Scoping the Job
Of Improving Competence


It may seem to most APEGGA professionals that just the challenge of dealing with their day-to-day practice provides a significant learning experience. However, the goal of an engineer or geoscientist’s personal professional development plan should be to proactively provide insights, knowledge and tools to better meet those challenges and to avoid learning from the “school of hard knocks.”

Professional engineering and geoscience planning tools, like APEGGA’s Professional Development Guideline, highlight key development areas, reporting mechanisms, and scoring of PDHs. Yet to really scope your own professional development project, you need to fully explore what will best meet your needs. The needs should be driven by your own career decisions, learning preferences and your work situation.

Professional Practice
The foundation that all professional engineering and geoscience careers is based on is something we call professional practice. Applying the science and knowledge acquired from other professional development activities is what engineering is all about.

Competent practice leads to the sustainable results that everyone in our global society relies on for their well-being, whether it is in the form of new products, industrial development, or the efficient and secure supply of basic commodities like energy, water and food. So professional practice is focused on developing our abilities and skills to continually improve the consistency and quality of what we produce.

This competency component is readily met by most practitioners, but may be a challenge requiring extra planning or effort for those in management, unemployed or semi-retired, or those newly entering the profession, so that they can maintain or enhance their skills.

Formal Activity
On-going changes in technology, work environments, standards and career direction is what drives the need for formal activity – courses that many think of first under professional development. These are a key component in helping to keep professional practice on track, by ensuring that practitioners in a given area are working with a shared understanding of what is required and expected technically.

Usually the need to add these activities to your professional development scope of work will be highlighted by changes in your company’s tools, industry standards, or job situation. Often engineers requiring formal activity will have some understanding of the content, but have identified a need to expand, update or renew their understanding due to a change in some other factor.

Informal Activity
In any technology area there is always the case where someone will find themselves in a situation where they are “one of the first to practice.” This may result from finding that methods currently being used no longer meet the need, or that better methods are now available, so your skills and abilities are no longer sufficient. It may also result from a specialized need, or a unique opportunity, that few have previously encountered.

In these situations it is unlikely that you will be able to find a formal activity that can provide the required knowledge or skills. So your development scope must expand to include informal activity to learn more about new ways of dealing with the issue or new technology. Support for this type of development is often met by contact networks and technical societies.

Professional competency, whether for engineers or medical doctors, is increasingly becoming measured by your ability to communicate effectively with the public. The participation category of continuing competency, consisting of mentoring or participation in public, community or technical service organizations, helps to build these skills through interacting with people engineers normally wouldn’t have much contact with.

Activities in these areas provide the engineer or geosocientist with the opportunity to test and improve communications ability in a situation where the contribution can be better observed and appreciated by the public. These also allow us to enhance our listening skills to learn about how the general public views issues affecting them.

The category of presentations continues the focus on communications, but in a technical forum. Knowledge and technical competency are of little professional use if you can’t convince others (peers, public, employers or clients) of their value.
This type of activity enhances the professional’s ability to describe advanced technical concepts, experiences or results to peers, who can then reward these efforts with praise, and provide feedback to enhance the understanding and practice. This type of activity also provides opportunities for cross-fertilization of ideas and technology between industries to provide greater technical leverage.

Contribution to Knowledge
Finally, contribution to knowledge activities, consisting of patents, publications and reviews of papers, are activities that ensure that engineering technology, in all fields, continues to expand the envelope for everyone to bring in new technology in a way that provides validation, testing and proper application, and provides rewards and recognition for the innovators.

So put some time into scoping out your professional development plan. No one else has a greater stake in the end product.

Bruce Peachey, P.Eng., spent many years as a project engineering section head and technical services superintendent with a major upstream oil and gas producer, supporting career development for a wide range of technical and engineering personnel. He is also a former executive director of life-long learning for the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering, and past chair of the Edmonton Section of the CSChE.

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