selected for the task.

The second cannon that pay to play disregards is one that requires engineers to act professionally with honesty and avoid any conflict of interest (Atola, 2015). The fact that people pay to acquire admission into colleges without having the needed qualification is a sign of dishonesty. This particular act further indicates that those admitted in this manner have the potential of not thoroughly acquiring all the skills required to enable them to discharge their duties in the right way. Due to this, they further pay to acquires tenders, thus leading to more dishonesty with clients and ultimately resulting in poor quality output. As highlighted by the Illinois Institute of Technology (n.d), such acts go against the principle of honoring and dignifying the profession.

The third cannon compromised by the act of pay to play is one that requires engineers to build their careers on merit from the quality of services they give and not based on unfair competition (Atola, 2015). Riley and Lambrinidou (2015) further argue that the primary goal of engineers is to address social problems and challenge social injustice. Therefore, when people pay to acquire admission into colleges and to get tenders, it means that they have violated this cannon since the two are not based on merit but rather unfair practices. It also compromises the quality of work conducted by such engineers. The last cannon (and one that is directly against the pay to practice act) is one that asks engineers to honor and have the dignity of the profession by not engaging in bribery (Atola, 2015). Therefore, when engineers pay to acquire tenders, they violate this principle. As noted by ASME (2019), engineers should not engage in practices that make them compete unfairly against one another.

In conclusion, the civil engineering industry should be taken more seriously based on the role it plays in the economy. Violation of ethical standards in the profession will lead to detrimental consequences, which will ultimately not only affect the economy but also the industry. Although the American Society of Civil Engineers has rules and regulations that are supposed to direct engineers to honor and respect the profession, they should find effective criteria to ensure that engineers strictly follow them in the future.


  1. ASCE. (2008). The seven fundamental canons of ASCE’s code of ethics. Retrieved 15 October 2019, from
  2. ASME. (2019). The ASME criteria for interpretation of the canons [Ebook]. Retrieved from
  3. Atola. (2015). American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) – Code of ethics. – Adrian and the future professorship. Retrieved 9 October 2019, from
  4. Illinois Institute of Technology. (n.d). Canons of ethics for engineers (1947) | Ethics Codes Collection. Retrieved 15 October 2019, from
  5. Riley, D., & Lambrinidou, Y. (2015). Canons against cannons? Social justice and the engineering ethics imaginary. Seattle, WA: American Society for Engineering Education.
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