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I recently received an anonymous comment to my July Candidate Statement post in which interesting points were made around continuous professional development, CPD. I think it is likely that others may have the same viewpoints, so I am addressing them here. The three points were:

  1. The Engineers and Geoscientists Act (which requires adherence to a Code of Ethics), in conjunction with the Code of Ethics, already creates a legal requirement to maintain competence, making the CPD bylaw redundant.
  2. Suggesting that there may be engineers or geoscientists who are not conducting sufficient professional development could be construed as violating the Code of Ethics.
  3. Very few, if any, engineers or geoscientists are completing insufficient CPD.

First, to clarify, in addition to requiring the development of and adherence to a Code of Ethics, the Act mentions professional development once, in reference to possible bylaws council can create “to assist in promoting and maintaining the competency and proficiency of members and licensees” (10.1.m.1). Previous members of the association created and updated the first Code of Ethics, which refers to CPD twice, in Principles Six and Ten. Principle Six states that engineers and geoscientists must:

Keep themselves informed in order to maintain their competence, strive to advance the body of knowledge within which they practice and provide opportunities for the professional development of their associates.

This principle is clearly about the requirement for professional development. Therefore, my anonymous commenter is correct: together, the Act and the Code of Ethics define the legal requirement for CPD. This, however, does not make the proposed bylaw redundant. Rather, we need the bylaw to operationalize the Act and regulate the activities of our members – this is the duty of APEGBC as a self-regulating body.

One simple way to officially uphold the Act has already been piloted for the past few years as a voluntary trial: a check-box on our membership renewal webpage. Unfortunately, I am aware that a number of our members do not click the check-box specifically because it is voluntary to do so, despite completing more than the annual development requirement. As a professional association, we need to demonstrate 100% member compliance so that legislators and public alike can be fully confident that all engineers and geoscientists are conducting sufficient professional development.

The second principle relating to professional development is Principle Ten, which states that engineers and geoscientists must:

Extend public knowledge and appreciation of engineering and geoscience and protect the profession from misrepresentation and misunderstanding.

This is the second aspect of CPD: outreach to and education of the public. CPD protects the profession from misrepresentation and misunderstanding by requiring not only that each professional member is, in fact, increasing their own knowledge but that they are also helping to extend the public’s knowledge about engineering and geoscience. Many members are participating in school outreach programs, giving presentations and judging science fairs. Other members are participating in public presentations or mentoring junior engineers. These activities qualify for CPD hours, too.

Principle Ten is the principle that my anonymous commenter suggests is violated if someone suggests another member may not be CPD compliant, as if such an assertion casts aspersion on APEGBC. Yet this is nonsense: identifying members at fault is good for APEGBC because it means that we are paying attention to what each other is doing so that only qualified engineers, geoscientists and licensees are permitted to practice.  There are members who have been negligent — just take a look at the disciplinary page on the website.

On a technical level, Principle Ten refers only to educating the public about our professions so that neither members nor the public misrepresent APEGBC. It does not refer to member actions, unlike Principles Seven and Nine. These two principles directly relate to members misrepresenting other professional members, highlighting our obligations to support other professionals yet report them if they do something “hazardous, illegal or unethical”. Interestingly, these two principles actually support my view that we must have the freedom to challenge the few professional members who are completing insufficient CPD as determined by their peers: those members are misrepresenting their knowledge and expertise.

For reference, Principle Seven states that engineers and geoscientists must:

Conduct themselves with fairness, courtesy and good faith towards clients, colleagues and others, give credit where it is due and accept, as well as give, honest and fair professional comment.

Principle Nine states that engineers and geoscientists must:

Report to their association or other appropriate agencies any hazardous, illegal or unethical professional decisions or practices by members, licensees or others.

It is worth noting that the majority of engineers and geoscientists have been maintaining their responsibilities by taking classes, attending workshops, reading relevant trade journals and sharing knowledge with other professionals. It is, however, somewhat naïve to believe this applies to us all. I have worked with hundreds of amazing professionals who more than uphold the APEGBC Code of Ethics. Yet, I regret to say that I know of a couple who just don’t make as much time for CPD as they should. These two individuals, less than 0.5% of my professional acquaintances, have the potential to destroy the incredible reputation we share as professionals by shirking their responsibilities in some way. When we call them to task about this lack, we strengthen our profession and we show others we believe this principle to be vital. This is how we further protect the public.

I am not sure if my anonymous commenter had an actual objection to mandatory CPD, or only wished to assert that he or she thinks it is redundant. Perhaps the real objection may be similar to one of those I have heard personally or read on the CPD microsite, such as: a concern that reporting CPD will take too much time (It won’t: it only takes a couple minutes), a concern that verifiable CPD activities are too expensive (Some are, but many of the activities conscientious engineers and geoscientists undergo are verifiable and free), a concern that non-professionals are dictating to members what qualifies for CPD (Not happening: we have around a thousand member volunteers, some of whom have informed the guidelines for development requirements within their own disciplines, member to member — as for the specific activities, we each have the responsibility to decide for ourselves), a concern that non-practicing members cannot meet the practice requirement (Irrelevant: non-practicing members do not have to complete CPD because they are not practicing as engineers or geoscientists), or a concern that the requirements are too high (Through consultation with over 4000 members, the number of hours has been lowered).

What is the downside of mandatory CPD? I cannot see one. Even if having a bylaw for mandatory CPD was redundant, which it is not, the worst outcome would be wasting a minute or two in checking the box on the renewal form.

What are the benefits? Self-regulation, increased public trust, increased education, increased relevance, increased participation and engagement of members, and enhanced engineering and geoscience practice.

There is nothing to lose and much to gain with mandatory CPD.

I urge all APEGBC members to review the CPD microsite and read the considered answers to member questions. Read the requirements of other professions in BC and other engineering and geoscience regulators across Canada. Consider your own development activities and see how many of them already align with the CPD requirements. Mandatory CPD is an easy way to uphold our Act and, more importantly, public safety.

I hope this helps you make your decision as you vote on the new bylaw.