Compliance vs Self-Education

I am a professional. One thing that distinguishes professionals in any field or industry, is self-learning. When we commit to being a professional, we commit to a lifetime of self-learning. I also happen to be a professional engineer, a “PE.” With becoming a PE, comes years of study, testing, and an ongoing obligation to the public and the profession to practice in our area of expertise; to follow clearly outlined by laws that regulate the profession. I am a big proponent of this.

Some years ago, regulators and PE’s serving on state boards, working together, decided it would be a good idea to require continuing education in order to renew and maintain one’s PE license. This sounds like a good idea, but does requiring continuing education to be completed define whether a professional is a self-learner or not? Were the bylaws, the ethics, and the essence of what we agreed to do and adhere to not enough? Can professionals not be trusted? If they can’t be trusted then there are rules in place to discipline them, or remove their license. Before that would happen, they would likely be discarded by clients or their employer. Is this not enough compliance? What’s my point? (I’m glad that you asked)

Practicing any craft well requires a continual commitment to learning. It’s a necessary part of the process. Am I a believer in continuing education? Yes. Does requiring it as part of a compliance regimen guarantee the right outcomes? No. Taking coursework is good, but it doesn’t define self-learning. Checking a box is simply that. We can complete an exercise, walk away, and not learn the rest of the year if we choose. If we are self-learning, we are “checking the box” every day.

Compliance doesn’t confirm competency.