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A closer look at the Competency-Based Assessment project

2018.09.06

Competency-Based Assessment project logoThe 2019-2021 Strategic plan outlines four strategic priorities, one of which is to make an online competency-based assessment system available for candidates seeking licensure as engineers. To accomplish this, Engineers Canada is funding and providing in-kind support for a pan-Canadian system able to assess engineering experience. The system, which is being adapted from one already in use by Engineers and Geoscientists British Columbia (EGBC), promises a more transparent, consistent, and efficient way of measuring a candidate’s readiness for licensure as an engineer.

Rather than having applicants describe their experience, as many assessment systems in the country currently require, competency-based assessment instead asks candidates to justify their competence by explaining how situational actions demonstrate their achievement of the required competencies. The framework of competencies collects the various competencies into the several categories, which represent the core areas in which engineers of all disciplines must have expertise to ensure effective practice and public safety:

  • Technical competence
  • Communication
  • Project and financial management
  • Team effectiveness
  • Professional accountability
  • Social, economic, environmental, and sustainability
  • Personal continuing professional development (CPD)

The required competencies contained within these categories constitute the observable and measurable skills, knowledge, abilities, motivations, and traits that any engineer requires for successful job performance.

Achievement of each competency category is measured through a rating scale that outlines six different levels of competence (0 to 5). A successful candidate will be expected to meet all competencies in each category, at a minimum level of 1, while achieving the required “entry to practice” average of 2 or 3, depending on the category. A set of indicators for each competency also provides examples of the activities, actions, skills, or behaviors that could demonstrate the achievement of each competency. Finally, online training is available for each of the stakeholders (applicants, validator/references, mentors, supervisors, and assessors) who report or support candidates in using the system.

There are numerous benefits in assessing a candidate’s experience in this way, and in being able to do so online:

  • Transparency: Because applicants are provided with detailed indicators or examples for each competency of what constitutes effective practice, they have a clear picture of what the process entails and can measure where they stand. Applicants, including student members and Engineers-in-Training, can also build their experience and competency portfolio online and seek interim validation from supervisors and colleagues.
  • Consistency: The use of a numerical scale for achievement of each competency paired with training and online guidance for all stakeholders allows for greater consistency of assessment.
  • Greater preparation for success: Because it’s based online, the process of reporting experience and competencies can be initiated from anywhere in the world, and candidates can get a better sense, earlier, about their areas of strength and weakness with respect to the expectations of the profession. The system also lends itself to adoption by employers as a framework for in-house training programs, potentially allowing for expedited acceptance of Engineers-in-Training for registration and, in the process, strengthening the bond between employers and the profession.
  • Time and resource savings: Putting the system online significantly reduces the administrative load involved with collecting and validating reports. In being able to directly enter their information into the system, candidates manage their own competency report, including appointing and following up with validators.
  • Volunteer benefits: Because competencies are discrete and are graded numerically, assessors will be able to see achievement versus required averages for each competency category. A user-friendly interface will also guide assessors, providing the information they need to make assessment decisions efficiently.
  • Continual improvement: Future enhancements will include identifying the competencies that must be achieved in a Canadian Environment (or equivalent) and in-depth guidance will be provided for all stakeholders as to the requirements for Canadian experience equivalency. Additionally, the sharing of assessments through a cross-Canada pool of assessors may be contemplated.

The project has already seen successes in several jurisdictions. In addition to the system already being in use by Engineers and Geoscientists BC, Engineers PEI has now adopted the pan-Canadian system and will be joined by APEGS as of January 1, 2019. Additionally, while APEGA makes use of its own online system, the competency framework that is in place in Alberta was adapted from the pan-Canadian framework. In the coming months we hope to share more about what the project entails, how it’s unfolding, and who else is getting involved.