One year after PEO rolled out its Practice Evaluation and Knowledge program we look at the results of the association’s efforts and what’s in store for the future.
On March 31, the Practice Evaluation and Knowledge (PEAK) program completed its first year of operation. The program was implemented after two PEO volunteer task forces spent over three years researching, considering options and specifying the most appropriate path to meeting the regulatory goal of assuring the public that licence holders continue to maintain their professional engineering competence throughout their careers.
All professional regulators are responsible for quality assurance of the profession, and there are several mechanisms for doing this. First is the setting of minimum standards for entry into the profession, such as academic qualifications, experience requirements and evidence of good character. Second is the assessment of applicants to ensure they have met these qualification standards before being licensed to practice. Third is receiving and dealing with complaints against practitioners and disciplining those who do not comply with the basic standards of skilled and ethical practice. PEO currently provides all of these functions.
Rather than simply dealing retroactively with practitioners who have fallen below the standards of professionalism, most professional regulators also incorporate mechanisms for proactive quality assurance of practitioners. This generally involves assessing whether practising licence holders have maintained or enhanced their skills and knowledge beyond the minimum requirements for licensure. Almost all professional regulators in Canada do this by imposing mandatory continuing professional development (CPD). Many of these regulators also implement practice reviews in which an auditor visits the practitioner’s workplace to observe the practitioner in action and to assess whether the practitioner has all the necessary resources, including policies and procedures, needed for competent practice.
A UNIQUE APPROACH
PEAK is not like typical CPD programs: It doesn’t assume all licence holders have the same need for continuous maintenance and upgrading of skills and knowledge. Instead, the program recommends a specific number of hours a practitioner should commit to continuing knowledge activities based on the information collected through the practice evaluation questionnaire. This questionnaire acts like a practice review carried out by licence holders themselves. It provides an indication of whether practitioners have adopted and are using best professional practices.
The continuing knowledge activities recommendation is partially based on recognition of the efforts made by a practitioner or the firm to adopt best practices. It also relies on information about the kind of engineering work done by the licence holder. For example, practitioners moving their practice into a different area of engineering or practitioners who have a senior level of responsibility for engineering work likely require more hours of continuing knowledge activities than an engineer carrying out the same work for several years. Because the program is designed to make recommendations for continuing knowledge based on information like this, the program is more responsive to individual needs than typical CPD programs.
MORE THAN A CPD PROGRAM
PEAK is a multi-faceted program. Through the questionnaire, PEO collects much-needed data about the practice of professional engineering in Ontario—data that has never been accurately acquired before. For instance, we are learning how many licence holders practice in each of the recognized disciplines of engineering and how many practice in one or more disciplines, and we are collecting data about the distribution of practitioners by age and years of practice. This information will enable PEO to determine if the professional cadre, as a whole, is getting older, a fact that has implications for both PEO policy and the profession’s future ability to provide the engineering services needed in Ontario. For instance, this information may confirm the impression that fewer young engineering graduates are being licensed. Information of this kind is crucially important to PEO Council’s ability to make good decisions about PEO’s future actions.
RESULTS SO FAR
As of March 31, 26,170 licence holders completed at least the first element of the PEAK program, the practice declaration. According to the declarations, 76 per cent of PEO licence holders are practising professional engineering. Approximately 90 per cent of these practitioners have completed the practice evaluation questionnaire and received a recommendation for the number of hours they should commit to continuing knowledge activities over the next 12 months.
During PEAK’s first year, PEO engaged in an active and continuing communications campaign regarding the program. Eight articles about PEAK were published in Engineering Dimensions, PEO staff provided 51 presentations about the PEAK program to chapters, engineering firms, technical associations and other interested parties, and staff responded to over 1000 online or phone inquiries about the program.
Work is progressing on second-year refinements to the program. During the past year, staff conducted surveys of those who had completed the various elements of the program to get users’ reactions and identify impediments and concerns that might be reducing the number of program completions. The information obtained has been used to design and implement program upgrades.
A new ethics module was introduced on April 2. PEO and VocalMeet, the ethics module provider, have developed an integrated platform that will allow single-sign-on for users (previously, a separate registration was required when entering the VocalMeet site). The questionnaire for practising licence holders is not changing. However, a survey will be added for non-practising licence holders to learn why they are not practising and whether they intend to return to practice.
Bernard Ennis, P.Eng., is the director of policy and professional affairs at PEO.