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National guideline on returning to active practice

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Date: 
September, 2016

Notice

Disclaimer

Engineers Canada’s national guidelines, model guides, and white papers were developed by engineers in collaboration with the provincial and territorial engineering regulators. They are intended to promote consistent practices across the country. They are not regulations or rules; they seek to define or explain discrete topics related to the practice and regulation of professional engineering in Canada.

The national guidelines, model guides, and white papers do not establish a legal standard of care or conduct, and they do not include or constitute legal or professional advice.   

In Canada, engineering is regulated under provincial and territorial law by the engineering regulators. The recommendations contained in the national guidelines, model guides and white papers may be adopted by the engineering regulators in whole, in part, or not at all. The ultimate authority regarding the propriety of any specific practice or course of conduct lies with the engineering regulator in the province or territory where the engineer works, or intends to work.  

About this Guideline

This national guideline was prepared by the Qualifications Board (QB) and provides guidance to regulators in consultation with them. Readers are encouraged to consult their regulators’ related engineering acts, regulations and bylaws in conjunction with this guideline.

About Engineers Canada

Engineers Canada is the national organization of the provincial and territorial associations that regulate the practice of engineering in Canada and license the country's 290,000 members of the engineering profession.

About the Qualifications Board

QB is a committee of the Engineers Canada Board and is a volunteer-based organization that provides national leadership and recommendations to regulators on the practice of engineering in Canada by:

  • developing new national guidelines, model guides, and white papers on admission, training, practice and new areas of practice in Canada as well as maintaining the existing national guidelines and model guides;
  • developing and maintaining syllabi for the assessment of international engineering graduates;
  • organizing national events where professionals in similar areas of work can share information on similar issues as well as best practices; and
  • conducting research, monitoring and providing advice on key issues and trends for Engineers Canada and regulators.

1 Introduction

This guideline provides recommendations to help with the harmonization of requirements and processes for returning to active practice in professional engineering across Canada. Having similar requirements for returning to practice will foster a clear, fair and transparent process for those affected.

The regulators have been entrusted with safeguarding the public through the regulation of the practice of professional engineering. This requirement guides them in admissions work, where they require that all members meet a standard to practise safely and independently. This applies equally to those requesting a return to practice – the engineering regulator must check that they can practise safely, ethically, and independently.

2 Scope and purpose

The objective of this guideline is to provide the regulators with a process for consistent treatment of individuals seeking to regain their right to practice professional engineering.

This guideline describes the documentation and considerations related to requests to return to active practice, whether the requests come from former members who are seeking reinstatement of their professional registration (“reinstatement”), or whether they are current members who have given up their right to practice and wish to resume practising (“resumption”). In some rare instances, applicants might have to provide documentation showing that academic knowledge has been maintained. Members removed for non-payment of dues are considered falling under the purview of this guideline. The guideline does not apply to members who have been suspended as a result of disciplinary actions which should be dealt on a case-by-case basis by regulators.

For the purpose of this Guideline, individuals who have given up or lost their practice rights are divided into three categories based on the time away from active practice:

  1. Those who have been away from active practice for less than 2 years.
  2. Those who have been away from active practice for between 2 and 6 years.
  3. Those who have been away from active practice for longer than 6 years.

It would be reasonable to assume that there is a certain period of time during which an individual’s skills or competence would not be adversely impacted by the individual not having engaged in active practice. A request for reinstatement or resumption would be “automatically” granted during this period, assuming there are no disciplinary/criminal judgments present. It is recommended that best practice is two years since last registration to return to practice without re-assessment of qualifications. This guideline recognizes that regulators may choose to use a different timeframe.

Beyond that time, this guideline recognizes that the longer individuals do not practise professional engineering, the more likely it is that they will lose important skills and knowledge, and their competence within their field of practice. The regulators should, therefore, provide greater scrutiny of those who have been away longer than two years.

The actual number of years used, and the conditions imposed by the regulators may vary. This guideline contains recommendations only. Each regulator will make its own decision about the categories of re-applicants and the exact requirements.

Individuals who have been non-practising (formally without practice rights) or non-members for less than 2 years should not be required to undergo an examination of fitness to practice and will have their practice rights restored upon submission of a simplified application form, payment of any required dues, fees and outstanding fines, and, in some cases, addressing pre-existing practice conditions.

Individuals who have been non-practising for longer than 6 years are typically treated as new applicants and should be going through the normal full application process and meet all other conditions required of a new applicant.

This Guideline principally addresses individuals in the middle category: those who have been non-practising for between 2 and 6 years. For these applicants, this guideline recommends:

  • what information should be requested and assessed for individuals applying to return to active practice.
  • what criteria should regulators consider when reviewing a request to return to active practice.
  • conditions that should be imposed in situations where it is not appropriate to grant full practice rights.

Finally, this guideline provides some general recommendations regarding the communication of this information. It is quite likely that knowledge of the requirements for reinstatement or resumption would lead many individuals to maintain their active registration status.

3 Information to request

3.1 General requirements

As previously stated, the regulators are responsible for the regulation of the practice of professional engineering in their jurisdiction, to protect the public in the practice of professional engineering. They, therefore, have as an objective that only qualified individuals are licensed to independently practise professional engineering. The regulators have previously established five requirements for initially granting a licence to practise. These requirements are:

  • Academic requirements
  • Work experience requirements
  • Language requirements
  • Law and ethics requirements
  • Good character requirements

It is assumed that individuals who were previously licensed to practice have already proven their language skills and academic knowledge. Therefore, only the requirements related to work experience, good character and currency of knowledge of law and ethics are normally verified during a request to return to active practice. How these requirements are assessed, and for which time periods, may differ from the initial application.

3.2 Application form

All those seeking to return to active practice are required to complete an application form. Individuals who have been non-practicing or non-members (possibly practicing outside of Canada and without Canadian practice rights) for less than two years will be allowed to submit a simplified application form with only contact information and a signed declaration regarding good character and any current investigation or discipline actions in any jurisdiction. Individuals who have been non-practicing or non-members for over two years and up to six years are required to submit a full application form.

The full application form should require as a minimum the following information:

  • Demographic and contact information
  • Declaration whether or not there have been and/or are any discipline/criminal judgements against them in any jurisdiction
  • A resume of their employment history (including periods of unemployment), providing the following details for each period or position held:
    • Month and year (beginning and end)
    • Position title
    • Employer name and address
    • Name and address of a person who can verify the position (preferably a professional engineer for any engineering position)
    • Detailed description of specific responsibilities and accomplishments, identifying the type of work or projects in which the individual has been involved and the extent of their particular engineering duties on those projects
  • Names of persons as character references in addition to work experience references
  • Any academic degrees obtained since initial registration
  • Any continuing professional development activities in which they have engaged

4 Factors to consider

Using the information listed in Section 4 the regulator should evaluate the following items when considering a request to return to active practice.

4.1 Registration status in other Canadian jurisdictions

Individuals applying for a reinstatement or resumption in a jurisdiction in which they were once registered and who are currently registered as practicing members in good standing in another jurisdiction in Canada are able to obtain registration under the Agreement on Internal Trade or other provincial/territorial mobility agreements. This category of individuals falls under the regulators’ rules for the mobility, rather than reinstatement or resumption and is therefore not considered in this Guideline.

4.2 Registration status in countries covered by international agreements

Individuals who have previously left active practice in Canada but have been actively practicing engineers in a foreign country (particularly a country with which Canada has a recognition agreement (e.g. APEC or IPEA)), and who apply to return to practice in Canada in the jurisdiction where they were previously licensed, would be reviewed on an individual, case-by-case, basis by the regulator to which they are applying, and might be treated similarly to an applicant returning after a short absence (under 2 years).

4.3 Work experience

Consideration should be given to an individual’s total work experience. The number of years of engineering-related work, and the level of the work, compared to the period when the individual has not been practising engineering, should influence whether or not any conditions need to be set on an individual’s reinstatement or resumption. For example, someone with 35 years of progressively responsible engineering experience who has not been practising for five years, would be assessed differently from someone with five years of marginal engineering experience and who has not been practising for five years.

4.4 Quality and number of references

References can be used for two purposes: to verify work experience (both engineering work experience and other types [1]), and to provide input regarding an individual’s character.

Work references can be divided into references regarding engineering work, and those regarding other types of work. It is preferable to have engineering work references come from professional engineers who can comment on the level and quality of an individual’s work. Non-engineering work references may come from a variety of sources and should focus on accountability and responsibility.

Character references should focus on the key elements of responsibility, accountability, integrity, honesty, trustworthiness and knowing the limits of one’s own knowledge.

References for positions in the distant past are not usually readily available and lack of such references should not necessarily be held against an applicant.

4.5 Circumstances for resignation/non-practising

There are three possible reasons for non-practising status:

Resignation: the individual has provided notice that they no longer intend to practise professional engineering and has voluntarily given up practice rights (for any reason).

Cancellation (Suspension): the individual has failed to pay the necessary dues or is in non-compliance with a mandatory continuing professional development program and has had their practice right removed by the engineering regulator.

Revocation: the individual’s practice rights have been removed by the engineering regulator (for any number of reasons)

Regulators should have records that explain the reason for each individual’s membership status. Individuals who have had their practice rights revoked would warrant the most scrutiny, and as previously stated are not addressed in this Guideline. Failure to pay dues and/or to not provide notice of intent to not pay dues could indicate a need to review character, but would be of less concern than revocation. Individuals who resign would be of the least concern. The lack of a “reason” for resignation should not be held against an applicant.

Current Admission policies vs. those in effect at time of original registration

Regulators have a responsibility to confirm that all applicants for licensure can practise safely, ethically, and independently. Current admission policies reflect the current standards of what is required for safe practice. Therefore, current admission requirements should be considered when evaluating a request to return to active practice. How these requirements are evaluated may vary for reinstatement applicants, however.

This section provides recommendations of how the requirements for licensure may be imposed for those who wish to return to active practice after an absence of two to six years.

Applicants should be required to complete a full application form, and any paperwork that is necessary for the regulator.

References are used to provide information on character and on engineering work experience. Some applicants may be able to satisfy the regulator’s requirements by providing a signed statement on one or both of these requirements or multiple references may be required to cover both requirements.

Applicants should be required to submit and sign the good character declarations on the application form.

Applicants who were engaged in engineering activities should provide references from those who can attest to the level and quality of their work, as well as the applicant’s recognition of the limits of their own knowledge.

The number and type of references required will vary based on the amount of work (if any) that an applicant has been engaged in.

The regulator needs a complete picture of the applicant and will require detailed information about any engineering work that may have been done while the individual was unlicensed (be that under supervision, or in an unregulated jurisdiction). These items may need to be validated by a supervisor or professional engineer. The most recent work experience is the most relevant, so more detail will typically be required for these activities. Finally, information on both engineering and non-engineering work should be supplied.

The following steps are recommended:

  • Applicants should provide a CV or résumé.
  • Applicants should provide detailed descriptions of engineering work performed, if applicable (this may include engineering experience reports or signed work logs).
  • The length and detail required in the engineering work reports will increase with increasing amounts of engineering work performed.
  • If an applicant has engaged in work that is relevant to the practice of engineering, then it is useful to provide details of this work as well. For example, individuals who have been teaching college courses in engineering/technology should provide details of this experience.
  • Where the applicant has not engaged in any engineering work for a longer period of time, they may be required to work under supervision before returning to full independent practice.

5.1 Law and ethics

Knowledge of the current law and code of ethics relevant to the practice of professional engineering in the jurisdiction is a foundation for ethical practice. Applicants who are requesting return to active practice may be required to attend a Law and Ethics seminar, or equivalent.

5.2 Academics

It is assumed that applicants once met the academic requirements for licensure, and that this knowledge persists. Information on new knowledge, or how knowledge has been kept current is, however, still useful. Similar to work experience, re-applicants should provide information on any educational activities that they have engaged in, including self-study, conferences, formal courses, etc. In addition, the following treatment is recommended:

Applicants should make up continuing professional development requirements if applicable (i.e. whatever would have ordinarily been required of the individual as an active practising member should be required).

All individuals struck for non-compliance with a mandatory continuing professional development program should fulfill the missed requirements.

Special case: a formal demonstration that applicants have retained their academic knowledge (such as passing exams) may be required in some cases if the regulator identifies or has reason to suspect a significant knowledge gap.

It is often more relevant to consider the currency and nature of engineering work experience when trying to assess if academic knowledge is acceptable. This is especially true the more time has elapsed since academic knowledge requirements were first met.

5.3 Fees, dues or fines

For all three applicant categories (declared non-practicing, resigned or cancelled), fees and dues should reflect the administrative burden which falls to the regulator staff. Fines or debts incurred at the time of registration having lapsed, should normally be paid by the re-applicant.

5.4 Supervised practice

Supervised or restricted practice may be required for some applicants. Restricted practice might be in the form of a restricted (limited) licence, a signed commitment on the part of the applicant to restrict his/her practice, or a requirement for peer review on all work for a period of time might be imposed before a licence can be granted. During this period of restriction, applicants may be required to submit work reports, monthly logs or other documentation validated by the supervisor. This requirement would provide the regulator with an opportunity to check that the re-applicant can practise competently and ethically in the engineering work place.

5.5 Special circumstances

Some special cases may also require that an applicant make amends for any action (or lack of action) that led to suspension or revocation of their right to practice. Any situations not mentioned above will be covered on a case-by-case basis, at the discretion of the regulator.

5.6 Summary

The recommendations can be summarized as follows. In order to be granted the right to resume active practice an applicant who has been away from active practice for a period of 2-6 years should:

  • Complete an application form
  • Complete all required character declarations
  • Submit references (if requested by the regulator)
  • Provide a CV or résumé
  • Provide detailed reports of engineering work performed, if applicable
  • Attend a law and ethics seminar, or equivalent
  • Pay any necessary fees, dues or fines
  • Provide information relating to professional development conducted during absence and then fulfil any additional continuing professional development requirements as determined by the regulator
  • Potentially participate in a period of supervised practice, either while working with a restricted licence or as a requirement to obtain a full licence.
  • In rare cases, provide a formal demonstration of academic knowledge

6 Communications

Many of those returning to active practice express regret when they learn of the requirements, and wish that they had maintained their original status. It is, therefore, recommended that the regulators provide clear, accessible information about what will happen if an individual resigns or gives up practice rights and how they will be evaluated if they subsequently apply to return to active practice.

This information is important for:

  • Practising members
  • Members considering going to non-practising
  • Employers
  • Members currently not practising

Reaching these individuals can be difficult. It is recommended that multiple communication channels are used including:

  • The regulator’s website
    • A reinstatement/resumption policy should be available on the website
  • Social media
  • The annual dues notice
  • Late dues reminder notices
  • CPD program information
  • Abatement of dues or request for retired or non-practising status form
  • New registrant information package (if applicable)
  • Annual conference/Annual General Meeting
  • Employers and Association of Consulting Engineers

The key messages that should be included are:

  • Why a return to practice policy exists (i.e. why an applicant cannot simply pay outstanding dues and return to active practice)
  • The benefits of retaining practising rights / registration
  • The option to have dues abated if this is a concern (if applicable)
  • How individuals are evaluated if they re-apply
  • Expected time frames for those re-applying
  • Anticipated costs of re-applying
  • The re-instatement policy itself
  • Employers’ responsibility is to encourage and support membership and professional development
  • Professional development will probably be a requirement

Definitions

Practice of professional engineering

Any act of planning, designing, composing, evaluating, advising, reporting, directing or supervising, or managing any of the foregoing, that requires the application of engineering principles, and that concerns the safeguarding of life, health, property, economic interests, the public welfare or the environment [2].

Practising status/members

Members who are licensed to practise professional engineering.

Non-practising status/members

Members who have self-declared and been accepted by the regulator that they are no longer practising professional engineering and have, therefore, lost the right to practise engineering. For example, some members may elect to go to non-practising to avoid continuing professional development reporting, some members may be retired, or not working for a period of time. This category also includes former members who have resigned in good standing, or have been struck from the register simply for non-payment of dues. (For former members struck from the register for other reasons, please refer to subsection 6.8 ‘Special Circumstances’ below.[3]

Reinstatement

A returning to practice (re-registration) of a former member to the jurisdiction of the regulator where they had been previously been registered (i.e., a P.Eng. who had resigned, whose membership had lapsed or who had been removed from the register).

Resumption

A returning to active practice of a member from non-practising status to practising status (this is also known as “reversion” in some jurisdictions).

Endnotes

[1] While “other types” of work experience are not normally considered in an evaluation, some activities may be relevant to keeping up an individual’s competency. Examples might include work in trades in construction, research into areas related to engineering principles or certain teaching activities. It is therefore considered appropriate for the regulator to receive and consider documentation on non-engineering work during the non-practicing period.

[2] Please note that the term “practicing engineer” is used to describe an engineer, member of a regulator, practicing in Canada.

[3] This Guideline also considers applicants who formerly were licenced to practice by a regulator and who have allowed their registration to lapse due to their undertaking engineering work in an environment such as military service, or working within an industrial exemption. These applicants are ‘Reinstatement’ class applicants.