The Work Experience Record has become a challenging hurdle for many aspiring engineers trying to get licensed as a Professional Engineer or Geoscientist in Canada. Maybe it’s a good thing that the bar is getting raised. After all, obtaining an engineering licence is similar to a medical licence. If a doctor messes up he/she can kill one patient; if an engineer messes up, dozens can die.

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What makes it so Challenging?

There are a number of factors that make it challenging for aspiring engineers:

1. Writing skills - many engineers, myself included, did not pursue a career in engineer because we were strong writers. Instead, most of us liked math class more than English class and that was all there was too it.

2. Economy - when you graduate with an engineering undergrad degree and the economy is bad you take whatever job you can find. A large variety of employers higher engineers but won’t necessarily put you to work as an engineer. You might be doing sales, project management or operations and maintenance. Then, you decide you like the steady pay cheques so you stick it out for 4 years. When you go to apply your engineering Association says, “sorry, you need more Application of Theory experience”.

3. Unfamiliar submission format - this is not a resume where you embellish your skills and talk only about results. This is a professional document that explains clearly what you have done, how you have done it, and why.

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Province Specifics:

Different provinces have different submission criteria and methods so please refer to your own association for what is required. For instance, Engineers Canada has worked with a number of associations in attempts to move towards a more thorough [Competency Based Assessment] report structure. It believes that such a reporting system is more defensible, transparent and clear. The system has 7 competencies one must write situations for. So far only APEGBC has adopted the newer system with APEGA to follow in 2017.

The older system that is more widely used is the 5 criteria system. Where applicants write up situations that demonstrate their experience in the following criteria: Application of Theory; Practical Experience; Management; Communications; and Society.

Some associations like APEGA and APEGBC have moved to a seamless online system where you have a profile and submit and track your progress online. Some other provinces still rely on good old MS Excel.

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Common Best Practices Among all Associations in Canada:

1. “I” not “we” - You want to highlight your individual contribution so be sure to use “I” not “we” throughout your entire Work Experience Record.

2. WWHO Formula - An extremely important formula to ensure that each situation you write up about has sufficient detail. The acronym WWHO stands for: W - What you did; W - Why you did it; H - How you did it; and O - what was the Outcome. Covering all those four elements is critical. Many Associations will only tell you the WWH, but I see the O being criteria. Not too many Associations talk about it, but the O was first introduced to me by APEGS in its [Work Experience Reporting Orientation Presentation].

3. Show increasing responsibility and complexity - when you graduated no one trusted you so for the first few months you probably were the coffee runner like I was :). Then people trusted you and gave you more work and responsibility. If you changed jobs, it was probably for bigger and better projects. You’ll need to demonstrate this in your Experience Record.

4. Proper length - each Association should mention a length that they want you to strive for. For instance, PEO says normal submissions shouldn’t exceed 10 pages; APEGNB is about 5-7 pages. It is your job to find the range and be in that sweet spot.

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Common Mistakes:

1. Don’t Plagiarize - this is often used to add content to an otherwise short submission. Rather than use definitions from Wikipedia, use the WWHO formula to tell the reviewer exactly what you did. If the reviewer doesn’t understand something they’ll look it up.

2. Submitting poor references - Your references can hold up your submission. If they are lazy, on vacation, or dead (gasp!), you won’t be getting a review when you need it. Make sure to call your reference before you submit your Experience Record to be sure you have their updated contact information and they are willing and able.

3. Lack of technical focus - If you are not working in a role where you are applying engineering theory (considered by all Associations as the most important criteria), then you may have a tough time getting licensed. Better switch jobs in your company, find a new job or reassess if you really want an engineering license.

4. Writing situations for every employer - so you’ve worked for 8 employers so you need to write situations for each employer, right? Wrong. Most associations will allow you to focus on the jobs/employers that are most relevant to engineers. After all, the reviewers are normally volunteers and don’t need to know that you were employed for 6 months at Subway.

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Steps for Success:

1. Keep records of your pre-graduation experience (if you still have it)

2. Become an Engineering-In-Training (EIT) or Member-In-Training (MIT) and submit your yearly records for a high-level review.

3. Determine your application type - If you’re not sure if you’re ready to submit or if most of your experience is outside of Canada check to see if your Association has a survey to help you determine if you are eligible to submit your Experience Record. Here are a few of the surveys [APEGA Application Type Survey] and [APEGBC Self-Assessment Tool].

4. Consider enrolling in one of the courses available and designed specifically to help you write your best Work Experience Record. Courses currently offered are: [Ontario Experience Record - Rapid Submission Course], [Alberta Work Experience Record - Rapid Submission Course] and [BC Competency Assessment Reporting - Course]

The Work Experience Record is not what it once was. It is now, what it should be: a document that is expected to be professionally written and will go under a rigorous review by any engineering association in Canada to licence only those who have demonstrated the correct mix of related engineering experience. By following your association's best practices and avoiding common mistakes, you dramatically increase your chance of immediate licensure and may avoid an interview or technical exams.