Continuing Professional Development

By Dennis Lindberg, P.Eng.

An area that is currently receiving considerable attention and discussion by associations of the professional engineers and geoscientists across Canada and elsewhere is that of lifelong learning or continuing professional development. We are no exception. APEGGA's mandatory Continuing Professional Development (CPD) program is finally being introduced after more than five years in the development stage.

Most members and permit holders that I have talked to from across the province are positive and very supportive of the program. There are a few, however, whose initial reaction has been negative. Such individuals or companies frequently move towards support, and often strong support, once they have been provided with a clearer understanding of the program, the needs for such a program and the benefits that they themselves can gain from the programÕs introduction.

Invoicing Changes
Some time ago, APEGGA changed from a procedure of sending all membership invoices at the same time, to one of sending invoices on the anniversary month of when membership status was first granted. This has proven to be an excellent way of balancing staff workload and cash flow.

This new billing procedure means that some members, including myself, have recently received an APEGGA invoice with an attachment which is to be filled in and returned with our payment of fees. The upper portion of the attachment requires us to declare whether we are practicing or non-practicing members. If we are practicing, as I expect that the large majority of us are, we are required to identify our industry of practice and area of specialization.

The bottom section of the attachment to the invoice allows us to claim professional development hours for each of the previous three years. Filling in the bottom section is encouraged but is optional for the first year. Commencing in September 1998, it will be a requirement that the entire form be completed and returned.

I chose to fill in the entire form this year, although it did take a couple of hours to review my day timer and the APEGGA guideline that was mailed to all of us in mid-1997. I didnÕt find this to be too onerous but next year, I will be better prepared.

Mailing of invoices with an attached questionnaire commenced in September 1997 and signaled the beginning of the implementation of our mandatory Continuing Professional Development program.

Continuing Professional Development (CDP) Program
Regulations with respect to the enforcement of the CPD program were approved at the APEGGA Annual General Meeting held in Calgary in April 1997. This was the culmination of four years of consultation and hard work by a very dedicated committee of our peers with support, as needed, from staff. Over that period of time, the committee completed a thorough review of the measures being taken by other self-governing professional bodies in Alberta and elsewhere to address the issues of continuing professional development and protection of the public. This included a review of our Provincial Government's requirements and expectations with respect to the regulation of professions as spelled out in "Principles and Policies Governing Professional Legislation in Alberta", in June 1990.

Prior to bringing recommendations to Council for a policy decision, APEGGA conducted the most extensive public and member consultative program it has ever undertaken. Several thousand members were consulted during the development, testing and refinements of the program. Most members provided constructive comments, many of which were incorporated in the program.

With its approval of the Continuing Professional Development program, APEGGA Council committed to a periodic review of program goals and requirements to ensure that the program continues to be appropriate for all of our members. Several objectives were identified to ensure that the program reflects the expectations of government, the public, the Canadian Council of Geoscientists, the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, relevant business associations, various technical societies and other stakeholders with respect to the practices of our professions of geophysics, geology and engineering in todayÕs competitive and rapidly changing work environment.

The program has been developed by a committee of peers. Rather than risk having unsuitable continuing competency requirements mandated by government, this is a proactive program which focuses on member needs. Flexible requirements stress the importance of lifelong learning and allow each member to set her or his own goals and needs. There is no requirement to attend formal courses and pass exams unless the member decides that this is the best way to maintain or enhance oneÕs competence in a given area of practice.

Care was taken during the development of the CPD program so that it would be compatible with many of the existing employer training programs and not create an administrative burden for members, employers or APEGGA. Members can select activities that address their own specific needs, location and budget. We believe that most existing employer training programs exceed the benchmark requirements of APEGGA's CPD program.

Implementation Issues
With a new program of this magnitude, some questions, concerns and constructive ideas are bound to arise during the initial implementation stage. APEGGA has received several requests from members to review their individual circumstances in light of the program requirements. Many of these questions relate to the issues of part-time employment, parental leave or overseas employment.

Some have raised questions with respect to the steps they will have to take in the future to meet APEGGAÕs CPD requirements, if they wish to move from a practicing, but predominately engineering marketing position, to a more hands-on engineering design position within their industry of practice. A related question is what are APEGGAÕs requirements if one has declared oneself to be non-practicing for a few years and wishes to revert to a practicing status.

APEGGA is addressing these issues and will examine others that are brought to its attention. The Practice Review Board (PRB) subcommittee will reconvene to review these issues and will develop policy recommendations for CouncilÕs consideration. This subcommittee continues to be an important resource in this area and would certainly be receptive to constructive input from members over the next several months.

Improving and maintaining interprovincial mobility is also an important issue. Although most provinces are currently developing CPD programs that are consistent or nearly identical with ours, there is a need to be vigilant and to ensure equity.

Professional Development Activities
APEGGA has received many requests for seminars to explain and answer questions regarding the CPD program and reporting requirements. A core group of 25 volunteers has been trained to give these seminars. To date, more than 1,000 members have attended the 50 seminars which have been held across the province. Those interested in attending a seminar or in becoming trained as a volunteer to give a seminar, should contact the APEGGA offices in either Calgary or Edmonton.

The APEGGA website is frequently updated. The CPD program guideline and down-loadable forms are available from this source if needed.

We are fortunate in this province to have a number of very active technical societies and other associations that hold regular meetings with guest speakers addressing a variety of technical or business topics. The APEGGA website includes a list of courses, seminars, relevant meetings and contact information for most of the technical societies.

Over the past year, APEGGA has organized several professional development days with a selection of topics chosen to complement, not compete with, programs provided by the technical societies. APEGGA's professional development committee is currently organizing a professional development program to be held in Edmonton at the time of our Annual General Meeting in April 1998.

In the future, more attention will have to be given towards making the APEGGA professional development programs more readily accessible to members working outside the major centres. There may even be opportunities to assist in arranging to have some of the technical society presentations delivered at locations outside Edmonton and Calgary.

APEGGA's CPD program is described in considerable detail in the CPD guideline. As noted there, the program itself is simple and requires a minimal amount of effort by a member to set up and record. The program is flexible and establishes a minimum benchmark which most members will currently exceed if they are practicing in accordance with our Code of Ethics. The program is, however, mandatory and enforceable.