Terri-Jane Yuzda

City Department Builds CPD
Into its Corporate Culture

Freelance Writer

With five directors and 45 engineers on his departmental team, Kurt Sawatzky, P.Eng., sees APEGGA's Continuing Professional Development program and its outcomes in action. The manager of the City of Edmonton's drainage services, asset management and public works department is keenly aware that maintaining and upgrading professional skill and technological know-how are critical for each person's job performance. In fact, it helps ensure that his department carries out top quality work.

  • The trend to mandatory continuing professional development is common to many professions. In most provinces the engineering and geoscience regulatory organizations are moving towards mandatory requirements. Since 1997, APEGGA's Continuing Professional Development program has been of significant interest to every APEGGA member.

  • Following are two excerpts from the APEGGA Continuing Professional Development Guideline:

"The rate of technological change continues to increase, directly affecting the practice of engineering, geology and geophysics. In most practice areas, individuals who do not continuously improve their skills will soon be out of date. At the same time, society's expectations of professionals have changed. It is no longer enough to establish competence at the beginning of a career. As reflected in government policies on the governance of professions, the public expects professionals to continue demonstrating their competence."

"In APEGGA's 1995 study on structural changes and professional practice, lack of time or resources for training and continuing education was the second highest area of concern; 75 per cent of members surveyed suggested that APEGGA should play a role in developing and issuing guidelines on training and continuing education."

"The best aspect of the CPD program is that it points our engineering staff in the direction of remaining current," says Mr. Sawatzky. "It encourages them to get out from behind their desks and be active doing things in the various categories where personal development hours are credited to them. One category allows you to earn points for community involvement, which I think is a neat feature of the program — in my view being involved in the community improves you as a person and a professional."

The CPD program requires each APEGGA professional engineer, geologist and geophysicist to earn 80 personal development hours per year or 240 over three years. Each person is credited 50 PDHs per annum for maintaining professional practice status, so each year only 30 more PDHs, also known as CPD points, are required.

Mr. Sawatzky's department has internally established requirements for engineering staff to be involved in continuing education and professional development. This synchs the department with APEGGA requirements for its members to adhere to the CPD guideline.

"We make it the staff member's responsibility," says Mr. Sawatzky. "It's a job requirement to achieve annual continuing education objectives. So, when staff meet the APEGGA requirements they also meet our internal requirements. In any case, it's up to each engineer to make the effort. It's not the employer's job to chase them around to make sure it's done."

Mr. Sawatzky notes that each engineering professional must have the annual CPD report up-to-date before the city pays the employee's annual APEGGA membership fee.

Engineers at the City of Edmonton and other APEGGA professionals with large employers may have better opportunities than those who work for smaller, private-sector companies. "We've interviewed engineers from the private sector, and in some cases it's clear they haven't had as many professional development opportunities or as much support provided by their employer," says Mr. Sawatzky. "But this doesn't mean the individual can't meet the guideline standard. In fact there are a multitude of opportunities out there."

APEGGA's CPD Guideline explains how members can earn points by becoming involved in industry or professional associations, attending workshops and conferences. They can present or write papers, take part in community group work, teach, lecture or participate in a range of other ways.

Keeping track is key. Mr. Sawatzky has access to an electronic template for tracking his personal professional development hours, but he prefers to use the hard copy forms.

"I keep it all in a separate folder for easier tracking. It's worked so far, for me. When you are full-time in engineering and as busy as many of us are, it's not a matter of having enough points, it's a matter of choosing which hours you will use for credit.

"Most years, I file about 120 PDHs for my various activities, such as attending workshops and doing presentations to groups outside the City administration."

Mr. Sawatzky says all engineering staff on his team feel pretty good about meeting the CPD requirements. "At the beginning, some might have wondered if they had to go to a conference in Los Angeles or somewhere to get credit, but it's clear that they can get credit by participating with local groups or attending local workshops, meetings and conferences, or doing something similarly valuable."

K.C. Er, P.Eng., works with Mr. Sawatzky as director of the design and construction section within the drainage services, asset management and public works department. Mr. Er, like Mr. Sawatzky, is a good example of someone who has found the CPD program standards easy to meet.

"I have no trouble meeting my professional development requirements because I'm involved with giving papers at conferences, doing volunteer and community work, mentoring and guest lecturing at the U of A's Faculty of Civil Engineering, Construction Engineering and Management. I also sit on the Technical Advisory Board for the Natural Science and Research Council, Alberta Construction Industry Research Chair in the faculty. In addition, I have written papers from time to time, including a recent paper on using computer simulation for tunnel construction."

In recent years, Mr. Er normally has earned more than 240 PDHs. "Last year I only submitted 168, but some years I had more than 300. For younger engineers, they may have limited formal training opportunities, but they can do things such as presenting technical papers, attending technical luncheon meetings, volunteering. They can coach a community team or get involved in engineering associations or groups relating to their work. So the guideline is not onerous for anyone."

APEGGA audits a small number of members per year. Audit criteria are set out in the guideline.

Mr. Er was audited last year, and he says the experience was relatively easy to get through. "I tracked all my professional development hours on a spreadsheet, but then had to organize them in categories. For example, I had credits for 10 publications, participation at conferences and leadership development training, but some of my hours on these were not categorized correctly.

"I found it somewhat tedious to go back, but it wasn't too hard. My advice to people is keep track of it all in a central file and create a spreadsheet with all details on hours earned by category."

Mr. Er says the city has always been supportive in career development for employees and the CPD program just "makes it more formal."

Mandatory PDH requirements under the CPD guidelines are a good thing even for those professionals who may be more "laid back," he says. "It essentially forces them to maintain their professional competency. In today's business world, you really need to expand your skills and technical knowledge. For example, if I had not been involved with the university so much, I never would have adopted the computer simulation tools I now use in my section at work.

"I have learned much about other topics too, such as structured risk assessment and neural networks. These are new topics to me and certainly were not around when I graduated and entered the workforce."

Mr. Er's 12 engineering peers who work in his section are all keeping up their professional skills and designations. "Most of them are quite active in continuing their education and heavily involved with a variety of technical associations, such as the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers, the Tunnelling Association of Canada and the North American Society of Trenchless Technology."

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