A burden to members

The President’s Message “Competence assurance for professional engineers” in the November/December issue (p. 3) was very thoughtfully written but leaves the impression that there is another make-work program for bureaucrats and administrators coming down to add to the burden of members.

The message defines competence appropriately, I think—as an amalgam of knowledge, skill and character. But then comes the suggestion that all three should be measured annually, including character. Sorry, it can’t be so. Character is quite deep and doesn’t change easily, and its judgment cannot be left to some remote individual—on an annual basis, no less.

There are two important facts stressed in the message:

  • The Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry did not hear any evidence that the tragedy might have been averted if mandatory continuing education had been in place for our members; and
  • Complaints against professional engineers most often involve misconduct, not incompetence.

Good points indeed. I am also impressed, like Mr. Comrie, by the principle espoused by our task force on the subject that only individual practitioners can determine what to learn to improve their practice and remain competent.

So, with this background, what seems to be the practical suggestion in the message? That members should be forced to (a) complete annually an ethics module, (b) complete a questionnaire on their practice, (c) declare type, duration and cost of their activities, and (d) complete specific competence assurance activities that PEO may impose on them to renew their licence.

Incredible! A much better and much simpler approach would be to send members an annual questionnaire composed in a way that engages them to reflect on their practice, and decide for themselves what they should do to reduce risk to the public and remain competent.

Then leave it at that, without need for some remote cognoscenti marking scores, making judgments and imposing requirements on our members or even offering suggestions.

Anthony D. Vlassopoulos, P.Eng., Toronto, ON