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Engineers set to face five yearly competence test

ENGINEERS MUST take a competence test at least every five years to maintain public confidence, according to new professional guidelines to be published next week.

And where 'incompetence could lead to serious personal injury or death', engineers could have to prove their competence every year says the guide, due to be published by the UK Inter Professional Group (UKIPG).

Failure should ultimately lead to engineers being 'struck off'.

The document, which is to be published with the cross professional group's annual report next week is the result of extensive consultation with representative bodies for the medical, accounting, architecture and engineering professions.

'There is increasing public expectation that a professional should be competent to current standards, ' says the guide.

'Therefore regulatory bodies need to be more proactive in maintaining professional standards, rather than merely reacting to complaints.'

ICE past president Robin Wilson led the UKIPG task group that produced the guide. He said it should provide a framework to help professional bodies like the ICE comply with demands for greater accountability which, particularly in the medical profession, are already starting to be enshrined in legislation.

'This goes well beyond continuing professional development (CPD). To be revalidated you will have to have your competency tested and appraised by a third party.'

The new guide says that current CPD arrangements 'do not meet the basic requirements of revalidation'. Evidence of recent experience, an appraisal of competence against set benchmarks and proof of good health and conduct - if appropriate, will also have to be given to a panel of two or three people.

But such procedures would not strip engineers of their existing qualifications and would ensure they could continue to specialise in key areas, Wilson added.

'If you qualify as a civil engineer first but you want to specialise then you should submit to regular revalidation for that specialism, ' he said.

The recommendations would lead to radical changes to procedures at the ICE, which has yet to introduce a compulsory requirement for members to record CPD, said Wilson.

The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) is further ahead with its annual CPD review system, he said but would need to ramp up procedures further for revalidation.

ICE director of professional development Jon Prichard said it was likely that it soon move towards a compulsory CPD system. 'It is no longer good enough to say 'I am qualified therefore I am competent', ' he said, adding that the ICE was also looking carefully at its current specialist registers to ensure that proper competence validation processes were in place.

Wilson cited the current Reservoir Panel - the group of specialist engineers kept on hand to assess the condition of the UK's dams and reservoirs - as an 'almost perfect example' of professional revalidation which responded to a statutory process. The panel undertakes regular peer review to guarantee public safety by ensuring that all its engineers are professionally competent to make regular inspections, he said.

IStructE president Bob McKittrick welcomed the guide and said that the IstructE's current system could be adapted to meet the revalidation. 'If we want to boost our status then this is the obvious way forward, ' he said.

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