Chapters remain the point of first contact for future PEO leaders

It’s axiomatic that good citizenry requires some degree of participation. For members looking to participate more fulsomely in the regulator’s operations and governance, the local chapter is the best place to get started.

Key discussion points at the 2016 Volunteer Leadership Conference (VLC), a major gathering that precedes PEO’s annual general meeting, focused on how chapters and committees can work together to create “new pathways” to service. The conference was organized in part to discuss novel ways in which chapter and committee volunteers might work to help PEO achieve its mandate of regulating and advancing engineering practice to protect the public interest.

It was eminently sensible that the PEO chapter system be a major part of any examination of how volunteerism–the use of members’ own time, talent and expertise–can best be used to further PEO’s role.

The 36 PEO chapters, after all, are long regarded as the first point of contact for engineering interns and newly licensed engineers looking to give something back to the profession as they set out on their careers. The chapters allow them to get involved with their local professional engineering community and learn more about PEO. In fact, the virtues of volunteer work with the local chapter as a natural starting point for new members to become more active are usually extolled at licence presentation ceremonies across the province.

The significance of the chapter system as a catchment area for potential volunteers is not lost on PEO’s human resources and people development officials. In PEO’s recently updated Volunteer Manual, chapters are held out as the way to facilitate participation and training of licence holders in the succession planning for PEO leadership, and governance and statutory duties of the regulator.

Chapters are also charged with promoting the value of the profession to future licence holders and enhancing the importance of licensure and self-regulation not only within the profession but to community leaders and the general public. Finally, chapters encourage members to have a say in PEO’s policy development process.

The references here to “succession planning” for PEO leadership should not be underestimated. The term generally refers to an organization’s efforts to train and mentor stakeholders in anticipation of their taking on greater responsibilities as they grow within the organization.

It’s not uncommon for chapter executive members to move on from chapter work to then volunteer on PEO committees or task forces, and eventually seek a seat on council.

There are countless examples of PEO leaders, including former presidents, who “came of age” through involvement in their local chapter. Current President George Comrie, P.Eng., FEC, for example, noted at this year’s PEO Education Conference that education outreach provided the opportunity for him to get his first taste of PEO volunteerism.

Matthew Ng, P.Eng., PEO’s chapter manager, says that while it’s not compulsory for people to volunteer at the chapter level before moving on to more involved committee or task force work, it makes sense for would-be volunteers to start at the local level.

TAKING ON NEW ROLES

Ng says the regulator is strongly committed to supporting its chapters as a training ground for volunteers and future leaders: “The local chapter is still an ideal place for members to get involved if they want to serve the local community and the profession. As volunteers take on new roles they often develop the confidence to take on bigger challenges, either within the chapter or on one of the committees and task forces that is looking for special expertise.”

He also says the chapter system is open to devoting additional resources for some chapters to organize new and innovative projects. Earlier this year, the Regional Councillors Committee’s (RCC’s) special project fund supported the Upper Canada Chapter’s participation in the Cornwall Canstruction event, an annual non-profit competition that sees teams of designers build eye-catching structures out of cans of food, with donations going to local food banks.

“The Upper Canada Chapter team was really excited and enthusiastic about this event. They applied for the special project fund and RCC thought it would be a good idea to offer the support,”  Ng says. “It provided some encouragement to their local volunteers to keep coming up with different ideas for their chapter involvement.”

The availability of chapter-based volunteer opportunities is apparent on PEO’s volunteer website. As of late August, more than three-quarters of the available volunteer positions were within the chapter system.

Despite the relative ease of entry for chapter-based volunteer positions, however, PEO is still keen on making chapter volunteering more mutually beneficial to the individual and the entire organization. The chapter and PEO benefit from the individual’s time and talent, while the individual is afforded an opportunity to develop leadership skills.

A paper on succession planning, term limits and continuity produced for the 2016 VLC indicates that some PEO chapters have addressed the issue of succession planning for executive positions. It appears most chapters are supportive of succession planning and even term limits for their volunteer leaders. Some of the larger chapters are considering adding term limits in their chapter bylaws.

For an organization like PEO, the VLC study continues, succession planning poses many challenges. One challenge is related to finding and retaining chapter executives as well as committee chairs. Another challenge is that the position of chair or other key positions are being held by the same person for an extensive period of time, which deprives others of an opportunity to serve in this role and obtain new experience. “This may potentially create a barrier for new ideas to come forward, and certainly impedes succession planning,” VLC officials conclude. “It can also make it difficult to fill the position when turnover eventually happens.”

Some degree of turnover, however, can be positive by infusing new membership while maintaining continuity.

So while the chapter system will remain the first point of entry for PEO members who want to volunteer, it will continually strive to make the volunteer experience more engaging to the individual and more beneficial to the wider profession.

“Anyone who has a strong conviction to give back to their profession but is unsure how to do it, the chapter system is a good place to start,” says Cliff Knox, P.Eng., PEO’s manager of enforcement, and a former member of PEO council.

“Shortly after getting my licence, my wife suggested that I get involved with my local chapter. I started out as a general member of the executive for the Thousand Islands Chapter in Brockville. Before I knew it, I was the secretary and later vice chair of the chapter. After my third term as chair, I made the leap to PEO council. This, in turn, led to service on a number of PEO committees and working groups. I guess that familiarity breeds commitment. What started out as a hobby ended up as a rewarding 17 years of volunteer service.

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