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How I Became a Professional Engineer during the Pandemic: Becoming an Engineer via the Competency-Based Assessment (CBA) System

By Jeffrey David, P.Eng.

     You know those souvenir shirts that say, “I went to and all I got was this

lousy t-shirt?” Well, let me tell you a version of my story: how I lived through

the COVID pandemic and became a professional engineer.

It took a lot of hard work, some luck, a little bit of networking, and a fully

supportive family to accomplish this feat.

     It was December 2021; things were starting to look better with respect to the COVID pandemic. Vaccines have rolled out (including children’s doses), travel restrictions were easing, and people were being allowed to gather again; it looked like the beginning of the pandemic’s end. 

One of the unintended effects of the COVID pandemic was people having a lot of time on their hands. Thus, a lot of people took up new hobbies and skills (such as baking, cooking, knitting, and raising plants) to make more productive use of their time.  I did some year-end reflection and it felt as though I haven’t done anything new, no baking, no dalgona coffee (remember that?), not a plant-tito, and no scarf knitted. I felt like I had to do something.

How the Journey Began

I have always liked the idea of solving problems and helping people solve theirs. I guess that’s the reason why I was attracted to math and sciences when I was in school. When it was time to go to university, I chose Engineering – a field where problems are addressed by applying science and math, it was the logical choice. I took the university admission test and was fortunate to be accepted into the Chemical Engineering program. I enrolled in the University soon after. Thus began my journey to become an engineer. It was June 1999.

I graduated from a Chemical Engineering program in the Philippines in 2006. I immigrated to Canada the following year, arriving in Winnipeg in 2007. I did not take the Philippine ChE licensure exam. And the two job offers I received in the Philippines after graduation, I turned both down, since I was migrating to Canada with my family and decided to spend the last few months relaxing. I listened to the advice of people saying Philippine credentials do not matter much when you arrive in Canada (which in hindsight, was bad advice).

Early Years in Canada 

As a chemical engineering graduate, it was difficult to find engineering jobs related to my degree in Winnipeg. In addition to being a newcomer, I was also someone who is fresh out of university with no job experience; my career prospects did not look promising. Fortunately, after four months of searching, I was able to find employment as a scientist in the life sciences industry leveraging my chemistry knowledge in the process.

Priorities soon changed and my journey to become an engineer was paused. At that time, internationally educated engineers had an additional step in the registration process. Our international degrees are not considered equivalent to Canadian ones. Some of the options were to take confirmatory exams or take the Internationally Educated Engineers Qualification (IEEQ) program; both of which cost time and money. Both of which I didn’t have at that time. And so, I put my journey to become an engineer on pause, indefinitely.

The Spark

Fast forward to December 2021, after several years of putting off my application to Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba (EGM), I finally felt the urge to continue my journey to becoming an engineer. Based on stories from friends who recently completed their engineering application, I became aware that most graduates from the Philippines now can take another path to fulfil the academic qualification step, taking at least a Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam to satisfy the academic requirements of EGM. So, before the Christmas break, I submitted the application package (application form, resume, academic assessment, and Manitoba proof of residency) to EGM, with the expectation that I would be spending the first few months of the New Year reviewing for the FE exam. I was ready to spend the next few months preparing for the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. I prepared myself mentally. 

Resuming the Journey

At the beginning of 2022, I received a reply from EGM stating they have accepted my application, and I can now take the ABC Test (Acts, By-Laws, and Code of Ethics). I am academically qualified. My international degree was assessed to be equivalent to a Canadian one. I didn’t need to take additional steps such as taking the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. I then prepared for the ABC Test, reviewed the study materials, took the exam, and received a passing mark (as soon as you hit the Finish Test option, the system will check the test and return a pass or fail, a bit of a nerve-wracking moment). A few days later, I received a notification from EGM saying I’m now a Member-in-Training and can continue with the Competency-Based Assessment (CBA) process.

I completed my Competency Report within 6 months, and the report was reviewed by my validators, and the assessor within 2 months after my submission. Writing the report was probably the most challenging part of the process. I had to explain how I have satisfied the 34 competencies to the standards of EGM and provide concrete examples demonstrating said competencies (state a problem, discuss the solution, and report the outcome), all the while discussing these in a concise manner. I’m used to writing reports in school where there was a minimum requirement for words (like writing a 500-word essay). I thought writing the report will be easy, I can just write down every relevant detail to support my assertion that I’m competent to be called an engineer. Contrary to my expectation, the CBA report system employs a maximum character count – I had to be concise. I had to ensure that I was able to communicate how I satisfied the standard level of competency while using the allowed number of characters. I also had to arrange for four validators, two of which, must be professional engineers. Fortunately, I worked with two in the past couple of years, and they were very supportive of my application to become an engineer. They were more than happy to validate my experience. I also reached out to two more colleagues to act as the other two validators. When writing the report, I worked in coordination with my validators so they can provide feedback, making sure I was on the same page with them, and that whatever I wrote in my report is accurate. After a few months of collaboration, I submitted my report on July 2022. And the validation and assessment were completed in September 2022.

Also on September 2022, I was notified by EGM that I can now take the National Professional Practice Exam (NPPE). I arranged to take the November 2022 exam; I reckon the next two months would be sufficient to study. In preparing for the exam, I read two of the recommended reference books. I was able to borrow Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience: Practice & Ethics (Andrews, Shaw, and McPhee). For the second book, I was not able to find a book I can borrow so I purchased Law for Professional Engineers: Canadian and Global Insights (Marston). I also purchased an NPPE review package (tips and sample questions from https://www.ppehq.com/about.html) to have an idea of what the exam looks like. It was probably the most preparation I did for any exam that I have taken. It took me a total of three weeks to read the books (about 900 pages of text), and 1 more week studying the review package, taking mock exams; meanwhile attending to my responsibilities to my family, and working full-time. I took the exam on November 9, 2022. And while I did feel confident going into the exam, it was a different feeling after. The exam questions were a bit tricky. It was a multiple choice, select the best answer type of exam, where at least 2 choices seem like the answer to the question. To my relief, I received a notification about two weeks later that I passed the exam. I’m almost there.

Confirmation

The last part of the registration process was getting the final approval from the EGM Registration Committee. The meeting was scheduled on November 30, 2022. The following day, I logged on to my account on the EGM website, and there it was, it said “Good morning Mr. Jeffrey A. David P.Eng.” on the top of my home page. I might’ve shed a tear or two while reading that. I felt a sense of accomplishment, joy, relief, and gratefulness. I did it. I can now call myself an engineer, a journey that started some twenty years ago, with me as a young man taking my first steps inside Melchor Hall.

Lessons Learned

I also learned some life lessons along the way. First, grab an opportunity when it presents itself because it might not come along again. Second, to celebrate small victories; recognize that while the journey is long, those little milestones that are accomplished along the way are still worth celebrating. Lastly, self-esteem is important, you must believe in yourself. Even if you have people around you who encourage and believe in you – it is still up to you to act on your goals. Having a healthy level of self-esteem allows you to focus on your goals. For those who are thinking of getting their P.Eng. designation in Manitoba, it doesn’t hurt to try; it doesn’t hurt to ask for help either. If you’re not sure where to begin, shoot me an e-mail (jdavidPEng [at] outlook.com). Additionally, the Filipino Members Chapter of Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba (FMC-EGM: https://www.fmc-egm.ca/about-us) is here to provide guidance as well. As Dumbledore said, “Help will always be given … to those who ask for it.” No matter how long it takes, what is important is actively pursuing your goals. 

Conclusion

I thank my wife Kristine, my son Lucas, my parents, my mentors, my friends, my colleagues, my classmates, and my teachers, who have helped me in my journey to become an engineer. 

I survived the COVID pandemic, and I got a P.Eng. title in the process.

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Writer’s notes: 

For tips and advice on how to become an engineer in Manitoba through the CBA process, the writer can be reached by e-mail at jdavidPEng [at] outlook.com. Alternatively, you can visit the FMC-EGM website: https://www.fmc-egm.ca/about-us.

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