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Engineers, "Assemble"! It's time to take a hard hat look at our CPD journey. Have these requirements been the blueprints for building our skills or just another set of drawings to file away?
Let's break ground on this discussion: Does the training content feel like a solid foundation for tackling real-world projects, or is it more like outdated specs? Does it equip us with the latest tools and techniques, or leave us feeling like we're still using slide rules?
This isn't just a compliance check. It's a chance to redesign our CPD experience. Imagine a training ground that's as cutting-edge as our designs – immersive simulations, interactive challenges, and knowledge shared as freely as blueprints among colleagues.
So, let's brainstorm some blueprints for change. What innovative formats could spark our engineering minds? What missing elements could transform CPD from a requirement into a genuinely rewarding experience?
Share your ideas, let's spark some change.
Q. "What missing elements could transform CPD from a requirement into a genuinely rewarding experience?"
A. Fill in the "Missing Educational Knowledge" that is mistakenly called "Soft Skills."
For most engineers there is nothing "Soft" about actually listening to another without initially
agreeing or disagreeing with them.
A learning goal?
To say, in response to a criticism "Tell me more....please."
The engineering-educational void?
Collaboration, cooperation, and communication particularly across discipline lines.
Hi Lydie, back in old Europe we are very much debating on:
(a) the political level, where the EU Commission distinguishes between "re-skilling" and "up-skilling", e.g. in facing the digitalization of engineering work and building processes in general;
(b) academic level in terms of Certifcates of Advanced Studies (CAS) for practisioners, including the new format of Microcredentials and their stackability; in Switzerland in particular a new CAS on Infrastructure know-how (to counter the decreasing interest in Civil Engineering as "low tech" at scientific-minded universities);
(c) the level of profesional associations on how to encourage speaking more openly on mishaps, incidents and blunders in design and construction, i.e. the return of experience among practicioners, rather than perpetuating reports of success stories.
Part of this discussion is, for instance, in IABSE the enrichment of our e-learning platform with case reports and the adding of a to-pay-for channel "IABSE academy". If you like, we should excange experiences between engineering societies from various countries on the level of practicioners, rather than academics (as in the WG on Education of WFEO).
Martin (Engineers Europe, FIDIC)
I really enjoyed flipping through the presentation you attached. I couldn't agree more about the importance of studying failures, both from a technical and a process perspective. You mention the UK's CROSS system, where near-misses are anonymously reported and shared with the engineering community, which fills part of this role. I believe Scotland has a requirement that licensed engineers participate in this confidential near-miss reporting and knowledge sharing, specifically through CROSS. This was modeled on the aviation industry where near-miss reporting is exhaustive. A couple years ago they created a US equivalent, but it doesn't seem to have gathered as much momentum. I would highly recommend that all North American structural engineers sign up for the periodic CROSS-US newsletters and post about their experiences; it would be extremely valuable to build this into a more robust and ubiquitous library.
One concern I have with our interest in failures is that most of the buzz occurs right around the time of the disaster, when we know the least. By the time NTSB or NIST (or the Swiss Transportation Safety Board, for that matter) puts out a final report on whodunit, engineers have lost interest. I remember an endless thread on eng-tips.com for the first few months after the FIU bridge collapse. There were dozens of pet theories; I don't recall whether any of them were the prestress design issue that ended up being to blame, but certainly most of them were not. Eventually, the moderators closed the thread due to rampant speculation.
One criticism I have of our current system in the US is that requirements are set by state boards. Some states require more PDH's (Professional Development Hours) than others, some have annual vs. biannual renewal processes, and some have specific requirements, such as ethics content, that aren't universal. Variations in state requirements, coupled with different requirements for initial licensure and comity/reciprocity mean that there isn't a standardized definition of what an engineer is capable of and makes it difficult and inefficient to have the types of important discussions that you mention in your post. Unfortunately, I don't see this changing anytime soon, as federalism is deep in the DNA of our country.
I'm intrigued by the CAS sytem you mention. Who provides the certification, and what types of specialties are covered? Is this specialized coursework offered by universities? In the US, I'd like to see streamlined overall requirements for practicing engineers but more of these specialized certifications with legal teeth, for instance for blast design or high-capacity stormwater infrastructure or long-span bridges.
First off, thank you for this wonderfully written post: it put a smile on my face.
On an individual level, being self-directed with lifelong learning rather than checking boxes for minimum compliance is really important. I've always enjoyed learning, and entering professional practice after college only changed the way I learn. In 2022, I exceeded my continuing education requirements by a factor of three (last year was a little different since I only worked four months out of the year). I attend a lot of in-person and virtual education because I enjoy doing so and I want to get better at my job. If I was signing up for events based on just Professional Development Hours (PDH's), I would miss a lot of great content and probably not choose the best material.
I do think that the most valuable learning is practical experience rather than webinar attendance or test prep. I'm actually more concerned with siloed entry level positions that don't offer a breadth of work experience than about any deficiencies in the continuing education requirements. Aside from the occasional manufacturer-sponsored lunch talk, my previous company was very light on in-house continuing ed, but I worked on an extraordinary breadth of project types, sectors, and materials which has really helped me to navigate new projects and synthesize new ideas with past experience.
With that said, there is a wealth of entertaining and informative PDH-providing education out there, and only occasionally have I gotten PDH's from programs that seemed really worthless in terms of developing my engineering skills. ASCE has a lot of power over the quality of PDH's in the US because they provide so much of it. Generally they do a great job, but if folks are interested in making a difference in this area, creating and promoting new types of PDH-certified content through ASCE might be one of the most efficient options.
Our continuing education requirements have the excellent passive effect of nurturing vibrant professional communities since local participation is often the easiest and most rewarding way to meet these requirements. It also keeps groups like ASCE age-agnostic, since all licensed engineers have to show up to a couple presentations a year, from apathetic Zoomers to jaded Boomers. I think that has a lot of value. If we restructure our professional development requirements, we would need to keep in mind preserving some of the good things about the current system.
There's another valuable source of continuing education that would be hard to bake into licensure requirements: seeing engineering technologies in situ. If you take Amtrak into New York today, you may see the restored trusses and new bubble gridshell skylights of the Moynihan train hall, then a cautionary tale of urban redevelopment as you navigate Penn Station, followed by the uplifting cable wall east escalator canopy and a sea of new construction. If you double back to 8th Ave, you'll see how One Manhattan West necks down at its base to a fraction the floor plate to keep its foundations clear of the train tracks that might've brought you into the city a few minutes prior, then you'll navigate a mass timber truss pedestrian bridge and see how repurposing disused infrastructure can foster economic and cultural vitality along the High Line. That five-minute walk could be a better lesson in civil engineering than five hours of checkbox webinars.
I'm curious if anyone has ideas for how to incorporate quality of work experience and outside experiences like visiting real-world projects into the license renewal requirements.
It would be interesting to see an in-depth look back at the effectiveness of these programs and if and how they are achieving their desired end in minds. The one shining light that I have seen in the plethora of stuff I did to maintain my PE was the Texas Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors webinar on ethics. This webinar, while often redundant from year to year, was very effective in reminding me of my ethical obligation and where I could go astray. Generalizing, I think for these continuing education programs to be effective, there needs to be a strong element of self-interest or fear of loss of livelihood. As a footnote, I moved my PE to retired status as I got tired of playing the continuing education game.