Recent letters from members of the Association (D.Spraque, P. Geol., January 97, I. Parker, P.Eng., March 97 and others of similar theme) regarding the Continuing Competency Program and Continuing Professional Development seem to indicate that the membership is not yet truly knowledgeable nor in favor of these initiatives. (Continuing Professional Development is a subset of Continuing Competence.) On behalf of the Continuing Competence Subcommittee, I have been asked to address both some general concerns and specific questions raised in these letters.
Many of the thousands of members with whom the Continuing Competence Subcommittee has spoken asked: "Why is the Association doing this? There has been no increase in discipline actions or (reported) failures? It isn't broken - there's nothing to fix!" These are reasonable comments, but the Association, as represented by Council, is responding to internal and external pressures to make a good organization a better one - to make improvements, not to fix specific or general problems. The Association governs the activities of engineering, geology and geophysics in Alberta partly for its members by protecting the titles engineer, geologist and geophysicist, but more so for the public and government. This public is not the same as it was 50 or 60 years ago. It is, on the whole, vastly better educated, better informed, and very critical, which are all good attributes. It is also sensitized and has high expectations. Unfortunately, the public's trust of professionals is not what it was in the past either. No longer satisfied with unsubstantiated reassurances, the public insists on demonstrated and measurable professionalism. APEGGA is ahead of most other professional engineering and geoscience associations in Canada, but I would rather belong to an organization that leads, not follows. The "real" regulator, the government, has clearly stated that the professions - all of them, not just the health care providers, will demonstrate increased professionalism, which is to include some form of professional development. (New Directions for Legislation Regulating Health Care Professionals in Alberta, A Discussion Paper, August 19, 1994; Terms of Reference, Principles.)
Mr. Sprague, as a geologist, is not alone in his objections and concerns with respect to Continuing Professional Development. I am surprised by this common reaction from geologists, as they and the geophysicists of Alberta are true world leaders in their technical activities. The Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists' (CSPG) and the Canadian Society of Exploration Geophysicists' (CSEG)s technical journals and annual conferences, are models for other associations. Much of an individual geoscientist's professional development program will be quantifying existing activities, not increasing them. The practice of geology, in particular, is finally getting organized across the country, and I direct all interested in this to the update from Dr. G. Williams, P.Geol., published in the March CSPG Reservoir, or available on line at http://www.enernet.ab.ca/issab/marres/letter.htm.
Some of the other points raised by Mr. Sprague:
The program is arbitrary.
The Continuing Competence Subcommittee, in the initial phase (1995-96), reviewed numerous professional development programs from a variety of professions. Some recognized only formal accredited courses as meeting standards, while others were more encompassing. The subcommittee, with external expert advice, was made aware that learning takes place in a variety of settings, and that professional development should include more than just technical knowledge. The measure of effort (the Professional Development Hour or PDH), chosen to quantify professional development activities is based on other models. If Mr. Sprague's reference is more to capriciousness than arbitrariness, everyone should be aware that APEGGA Continuing Professional Development initiatives have been floating around for more than a decade, and the current one has been active for two years. The subcommittee has met with literally hundreds of members, and with permit holders, not just to increase awareness, but to solicit input. Much of this input has been taken to heart - the guideline is now quite different, all due to member suggestions.
The program is administratively burdensome.
The "administration" required by the program, especially in the initial draft, does look daunting. The recording and reporting expectations are now more clearly described in the second draft. Members do need to know what their job entails, and should prepare a plan for professional development. Recording what has been accomplished should be straightforward and quick. There are work sheets available, but the structure and method of recording are entirely up to each individual. Many of the permit holders and employers we have spoken with have indicated a willingness to modify their internal performance management systems to permit the recording of professional development activities. There is no need to spend three days doing your taxes, and there will be no need to spend more than an hour or two on your professional development plans and records.
Lack of trust.
This program, by the very nature of the Association membership (large and diverse), will require a great deal of trust of members. The Association has to believe an individual when he or she records Continuing Professional Development for informal activities, which for many will be an important activity. The Association has been very trusting - until now the only requirement for continuing membership has been payment of our annual dues.
Mr. Parker is concerned that the Continuing Professional Development program will be more burdensome for members in small or private practice who have neither the time, money nor opportunity for formal industry training courses. The program is designed to accommodate these limitations by NOT requiring formal courses. Members may choose from a variety of activities, of which only one is "formal". Other activities include informal (self- directed) learning, presentations, participation in professional and technical organizations, and contributions to knowledge.
Mr. Parker also asked some specific questions:
Will failure to meet the Continuing Professional Development program requirements mean that someone is incompetent?
Clearly, no. If the Association were to discuss specific Continuing Professional Development activities with a practicing member, the goal would be to see if 1) a program was in place, and 2) it was meeting goals and expectations. If this process raised questions concerning a member's competence to perform his or her specific duties and responsibilities, the issue would be referred to the Practice Review Board, which is the existing process.
How will "special" members be "administered"?
Members of APEGGA who have life member status, are retired, or are no longer working as engineers, geologists or geophysicists (as defined in the EGGP Act) have the option of declaring themselves to be non-practicing. This distinction (from practicing members) was specifically erected by Council to enable these aforementioned individuals the option of not participating in the Continuing Professional Development program. Council recognizes that these members are vital to the Association as long-term supporters who provide valued direction and advice. Council wants them to remain members.
What forms of training will be acceptable?
(Mr. Parker refers to training, we prefer the term learning. Training implies structure, cost, and limited opportunity. Learning is something you can better control, in all respects - cost, timing, content and method.) The Continuing Professional Development guideline has the details of the recognized methods and suggestions on general content. Our highly technical professions rarely take place in such isolation as to prevent learning. Residency in Alberta is not a requirement for membership, and your learning activities are based on what you do now. All activities should relate to your personal responsibilities, knowledge and skills.
What about "Andy Younger, PhD"?
Advanced degrees in applied science are by their nature, restricted in content, and no one leaves university knowing everything, so holders of doctorate degrees will have no problem finding content areas in which they need further study.
What may happen to membership?
The subcommittee was charged by Council to estimate possible drop in membership because of the Continuing Professional Development program. While the subcommittee doesn't have a crystal ball, the new business plan does accommodate possible changes in the membership. The new business plan is available from the Edmonton and Calgary APEGGA offices, and has been distributed to most major employers and permit holders.
Mr. Parker has challenged the Association to "find 49 other members to follow a pilot program". The Continuing Competence Subcommittee is ahead of this challenge. The first volunteers (who offered their assistance at branch meetings, issue forums, and other presentations) started the Continuing Professional Development program in September 1996. These individuals have already provided helpful feedback to the committee, and none has had any significant objections. The Professional Development Committee assisted with a professional development workshop with 60 professionals last month. Many had reservations at the beginning of the workshop, but by the end realized that the Continuing Professional Development program is not onerous, the recording of activities planned and completed requires only modest effort, and that overall, the Association's reputation is strengthened by on-going requirements for active membership.
Finally, both Mr. Parker and Mr. Sprague suggest that speaking out will put them at the top of an audit list. Realistically, it is unlikely that either gentleman will ever be audited. The number of individuals audited each year will be small relative to the total membership. Rather than waiting for the telephone to ring, the challenge is issued back to both members - reach out, if you're not active already. Do something for your Association and your community. Perhaps visit the local high school to discuss engineering or geology or geophysics as a career. We chose this profession, knowing it is regulated. By setting high standards of knowledge, skill and behavior, others will be further encouraged to follow that lead.
For the Continuing Competence Subcommittee,
J. R. Greggs, P.Geol.
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