At IChemE we’re undertaking a series of projects that aim to improve member services, service delivery and the sustainability of our Institution.
One of these is an overarching project called Programme SMART which, as IChemE’s Vice President of Qualifications Ainslie Just discussed in our recent blog, aims to deliver sustainable membership growth.
In today’s blog, Rob Best who is the Chair of the Individual Case Procedure Task and Finish Group, provides an update on one of the projects in the “Flexible Pathways to Membership” area of Programme SMART.
Name: Rob Best
IChemE roles: Member of the Qualifications Committee; Chair of the Education and Accreditation Forum (until March 2020); Chair of the Individual Case Procedure Task and Finish Group; and IChemE nominee to Engineering Council Board.
Bio: After completing BSc(Hons) and PhD degrees at University College London, I worked in research and development in universities in Europe and in the gas industry. I spent most of my career as an academic before retiring as Dean of Faculty at London South Bank University.
Flexible pathways to membership
Flexible Pathways is focussed on Stage 1 of the application process which deals with the educational base for IChemE membership. At Stage 1, applicants with a full set of accredited qualifications are exempt from further qualification requirements and are able to proceed immediately to Stage 2 (Initial Professional Development). Those without are required to undergo an individual assessment, wherein lies the difficulty, as they find the existing process for assessing their case confusing and excessively demanding.
To address this, we have developed a new Individual Case Procedure (ICP) which we plan to launch later this year.
Early in the development of the new process, in 2017, IChemE reviewed its existing assessment of non-accredited qualifications and how this compared with other professional engineering institutions. We also spoke to potential members, and to members who have been through the process, to learn about their concerns.
The feedback we received from individuals and companies made it clear that there was a great deal of frustration among those without accredited degrees. For example, some had good degrees in chemical engineering (though not accredited by IChemE) and, despite practising as chemical engineers for many years, found the hurdles to membership of their professional body far too daunting, so didn’t apply.
On the other hand, to date we routinely ask anyone without a full set of accredited qualifications to produce a 5,000-word Technical Report, regardless of whether they have a chemical engineering qualification or not. To use an engineering analogy, the filter we’re using is not selective enough. For Chartered Membership, we require either an accredited MEng or a combination of an accredited BEng(Hons) with an accredited MSc: people with either of these are exempt from the current Technical Report.
It seems very unfair then that as things stand, a person with an accredited BEng(Hons) chemical engineering and no MSc but with 20 years of experience designing process plants must follow exactly the same route as a newly-qualified chemistry graduate and submit a 5,000-word Technical Report. It is perverse that we give no recognition for a good and appropriate qualification.
Furthermore, we found a significant number of people practising chemical engineering but with degrees in other subjects, such as chemistry, other engineering disciplines, and mathematics, who had similar issues with providing evidence that their knowledge and understanding meet our requirements.
To remedy this, our new process will provide a more flexible and transparent process which will review and assess knowledge and understanding at an individual level. Above all, the process is designed to ensure that IChemE applies consistent standards for membership by assessing individuals against the same standards of achievement as those used for accrediting degree programmes.
A task group with representatives from the Professional Formation Forum (PFF) and the Education and Accreditation Forum (EAF) has developed a two-phase approach to ICP based on the Learning Outcomes IChemE uses to assess university qualifications for accreditation (see process pictured above). The process has been tested and refined by three pilot studies involving 42 candidates.
So, how does it work?
The starting point is for all candidates who apply through the new ICP process to be in IChemE membership at the appropriate grade (Associate or Affiliate Member) before they apply, and they must remain in membership throughout the process.
We are recruiting volunteer ICP reviewers to peer review all ICP applications. ICP reviewers will be Chartered or Fellow members of IChemE and will receive training so that we maintain standards and ensure consistency.
We have established a new Individual Case Procedure Panel to oversee the process, and Fenella Nordquist – an IChemE academic programme assessor for 25 years – has been appointed as its first Chair. The ICP Panel will comprise a representative group of reviewers and will report to the EAF.
On entering the ICP process, the applicant will submit a Technical Biography (TB). This will involve completing a form that ensures a consistent format for all the relevant information needed to assess the applicant’s educational base. The candidate will provide summary information on academic qualifications, evidence of work-based learning and transcripts of qualifications, all to demonstrate how specified learning outcomes have been met.
If ICP reviewers assess from the TB that the applicant has met all the learning outcome requirements, the candidate will be allowed to go straight to a standard application for Chartered Membership (Stages 2 and 3) as and when they are ready. This is the same route as a member who has IChemE-accredited degrees that fully meet the requirements.
If the reviewers believe that the requirements may be met but that more detailed evidence is needed for some or all of them, the candidate will be asked to complete a Technical Report Questionnaire (TRQ). The TRQ will ask for further evidence against specific gaps identified in the TB review, as explained below.
On the other hand, if the reviewers find that the requirements are not met, then the candidate may be asked to undertake further learning or experience to fill specific gaps that have been identified and return to the process once this has been completed.
Technical Report Questionnaire
The TRQ is effectively a short answer paper where the applicant is asked to submit more detailed evidence of what they have done either in the workplace or in formal education. The questions are based on the learning outcomes of an accredited chemical engineering degree. The applicant is required to provide the evidence against specific learning outcomes identified as gaps from the TB submission.
The TRQ will be assessed and, once the reviewers agree that it is satisfactory, two reviewers will interview the applicant on their TRQ submission by teleconference (Skype etc). If successful, the candidate will then be able to proceed to Stages 2 and 3 of the application process when they are ready to, as for standard applicants.
Where are we now?
ICP will be a more accessible and flexible replacement to the current Technical Report route. It will provide a transparent, focussed route for those without suitable accredited qualifications.
We are currently recruiting ICP reviewers and developing a training package for them. An invitation-only soft launch will start in April. We then go fully live with the new ICP process on IChemE’s website before the end of the year.
If you think that ICP is relevant to you or to any of your colleagues, then please do pass the message on, noting:
- applicants need to be in Associate or Affiliate membership;
- applicants who do not have qualification transcripts should try to obtain these from their university, bearing in mind that these can take a while to come through; and
- as always, applicants need to keep a record of their work-based experience for this and the subsequent stages of membership.
To close, I’d like to thank the continued hard work of the many volunteers and IChemE employees who helped to develop the new process. I believe that this will help make IChemE a more welcoming and accessible organisation for a range of practicing chemical engineers who previously had difficulty applying.
This article also appeared in the latest issue of The Chemical Engineer.