Facing the Future

By Dennis A. Lindberg, P.Eng.

"So what did APEGGA do for me today?" A greeting, half serious and half in jest, from a civil engineering classmate. Before I could respond, he hastened to add that he had paid his dues for the past 33 years. Professional status was a requirement for his employment. He didn't know much about the Association but questioned the need for such high fees. His exposure to the Association was limited to attendance at an occasional District meeting. He didn't have time to read The PEGG. He had never volunteered or been requested to serve on an APEGGA committee.

"I seriously doubt the relevance of APEGGA to my area of practice." A statement from a more recent graduate working at the cutting edge of computer engineering. He was a member and was proud of his degree, iron ring and P.Eng. His conviction, however, was that APEGGA was only relevant to the traditional areas of engineering, such as civil engineering. He felt that his sector of work had no impact on public safety and was adequately regulated by the marketplace.

"I belong to several technical societies but I never saw any benefit from joining a professional association." An admission from a geoscience acquaintance whose past employment had never required him to sign and take direct professional responsibility for his work. Faced with the threat of downsizing, he now recognizes that professional status would open many more opportunities during his job search.

A Public Responsibility

There are many of our members and potential members who fall into one of the above categories. Perhaps they donít fully understand and appreciate the role and responsibilities of a self-governing professional body. Perhaps they have never given much thought to the value and benefits associated with legislated right to title and exclusive scopes of practice. Likely they don't realize that these are privileges delegated to a profession by government only when it is clearly demonstrated that the public interest is best served by doing so, and when the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages.

Those who join a technical or business association generally do so for some direct tangible benefit that they expect to receive. This is not an unreasonable expectation since the primary focus of most such associations is toward serving their members. Some are heavily into advocacy, others exist to advance the economic well-being of their group.

In contrast, the prime responsibility of a self-governing professional association is to the public. The focus must be on ensuring competent and ethical practice by its members. A professional association serves its members well when it discharges its regulatory responsibilities well. It can't arbitrarily limit access to practice and it is restricted from acting as a collective bargaining agent. Many of the benefits from a professional membership are of a rather indirect and intangible nature. As a consequence, those who would judge the value of any membership with the narrow perspective of "what's in it for me", may, at first consideration, seriously question the relevance of professional membership to their area of employment.

A Common Concern

I expect that most professional associations are faced with a common concern. Members who become actively involved on their Council or on a major committee have little difficulty in understanding and appreciating the role being played on their behalf by their association. This is frequently not the case for those that don't have the opportunity, time or interest in becoming so involved.

The expectations and requirements of government in areas of delegated regulatory responsibility are detailed in a document entitled Principles and Policies Governing Professional Legislation in Alberta. This document makes it clear that self-governing professional associations are held accountable to the public and to the government for their performance of statutory functions.

Reason to Be Proud

APEGGA, as a self-governing professional association, certainly meets and exceeds government requirements. We have been delegated a range of regulatory responsibilities. These include areas such as registration, practice standards, practice review, continuing professional development, enforcement and discipline. This is our core business and we handle it very well. In fact, APEGGA is recognized as a leader across Canada in many of its initiatives. Our guideline on Human Rights Issues in Professional Practice and our approach to the issue of continuing professional development, are two recent examples of national leadership. We have every right to be proud of our profession and of our professional Association. Are we?

Seven years ago when I was approached to let my name stand for election to Council, I knew very little about the Association although I had been a member for over 25 years. I soon found out that there was a lot to learn and I'm still learning. It didn't take long, however, to recognize the significant contributions being made by staff and a large and dedicated contingent of volunteers working on the local, national and international scene. These are the individuals who play a key role, not only in retaining our privilege of self-governance, but in setting and enforcing high standards that maintain and enhance the value and relevance of our professional membership.

We have a large membership and members come from a wide variety of backgrounds, training and experience. As a consequence, every initiative undertaken by APEGGA won't be seen as being directly relevant by each and every member. This is the case even though the interests and potential impact on the well-being of the collective membership is always kept in mind when reviewing existing, or proposing new initiatives.

I strongly recommend that any members or potential members who have doubts, carefully investigate what their professional Association, in a direct and indirect way, can and does do for them before they reach their conclusion regarding relevancy and value of membership. My conviction is that professional status is indeed very relevant to each and every engineer, geologist and geophysicist.

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