Canadian Consulting Engineer

Mandatory continuing education is a good idea

In the article "At Long Distance" on page 38, consulting engineering firms explain how they now use internet communication tools like "webinars" instead of travelling across vast distances to attend t...

June 1, 2007  By Bronwen Parsons

In the article “At Long Distance” on page 38, consulting engineering firms explain how they now use internet communication tools like “webinars” instead of travelling across vast distances to attend training seminars or conferences.

It makes sense both from an environmental and an economic viewpoint to switch to electronic technologies for many types of education and training. Face to face contact has many benefits, including networking. But too many conference presentations are hardly worth attending because the speakers simply read the points on their slides. You could do that just as well from your own desktop. Even the printed “proceedings” these days tend to be nothing more than those same Powerpoint notes. That’s unfortunate, because there’s a reason why language has evolved as sentences. It’s not just a matter of linguistic elegance. Sentences consisting of subject and predicate convey meaning more accurately. But in our world of instant messaging we resort to the panic staccato mode of flash-point-click.

On another, somewhat related, matter, Professional Engineers Ontario was jubilant over the decision that came down from the Ontario Superior Court on May 17. The court has decided that the provincial government overstepped its authority with the provisions of the Building Code Act, which came into effect on January 1, 2006.

The Ontario decision likely means that consulting firm staff won’t have to study to take building code examinations after all. But that doesn’t mean firms will be able to reduce their budgets for staff training. If anything, they will be increasing their investments in this area.

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Part of the reason is that there seems to be a slow but relentless push towards requiring engineers to undertake a quota of continuing education programs and to report their activities to their licensing bodies. About one-third of the U.S. states require engineers to take continuing education programs. Architects in Ontario have a required program as well.

Alberta is the only province I know of that currently requires engineers to report their continuing education activities, but British Columbia is following closely behind. By the time practising members of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C. file their dues for 2008, they will be asked to comply with the association’s Continuing Professional Development Guideline. That guideline asks members to complete an average of 30 “professional development hours” per year and to keep the relevant documentation on file. Members who fulfil the quota will have “CPD compliant” affixed to their names in a member directory published online.

In my view, requiring professionals to report their continuing education pursuits in a structured way, one that goes beyond the looser requirements of the code of ethics, is a good idea. A few years ago, a survey by the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers found that certainly the public expects engineers to have to keep upgrading their skills.

For consulting engineering firms, paying for staff to pursue continuing education programs will be an added cost. But — and this is a big “but” — as long as the courses have real educational value, the financial output will be worthwhile.