|Page 8||National Forum on Continuing Education Told Demonstrating Value of Lifelong Learning Essential|
By Terry Davis
Terry Davis is the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers Manager, Communications.
The success of continuing engineering competency programs in Canada may depend on the professions ability to demonstrate the value of lifelong learning to undergraduate students, practicing engineers and industry leaders, has suggested a national forum of stakeholders.
Held in Ottawa Feb. 28 to March 1 and organized and hosted by the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (CCPE) as part of National Engineering Week, the First National Forum On Engineering and Continuing Education was attended by more than 90 delegates representing the professions regulatory associations/ordre, educational institutions, and technical societies, CCPE , and continuing education course providers.
"Our main goal was to promote increased dialogue between the users and providers of continuing engineering education," said Noel Cleland, P.Eng., the chair of the forums organizing committee. "We wanted the course providers to gain a clearer understanding of the engineering professions continuing education needs, and the associations to gain a better sense of the courses available to their members. Another key goal was to explore the options for distance education, and how to reach engineers practicing in remote areas of Canada. The forum succeeded on both fronts."
Following opening remarks by Sir Graham Day and David Brezer, P.Eng., delegates participated in presentations and panel discussions led by engineerings regulatory associations, technical societies and industry associations, and educational institutions, as well as a wrap-up discussion led by Mr. Cleland.
In his remarks, entitled "No Lifetime Tickets Available," Sir Graham advised forum delegates that internationalization and the speed at which new technologies are emerging will have a profound impact on the engineering profession, unless engineers embrace continuing education.
"State-of-the-art manufacturing technologies will pass graduates by after three years if they dont practice," said Sir Graham, chancellor of Dalhousie University and chairman-designate of Ontario Hydro Services Company. "Beyond the basics, professional skills deteriorate rapidly if they are not used, and even if they are used, they will deteriorate rapidly if they are not kept up to date. The answer is for us to accept the need to upgrade our skills and get on with it."
Sir Graham believes mandatory continuing education is necessary in engineering to preserve the validity of self-governance for the profession and maintain public confidence, and that the only solution is for Canadas engineering schools, in cooperation with the profession, to offer the necessary courses.
Is Code Enough?
For Mr. Brezer, chair of the Canadian Engineering Qualifications Boards Continuing Competence Committee, and a technical manager/fire safety specialist with the Ontario Housing Development and Buildings Branch, the key questions stem from the professions Code of Ethics and Continued Competency of Assurance of Professional Engineers guideline (which require engineers to "keep themselves informed to maintain their competence" and to "only undertake work which they are competent to perform by virtue of their training and expertise") as well as from the role that continuing education should ultimately play in maintaining competency.
"Is the professions Code of Ethics, in and of itself, enough to ensure that engineers maintain their competency?" asked Mr. Brezer. "Is continuing education, in and of itself, a key determinant or only one of many determinants, in determining continued competency?"
At least five associations now believe that the answer to the continued competency question is to make it mandatory. Members of APEGGA must submit a plan outlining their scope of practice, the skills required to do that work, and the areas in which they believe their skills could use improvement. They must also earn a minimum of 240 professional development hours (PDHs) over three years, and report PDHs in three of six categories annually. However, provided APEGGAs members are involved in "fresh, challenging projects", the most significant factor in learning is professional practice.
"Within the next few months, the process for the formal review of members who have not met the requirements of the program, and who will be chosen randomly, will be finalized," APEGGA Director Professional Development Len Shrimpton, P.Eng., told the conference. "The consequences of not meeting the requirements of the program are referral to either the Discipline Committee or the Practice Review Board as unprofessional conduct (failing to submit) or unskilled practice (failing to meet the numerical requirements)."
The Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec (OIQ) established a policy on continuing education in 1989, which states: "Continuing education consists of structured activities defined to reach specific learning objectives related to persons in practice so as to improve their knowledge, know-how and behaviour."
"A serious problem in continuing education is the number of engineers practicing in regions remote from proper services. . ," said OIQs Director of Corporate Affairs André Loiselle, ing. "Many engineers cannot benefit from proper facilities and therefore cannot fulfil the requirements in terms of maintaining their competence. The OIQ is concerned by this situation, and will encourage any means to support its members in outlying regions. However, tutorial methods, whether audio-visual, electronic or computerized are not sufficiently developed nor sufficiently available, and we dont expect this situation to change in the future."
Despite these concerns, OIQ requires its members to complete an average of 45 PDHs annually. Approximately 2,000 - 2,200 of Quebecs 41,000 engineers are inspected each year to ensure that they are meeting this requirement. Inspections are conducted more frequently in fields of practice with higher risks, or if the OIQ receives a complaint.
Ont. Program Voluntary
Continued engineering competence is strictly voluntary in Ontario, but Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) recognizes that it needs to assist its members and employers to meet their professional development goals.
"We intend to survey our membership," said Gordon Sterling, P.Eng., a member of PEOs Professional Development Committee, and the chair of the Office Planners and Users Group. "We want to know how they are maintaining competency now, and what we can do to help. Benchmarks would also be valuable. If engineers meet a certain standard, or benchmark, they are therefore competent."
The Association of Professional Engineers of New Brunswick (APENB) instituted a voluntary professional development program in 1993. Last year, it approved a mandatory continued competency assurance program.
"We are still in the process of putting the finishing touches on it," said Hollis Cole, P.Eng., an APENB volunteer, and president and CEO of ADI Group Inc. "We finalized the policy and procedures for the program in January, and plan to conduct 20 actual reviews this year. Thereafter, we plan to conduct at least 50 reviews annually, which would encompass 1.25 per cent of our membership."
However, the APENB competency program is advisory in nature, and not a disciplinary process. APENB members are expected to undertake 240 PDHs over three years in six categories: professional practice (max. 40 PDH per year), formal activity (max. 30 PDH per year), informal activity (max. 30 PDH per year), participation (max. 20 PDH per year), presentations (max. 20 PDH per year) and contributions to knowledge (max. 30 PDH per year).
The Association of Professional Engineers of Nova Scotia (APENS) is currently developing a voluntary continuing competence program, based on the principle that it is "fundamentally the personal responsibility of individual members to remain professionally competent in the areas in which they work." A key recommendation is for each member of the association to "define his or her individual scope of practice, and establish a personal program for planning and recording professional development activities."
In their presentations, the technical societies, industry associations and educational institutions described both the types of courses they offer and their delivery methods. These range from seminars, to formal courses and meetings, in both technical and management subject areas, offered in conventional settings and by distance education. The technology of learning is changing rapidly, and course providers are taking advantage of new techniques, such as video conferencing and on-line education, to offer distance education.
Early Start Urged
Following the panel discussions, the forum concluded that the philosophy of continuing education should be established at the undergraduate level to instill Canadas future engineers with the value of lifelong learning. It also determined that more dialogue is needed between the associations/ordre, continuing education providers and other stakeholders at all levels, and that a second national forum should be held involving industry representatives.
Delegates suggested that industry support for continuing engineering competency programs would promote increased participation in continuing education courses by engineers, and lead to more courses being available. It would also add value to the continuing competency programs of the associations/ordre.
Another conclusion of the forum was that the engineering profession should develop linkages and partnerships to offer continuing distance education courses to engineers living in remote areas.
"Much of the discussion focused on measurements of competence," said Mr. Cleland. "There was broad consensus that the profession needs to determine the training needs of individual engineers, provide counseling and guidance on professional development and lifelong learning, and develop a method of measuring their competence. The diversity of the engineering profession has made this difficult in the past, yet it is unlikely that a one size fits all program will achieve the professions continuing competency goals. The forum suggested establishing benchmarks of engineering competency to allow measurement to occur, as well as examining international initiatives to measure competency. Both of these options will likely be considered at the next forum."
Visit the APEGGA website (http://www.apegga.org) for links to other professional and technical societies, course and seminar providers, and CPD program guidelines
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