The AIG Professionals Subcommittee is a subcommittee of Council comprising:
- Wayne Spilsbury MAIG, FAusIMM (CP), PGeo
- Dr Julian Vearncombe BSc. PhD. FGS. FSEG. FAIG. RPGeo.
- Kaylene Camuti MAIG, RPGeo
- Josh Leigh MAIG
- Dr Robert Findlay MAIG
AIG’s vision statement is “The AIG will strive to be the preeminent Australian professional institute in advocacy for, and public promotion of, all Australian geoscientists”. This is not a static statement. As the practice of geoscience evolves with changes in technology and changes in society’s expectations of professional practice, so must AIG change to preserve its preeminent status.
Benchmarking against the major international geoscience professional institutes shows AIG may be falling behind in its entrance requirements, expectations of Continued Professional Development (CPD) by members and governance.
The Professional Issues Subcommittee was formed at the Face to Face Strategic Planning meeting in June 2016. Its mandate was to create a “Road Map” to improve competency and increase professionalism (and the community perception of professionalism) of AIG members. The Subcommittee’s Charter is summarised in Figure 1.
A PDF copy of Figure 1 (above) is available here.
AIG members will soon receive a link to an on-line survey prepared by the Professional Issues Subcommittee. We are seeking your input as we prepare the Road Map for presentation to the AIG Council. Your responses will assist the subcommittee in its recommendations to Council for AIG to demonstrate best practice.
The survey is seeking your input on the following issues:
Membership Requirements – Education and Communication Skills
The current minimum requirements for AIG Membership are a 3 year bachelor’s degree in the geological sciences and five years relevant professional experience that includes two years in which the applicant has been required to exercise professional judgement and discretion, and is supported by at least two AIG members with personal knowledge of the applicant’s relevant professional experience.
For industry employers, an Honours degree is the desired minimum qualification for graduate employment. This is because, under the modern degree system, most students are not exposed to work requiring problem solving and the exercise of technical and professional judgement until their Honours year. That is, until students complete Honours, they have little to no experience in the acquisition, assessment, compilation and interpretation of data, and little experience in technical writing and professional reporting.
Some institutions require applicants to submit a recent report and undertake a personal interview to demonstrate their functional literacy skills.
In many comparable jurisdictions (Canada, USA, South Africa and Europe) the minimum education requirement for professional institute admission is a 4 year Bachelor’s degree. AIG is currently not, but could potentially be at risk of losing its Recognised Overseas Professional Organisations (ROPO) status which allows our Members to identify as Qualified Persons or Competent Persons in these jurisdictions because of our lesser education requirement.
Should the education requirement be changed to an Honours degree or equivalent and should new applicants be interviewed and be required to submit a recent report (or other example of written, geoscientific work)?
Membership Requirements – Law and Ethics Examination
Some professional organisations require applicants to complete a professional Law and Ethics short course, and pass an examination. The short courses are designed to increase knowledge of corporate law, stock exchange rules and other relevant legislation, and teach the obligations and responsibilities that come with adherence to a Code of Ethics. Typically these Law and Ethics short courses involve a seminar followed by an on-line exam.
Membership Requirements – Continuous Professional Development (CPD)
AIG promotes the benefits of CPD to all members and requires Registered Professional Geoscientists to complete and document a minimum of 50 hours of CPD, on average, annually over a three year period. CPD is not a guarantee of competence. The community at large, however, sees a commitment to CPD as being at the core of an individual being able to describe themselves as a “professional”. Should AIG follow many professional organisations in other disciplines to make undertaking and recording CPD activities a requirement of membership?
Because geoscience is largely unregulated in Australia, essentially anyone can submit a geoscientific report to an employer, client, the public at large, or a government authority. This arguably undermines the practice of professional geoscientists and exposes the public to risks inherent in the misrepresentation and misinterpretation of geoscientific data and observations, not just confined to exploration results and mineral resource reporting. Should Members be encouraged to sign and seal all formal public documents that have been created by them in their professional capacity to employers, clients and the public? Should AIG promote the benefits of only accepting geoscientific reports prepared by members of a professional institute including AIG and AusIMM in Australia, or a Recognised Overseas Professional Organisation?
JORC Competent Person
The JORC Code defines a ‘Competent Person’ as “… a minerals industry professional who is a Member or Fellow of The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, or of the Australian Institute of Geoscientists, or of a ‘Recognised Overseas Professional Organisation’ … and … must have a minimum of five years relevant experience in the style of mineralisation or type of deposit under consideration and in the activity which that person is undertaking.” (JORC 2012) The key qualifier in the definition of a Competent Person are the words ‘relevant experience’. What constitutes relevant experience is left to the judgement of the Competent Person (CP) who must be confident of being able to demonstrate competence to a panel of their peers if called on to do so (convened by the AIG or AusIMM Complaints or Ethics and Standards committees)
Several reviews of JORC reports (AIG JORC Representatives, 2015 and Combes, 2016) have identified frequent shortcomings in:
- Competent Person reports issued in compliance with the JORC Code that range from procedural breaches (e.g. omitting a consent statement by the CP);
- provision of inadequate technical information of substance (e.g. cut-off grades and maximum internal dilution in a drill intercept, physical characteristics of industrial minerals); and, less frequently,
- a lack of market-sensitive technical information (e.g. inadequate, opaque description of mineralisation in “intersections of massive sulphides” without describing the sulphide minerals observed or their respective abundances) which represent a failure to comply with the underlying transparency and materiality provisions of the JORC Code.
Australia, arguably, benefits from a non-prescriptive standard for exploration results, mineral resource and ore reserve information to securities exchanges. This information, particularly for junior companies, is almost invariably market sensitive, making a high standard of compliance with JORC imperative if JORC is to be preserved, rather than replaced by more prescriptive requirements. There appears to be a compelling argument that our JORC reporting skills need improvement.
Should the definition of a Competent Person under JORC be changed to require Registered Professional Geoscientist (RPGeo) status (and Chartered Professional status for AusIMM members) to implement a requirement for CPD and a higher standard of independent peer review of the CP’s relevant experience? A change for Australian geoscientists would bring them into alignment with Canadian geoscientists who already need to be registered with the relevant provincial registration authority (PGeo). This could be seen to be strengthening the access to reciprocal reporting arrangements to the TSX and TSXV, by far the world’s largest sources of exploration and mining investment capital.
Licencing or Registration
Geosciences are one of only a handful of fields of professional practice in Australia where some form of professional registration is not either mandated by government, or effectively essential due to industry imposed requirements (Waltho 2012).
The Professional Issues Subcommittee is concerned that regulation could be imposed on us, as illustrated by recently proposed Commonwealth legislation for Financial Advisors. The Commonwealth government has released an exposure draft of legislation to raise education, training and ethical standards for Financial Advisers, including a Tertiary degree, an entrance exam, mandatory CPD and an enforceable Code of Ethics for public comment and consultation. Geoscience could be considered to have escaped the attention of government regulators due to the limited exposure of the community to the actions of geoscience professionals. This could, however, change rapidly should there be a scandal relating to the share price of an exploration or mining company that could, for example, have wide reaching consequences for both direct and indirect investors. Many Australian’s superannuation investments have exposure to mining shares.
A number of Australian professional institutes are accredited through the Professional Standards Council (PSC) and regulated through State Professional Practice Acts. Information about this organisation is provided at http://www.psc.gov.au/
This accreditation provides limitations on the liabilities of an organisation and its members, and ensures that organisational self-regulation meets the current Australian standards applicable to other comparable professional organisations (such as Engineers Australia).
Accreditation of AIG by the PSC would require AIG to undertake the following (some of which are already within the scope of current activities):
- Both provide and track Continued Professional Development by members
- Maintain an effective complaints handling and disciplinary process for members
- Use of the PSC disclosure statement
- Undertake an annual risk management program review
- Improvements and changes to professional standards
- Insurance cover, claims and business asset monitoring
- Annual audit of members and the provision of an independent certificate
Additionally there is a cost for PSC membership including a one-time fee of $35,000 and an annual levy equivalent to $50 per AIG member.
Should AIG investigate accreditation and regulation through State Professional Practice Acts?
AIG has experienced steady growth over the past 15 years with fee-paying Members doubling to about 2500. AIG’s management, however, continues to be managed by volunteer members with outsourced administrative (back office) support engaged on a contract basis. The Institute has no paid employees. If the above changes are approved, it is proposed that AIG will need to employ appropriately skilled and experienced staff to manage increased requirements for Membership, raising awareness of AIG’s activities and requirements of membership to universities, employers and regulators that will exceed reasonable expectations of volunteers.
The survey has only 9 questions and should take only about 10 minutes to complete. Please consider your responses – your opinions are important to us.
AIG JORC Representatives (2015) – Strengthening the integrity of Public Reports made under the JORC Code– a confidential green paper prepared for the Australian Institute of Geoscientists
Coombes, J. (2016) Scoping Study Review – Discussion Paper presented to JORC
JORC (2012). The Australasian Code for Reporting of Exploration Results, Mineral Resources and Ore Reserves, from http://www.jorc.org/jorc_code.asp
Waltho, A. W. (2012) It’s Time to Think About Professional Registration, from https://www.aig.org.au/its-time-to-think-about-professional-registration/
 To date, professional experience has been assigned greater weighting than education in assessing competence. We cannot, however, rely on the status quo continuing in view of developments overseas.