Rural Engineering Education

A challenge of living and working as a professional in a small rural community, (regardless of how world-renowned a destination it may be) is that it is very difficult to commit to and participate in conventional education opportunities that may be longer than a week ((this post is intended to challenge education providers, professional associations and engineers to think about the benefits of access to quality education for rural engineers, and consider ways to make it more accessible)).

4445205796_4cbf303727Flipping through the continue professional development courses offered through organizations such as APEGBC, it is obvious that courses are typically in the Greater Vancouver area, or on Vancouver Island or in Kelowna or Kamloops. For the shorter courses that is usually achievable, but for something longer or more demanding in time, the options are limited outside of online study.

Why does this matter? Professionally, whether you are in the city or in a rural area, to stay on top of the industry and to provide excellent engineering, it is important to continue learning. But access for rural folks to learning is a real challenge. Compounding this challenge is the fact that many rural engineering organizations are on as tight or tighter budgets than their city counterparts.

Solutions to this challenge could include:

  • bursaries from education providers to improve access to rural engineers;
  • a greater effort at including rural destinations for conferences, seminars, etc; and
  • improving the ways in which online content is provided to make the content more engaging.

Personally, at this stage I’m feeling adequately serviced with education opportunities in my field and through events such as the BCWWA Annual conference, local government sessions in Kelowna and some self and online study for a couple of programs I’m taking. But it would be almost impossible for me to consider taking a masters degree in just about anything remotely without adding thousands of dollars in travel and accommodation to the cost ((there are some notable exceptions, including the Masters of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, which does look interesting for local government management)). While there is no requirement to take university style formal courses to maintain your Professional Engineer status, many of the shorter courses and conferences provide a buffet-like learning experience, where you get to taste a little of everything, but don’t really commit to engaging learning on any one topic. Longer courses, or more intense learning experiences can offer the Professional Engineer a new outlook or framework to modernize their perspective on industry important topics ((I’d be interested to know how many Professional Engineers in BC have taken post-graduate or further studies (beyond annual conference s etc.) related to their field of practice)).

I’ve written before of some of the great things about being a small town engineer, and while some of the things are different in our situation several years later, many of them remain the same – and despite the challenges of continuing education – I’d rather be here than anywhere else right now.


Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.