ALS News: Editor’s Notes – What Does a Land Surveyor Need to Know on Their Very First Day?

Brian Munday, Executive Director

What does a land surveyor need to know on their very first day as a professional?
How does the ALSA, as the regulator, know that this new land surveyor knows what they need to know?
These are the questions that the ALSA – or any regulator of professionals – needs to answer and needs to keep up to date on a regular basis.
The September 2020 independent regulatory review (usually called the Field Law report) recommended that the ALSA “consider whether the final qualifying exam does a good job of actually testing applicants for the competencies required to be a member of the profession and ensure that the exam is psychometrically valid.”
Council directed that all professional examinations should be assessed instead of just the qualifying examination and, in January 2022, Council gave unanimous approval to retain Wickett Measurement Systems to conduct an audit of the ALSA’s professional examinations.
The top recommendation in the report is to “conduct a job analysis or develop a competency profile to formally establish what the essential competencies are for effective practice as an ALS. From this competency profile, establish blueprints for each assessment that reduce duplication and fully cover the profile.”
Council has added this term of reference and the other recommendations from the Wickett Report to the Registration Committee’s terms of reference.
So, again, what are the competencies that a land surveyor needs to know on their very first day?
Evaluation of survey evidence would seem to be one obvious competency. Understanding pertinent acts and regulations is likely another. Understanding historical and modern measurements may be another competency. On the professional side of things, it is probably important that new land surveyors understand the code of ethics, the importance of professional communication and something of the role of the Alberta Land Surveyors’ Association.
As the ALSA goes through this exercise of identifying the core competencies for new land surveyors, we will have to be more specific than “pertinent acts and regulations.” We’ll even need to be more specific than stating the Surveys Act and Land Titles Act.
What about those acts (and others) will the need to know? How deep does their level of knowledge need to be? We might say that an articling pupil needs to exhibit proficiency and knowledge of the Surveys Act. We might go on to say that a pupil probably doesn’t need to know the inner workings of a Section 9 but they should know that Section 45 outlines how to post a subdivision and right-of-way plan and Section 47 allows for delaying the posting while Section 50 is used to remove a monument.
Developing these core competencies and related blueprints are going to be the first two steps that the ALSA will need to take to reimagine its assessment of articling pupils.
How is the ALSA going to determine what are the core competencies? Should it be a matter of loudest voice wins? I suspect it will be a combination of input from the articling pupils themselves, the principals and the Registration Committee members. However, we also need to get input from the Practice Review Board (what they see as areas where new land surveyors may be wanting) and the Discipline Committee (what are common reasons for a complaint against a practitioner) and perhaps even common reasons for professional liability insurance claims.
Going through this process will help make the assessment process more valuable and more defensible.
So, let’s say we’ve completed this exercise and identified our core competencies and developed a blueprint for each competency. Is each competency given equal weight? Is understanding the hierarchy of evidence weighted the same as understanding the code of ethics? Is it a 60-40 split? Or should it be 80-20?
If we identify twenty core competency areas, what is the relative weighting for each of them? Should it be possible for any one pupil to be able to score zero on the code of ethics part of the assessment and still qualify as an Alberta Land Surveyor? Could a person do poorly on the evidence assessment part of the assessment and still eke through to qualify as an Alberta Land Surveyor? Probably not – but how bad is too bad?
You might have noticed that, above, I used the word “assessment” instead of “examination.” Once we have figured out the core competencies and the blueprints and the weightings, the next big question is going to be what is the best way to assess the pupils. Is it still two written examinations, two project reports and an oral qualifying examination? Maybe. But it might be five written examinations and no project reports. Or maybe one written examination and one oral qualifying examination. I am not trying to get anyone’s hopes up but these are the types of questions we are going to have to ask ourselves.
Not only do we need to figure out the right combination of written examinations and oral examinations but we also will then need to look at what types of questions to ask. Multiple choice? Short answer? Long answer?
Finally, what should the pass mark be? Traditionally, it has been 75% but is that still valid under a new revised assessment process? The Wickett report discusses some different ways that question can be answered and starts to delve into statistical analyses I haven’t seen since my second year of university. Regardless, it’s a question that needs to be asked and answered.
If you have reached the end of my article, you will realize that there are many more questions than answers at this time and it will take some time to work through this process and make sure it is done right. Articling pupils who are currently in the system should not expect to see any significant changes to the examination process in the immediate future.
But changes will come and I am confident that the entire registration process will be better as a result. It will be an exciting time!

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The Alberta Land Surveyors' Association (ALSA) is a self-regulating professional association legislated under the Land Surveyors Act. The Association regulates the practice of land surveying for the protection of the public.