Tailored to fit

PEO’s new PEAK program takes a personalized approach in creating a sought-after regulatory profile of professional engineers in Ontario—one that distinguishes between practising and non-practising licence holders and, ultimately, provides greater accountability to the public.

After three years, two task forces and extensive research, testing and consultation, PEO is set to officially launch the Practice Evaluation and Knowledge (PEAK) program—an information-gathering tool to help ensure the association has sufficient information on each licence holder’s practice to effectively carry out its role as the regulator of the profession.

Scheduled for official rollout on March 31, 2017, the PEAK program is a unique, flexible and relevant initiative that will provide PEO with an up-to-date and accurate regulatory profile of both practising and non-practising licence holders. At that time, licence renewal notices to all current and retired professional engineers, as well as limited licence holders, will contain a request encouraging participation in the program.

The information-gathering component of the program is important in a number of ways. PEO has little information on the specialties many licence holders might be engaged in. The number of “structural engineering specialists,” for example, cannot be answered with the information currently on hand.

As noted on the PEAK program website (www.peopeak.ca), PEO has a well-developed process to ensure applicants demonstrate high qualifications to enter the profession. However, it lacks a mechanism to measure whether practising licence holders have enhanced or even maintained their competence beyond initial licensure. In addition, the public has no way to verify if a practising licence holder’s qualifications have been maintained.

ARE MEMBERS KEEPING UP TO DATE?

Competence assurance, it seems, requires more than simply paying one’s licence fees every year and assuming that licence holders will always be mindful of their ethical responsibilities to practise only within their areas of specialty.

As Bernard Ennis, P.Eng., PEO’s director of policy and professional affairs, notes, the regulator has been asked on numerous occasions, and for many purposes, if it has reliable data on the number of licence holders practising in specific fields of engineering (e.g. structural analysis). “We have had to tell people that without a thorough regulatory profile update, this information just isn’t available,” Ennis says.

The PEAK program is an essential tool to address this information shortfall. It is made up of three elements: an online practice evaluation questionnaire (Are you practising or non-practising?), a continuing knowledge reporting mechanism (for practising licence holders only) and an online ethics module (for all licence holders).

The practising/non-practising distinction is important in light of the fact that many PEO licence holders do not actually practise engineering in their current occupations.

PEO has received many questions over the last several months from members looking for clarity on the practising versus non-practising issue. In short, a person is considered to be practising professional engineering if he or she is carrying out any act of designing, composing, evaluating, advising, reporting, directing or supervising, or the managing of any of these acts as well as acts that involve the safeguarding of life, health, property, economic interests, the public welfare or the environment, and require the application of engineering principles.

Under the PEAK program, licence holders who declare themselves practising are asked to complete both a practice evaluation questionnaire and the online ethics module prior to their licence renewal date. The questionnaire consists of 20 questions on the individual’s engineering practice environment and takes about 20 minutes to complete.

The practitioner will then receive a recommended number of hours of continuing knowledge activities, based on his or her responses, to voluntarily complete and report to PEO prior to their next renewal date. The maximum recommended hours is 30, but this number will almost certainly be reduced based on risk mitigation and quality assurance measures that are part of the licence holder’s practice environment. Annette Bergeron, P.Eng., FEC, chair of PEO’s Continuing Professional Competence Program (CP)2 Task Force, expects the average to come out at 16 hours, or two working days per year.

Those who self-identify as non-practising licence holders will only be asked to declare that they are not practising professional engineering and complete the online ethics module prior to the date of their licence renewal. Non-practising members will not be provided with a recommendation for any hours of additional knowledge or professional development.

It’s important to note that completion of the PEAK program is not mandatory. The Professional Engineers Act (PEA) currently does not allow the association to make continuing professional education compulsory and does not provide PEO with the means to enforce compliance with a mandatory program. Generally, as a regulator, however, PEO is authorized to collect whatever information the association deems is necessary to carry out its public interest mandate. As such, licence holders who do not complete any element of the program in the allotted time will still be able to renew their licence without incident, but their failure to complete elements of the program, however, will be publicly noted on PEO’s online directory of practitioners.

PEAK IS DIFFERENT

PEO has dabbled with continuing professional development (CPD) type efforts in the past, but none ever took root in a meaningful way. As one of the last Canadian engineering regulators with no CPD program in force, PEO was challenged with developing something new and different, and which would earn buy-in from skeptical licence holders.

“There has historically been resistance to traditional CPD proposals, which is why it will be important for licence holders to take the upcoming year to learn how PEAK is different, rather than basing their response on assumptions about CPD and other province’s programs,” says Bergeron.

Practising licence holders may be surprised to learn they can design their own knowledge plan by choosing technical opportunities that align with their specific area of practice. Continuing knowledge activities under the PEAK program are broadly interpreted and can include such things as:

  • Reading technical correspondence or journal material;
  • Attending informal learning sessions;
  • Study groups or “lunch and learn” activity; 
  • Participating in seminars or technical committees;
  • Professional knowledge activities taken to meet the program requirements of another provincial association, a technical association (such as the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists) or an employer;
  • Participation at a vendor’s workshop;
  • Training sessions on new products or technologies; and
  • Online courses.

PEO is not concerned with how an individual learns but, rather, with what they learn. And PEAK program designers say knowledge activities simply must address at least one of the following five core engineering competencies to be considered acceptable:

  • Applying engineering knowledge, methods and techniques;
  • Using engineering tools, equipment or technology;
  • Awareness of the risks and impacts of engineering work;
  • Managing engineering activities; and
  • Communicating engineering information.

PEO makes no recommendations on what sort of continuing knowledge activities a practitioner might pursue to fulfill the recommended number of hours. Choosing these activities is the responsibility of the licence holder. It is up to the individual to decide what knowledge activities will enhance their particular practice.

Practising and non-practising licence holders are also asked to complete the online ethics module. Requiring about one hour to complete, this module is designed to reacquaint licence holders with their ethical obligations as described in the PEA, and to provide them with an understanding of how these obligations should be applied in real life situations.

Bergeron remains hopeful that licence holders—even non-practising ones—will keep an open mind about the importance of PEAK, and bear in mind that a well-thought-out program, such as the one PEO is proposing, adds value to the P.Eng. licence.

TIMELINES

In the months leading up to the March 31 rollout, PEO officials fielded many questions from licence holders on timelines, how to comply with program expectations and if there will be any penalty for not completing elements of the program.

PEO’s registrar is expected to provide a report to council at its June 2018 meeting with data showing the participation rates and other analysis, and provide recommendations to council on next steps.

Until then, PEO is continuing to promote the program as a practical and necessary measure. Some of its virtues come from what it is not. The (CP)2 Task Force has emphasized that the program is not “window dressing,” nor is it a one-size-fits-all exercise, which is a criticism levelled at CPD initiatives undertaken by other regulators. In addition, because the program provides several pathways for affected practitioners to complete the required elements, it can hardly be criticized as bureaucratic or arbitrary.

From the outset, PEO understood communication about the new initiative would be key to success; and since February 2016 the regulator has expended significant communication and outreach efforts to explain why the PEAK program is needed and how it is uniquely designed to provide greater information about the composition, skills, practice environments and continuing knowledge activities of the regulator’s licence holders.

“The task force identified early on that the program will only be successful with two-way communication with licence holders,” says Bergeron. “It took a great deal of time and resources to conduct the seven town halls across the province in late 2015. Communication is also important due to the history of this topic with the licence holders. It’s been important to communicate that this program does not repeat the proposals of the past. Secondly, licence holder feedback has been critical to the work of the task force during every month of our work.”

She says task force members are grateful to licence holders who have provided valuable feedback from the beginning, through to the final testing of the practice evaluation questionnaire.

Bergeron is optimistic that the program’s gamification component will ensure licence holders become more comfortable with PEAK over the next few months. She also believes all data collected during the rollout and implementation will play a big role in PEO’s ongoing development of competence assurance.

Full information on the PEAK program, including a detailed frequently asked question (FAQ) page, is always available at www.peopeak.ca.

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