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Registration: what's the best way to proceed?

The British Geotechnical Association has proposed a two-stage process for registration of geotechnical professionals. Roger Thompson outlines the concept while Hilary Skinner raises some related issues on education and training.

WHATEVER route geotechnical professionals have followed and whenever they developed their liking for the subject, many remain dedicated to the profession throughout their careers, whether as academics, consultants or contractors.

All aspire to see their chosen subject held in high regard both by their technical colleagues and the general public. But are professional qualifications such as chartered engineer or chartered geologist sufficient to meet the needs of those who have specialised in geotechnics?

Would an additional qualification help? And would it help raise the status of geotechnical professionals?

In 1987 the British Geotechnical Society issued its first UK geotechnical directory. Entry requirement was to be chartered and to have a number of years of relevant practical experience.

Fewer years of experience were accepted for those with a specialist postgraduate qualification in a geotechnical-related subject.

In 1993, the Site Investigation Steering Group introduced the terms 'geotechnical adviser' and 'geotechnical specialist' with defined requirements to achieve those levels.

There was, however, no listing and no validation procedure, so the terms have not been widely used or even recognised.

The Institution of Civil Engineers began to prepare various specialist registers, such as the Health and Safety register, in the 1990s. Typical requirements for inclusion are to be a chartered engineer; to have at least 10 years'experience; to meet 12 core competencies; to attend an interview; and to pass an exam.A formal review is required every five years to ensure continued inclusion.

Over the last decade there has been a steady increase in the number of registers. A common theme is that certain aspects of the specialism include matters relating to health and safety.

The question is, is it is appropriate and timely to introduce a register for geotechnical professionals?

After a few months of discussion within the BGA executive committee, three possible approaches were presented at the annual conference in June last year. These were to do nothing, to establish a formal register, or to set up a rigorous statute-based scheme. Almost all attendees favoured a 'positive' scheme, most preferring a register.

Subsequent discussions have been held with ICE, with the Engineering Geological Group of the Geological Society and with those involved with the recently launched Specialist in Land Condition (SiLC) scheme.

A draft document for a register for geotechnical professionals has been prepared and circulated to a small number of leading UK geotechnical professionals from academia, consultancy and contracting.

Broad acceptance was tempered by some concerns that too demanding a scheme might be difficult and costly to administer, as well as being rather restrictive.Against this, the scheme had to be reasonably demanding for it to become meaningful within and beyond the geotechnical profession.

A two-stage approach is now under serious consideration, with the overriding theme that it will be for chartered geotechnical professionals with a minimum number of years of geotechnical experience.

Stage one aims to minimise administration and therefore costs. Submission will be on the basis of a copy of the applicant's certificate of chartership and a brief cv describing their relevant geotechnical experience.

All submissions will be reviewed by a panel chosen by the BGA executive committee. Those satisfying requirements will be included on a 'Listing of geotechnical professionals' It is anticipated the list will be accessible to those in relevant professional institutions as well as external parties.

Stage two will be markedly more demanding. Candidates will have to demonstrate they have met a range of core competencies. Submissions will need to be authenticated by two sponsors who have already successfully achieved this stage.

Submissions will be reviewed by a panel chosen by the BGA executive committee and candidates may be interviewed.

Inevitably, this will involve more administration and therefore costs will be higher.

It is hoped that stage one will be put in place in 2005. The success of this stage will, in part, dictate the timing for the introduction of stage two - which may be implemented within two to four years.

Members attending the annual conference in June will have an ideal opportunity to express their views, including those relating to education and training requirements for any registration scheme. Those unable to attend should sent comments to Gavin Bowyer at the BGA: gavin. bowyer@ice. org. uk

Roger Thompson is a member of the BGA executive committee and technical director of EDGE Consultants UK.

The editor welcomes letters on the subject of registration. Is the BGA proposal one industry needs or wants?

Are the proposed requirements for registration the right ones? What can industry do to help improve the state of geotechnical education and training?

Write to Max Soudain, Ground Engineering, 151 Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4GB or email: max. soudain@emap. com

Over the last decade there has been a steady increase in the number of registers. A common theme is that certain aspects of the specialism include matters relating to health and safety.

The question is, is it is appropriate and timely to introduce a register for geotechnical professionals?

Education and training

To be sustainable, the proposed registration route must be supported by adequate education and continuing professional development activities - and enough candidates entering and remaining in the geotechnical profession.

A number of issues need to be discussed.

Education

There is a shortfall in geotechnical engineers in the UK and many other countries, and the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Newcastle University's Barry Clarke has cited the need to confront this shortage with strategies to increase the number of students taking geotechnically-related courses (GE February 2004).

Educational requirements that university courses must meet are determined by the UK Spec produced by the Engineering Council.

For the first time, geotechnics is explicitly included but it is likely that UK Spec will eventually lead to broader first degrees. The difficulties of attracting students into engineering.

particularly civil engineering courses, have been highlighted many times.

What can the profession do to help?

Many geotechnical engineers have an MSc qualification. In recent years geotechnical MSc courses have suffered greatly from funding cuts and it can be argued that the trend towards four-year MEng courses and ever increasing student debt is also having a detrimental effect.

Are the proposed educational and experience requirements for registration adequate and how can the geotechnical industry ensure it continues to provide suitable courses?

Training Assessment of the competence of a geotechnical engineer is initially proposed through chartered status and relevant experience. How should this be maintained and ultimately improved?

While national and regional groups in the geological and geotechnical field are extremely active, there is a perception that discussion meetings are not as well attended as in the past, particularly by younger engineers, and attendance at conferences is often restricted to academia.

This implies that experience and learning that can arise from discussions with peers from other companies or areas of expertise, is no longer common. Is this is the case and if so, what should be done?

Hilary Skinner is a member of the BGA executive committee and principal consultant at BRE.

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