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Archive for the ‘professional registration’ Category

The announcement of the appointment of members to the Geomatics Council by Gugile Nkwinti, the minister of rural development and land reform, has been broadly welcomed by the geomatics community. A revisit to a paper by former PLATO president, Paul Marshall, entitled “The way forward for PLATO as a statutory body in the transitionary period towards the new SA Geomatics Council” provides some answers as to what lies ahead.

The first meeting of the Geomatics Council needs to take place within 30 days of the 22 May 2015 publication in the Government Gazette, and this date will then be the commencement date of the new Geomatics Profession Act. Members of the Geomatics Council have been appointed for four years as opposed to the previous council term of two years.

The main difference between the new Act and the 1984 Act is that the new Geomatics Council will becontrolled by the minister while the PLATO council was answerable to the minister. The Geomatics Council is required to meet twice a year as opposed to the previous arrangement of once a year, and it will be funded to a much larger extent by the department. The PLATO council was self-funded and was therefore largely independent of state funding. The new Geomatics Council is obliged to honour all existing commitments made by the PLATO Council.

One of the first new responsibilities of the Geomatics Council will be the publishing, within 90 days of its first meeting, of a code of conduct for its members. Until this new code of conduct is drafted and approved by the minister, the existing PLATO rules will remain in place. Should a conflict between the new Act and the existing rules occur, the Act will prevail. Marshall warned in his paper that while this arrangement will alleviate some of the immediate pressure to draft the code of conduct, it could lead to this matter not being treated with the necessary urgency.

The current Education Advisory Committee is likely to remain in place until a suitable Education and Training Committee is established. Marshall advised in his paper that this committee will need suitable and sufficient permanent members, and will need the backing of the minister to properly carry out its functions, especially the two yearly accreditation of qualifications at institutions offering surveying, mine surveying and geo-information science.

The establishment of a continuing professional development (CPD) programme is a specified duty of the new Geomatics Council and as such it will have much more authority when it comes to enforcing participation in the CPD programme.

A major challenge for the new Geomatics Council is that the Geomatics Act provides for the publishing of a recommended tariff of fees.  While this has generally been viewed as a positive development, the drafting of a “One Tariff Fits All” for the geomatics industry was identified by Marshall as being one of the more difficult tasks to be faced by the new Geomatics Council.

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Reading through the submissions at the recent parliamentary public hearings into the Geomatics Profession Bill, it was evident that GISSA, SAGI, IMSSA, and PLATO had common concerns about the somewhat indifferent consultation process, the inadequate defining of the geomatics profession, and the representivity of the new geomatics council.

Most parties making submissions expressed their frustration with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) saying that comments submitted on previous occasions were not acknowledged, no feedback was provided and there was no evidence of the comments having been incorporated into the Bill. Even the parliamentary committee members expressed concern at the apparent lack of consultation. In addition, common complaints were that calls for comments were made over holiday periods with short time periods allocated for responses.

Effective consultation is a two-way process, and it is concerning that insufficient attention has been paid to the consultation process. The lack of consultation is evidenced by the fact that the definition of the geomatics profession is inadequate. Several organisations expressed concern at the over emphasis of land surveying at the expense of other disciplines. Understandably, GISSA expressed concerns about the definition of “geomatics practitioners” being biased towards surveying practitioners, while IMSSA and SAGI expressed concerns about the Bill failing to adequately describe the other geomatics disciplines such as mine surveyors and engineering surveyors.

Land surveyors are just one element of the equation making up the geomatics profession and it is very concerning to see that despite there being several periods where comments have been invited, the Geomatics Profession Bill has still not adequately dealt with the matter of defining the various disciplines within the geomatics profession.

Understandably, the inadequate definition of the geomatics profession has in turn led to concerns regarding the make-up of the new geomatics council. Complaints were made about the disproportionate representation of professional land surveyors on the council and several parties requested that the new council needs to be representative of the different disciplines making up the profession.

What is wrong with the suggestion that the recognised voluntary associations be allowed to nominate representatives to the new geomatics council? Who better to understand the challenges being faced by the various disciplines, than the very geomatics professionals involved in those disciplines.

Pleasing everyone who has provided commentary on the Geomatics Profession Bill is obviously not going to be possible. At the very least, however, it is important to address the issues of being truly consultative, drawing up an inclusive definition of geomatics professionals, and ensuring that the new council is representative of the various disciplines that it will be representing.

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During the course of this year, it has been interesting to hear people debating the need to keep the geospatial professions relevant and to heighten their perceived value to a range of key players in the private and government sectors.

It is increasingly clear that surveyors’ specialised and hard-earned measurement skills are under threat as surveying  tools become simultaneously easier to use and increasingly accurate. At the recent Institute of Mine Surveyors of South Africa Conference, mine surveyors were advised to counter this trend towards “push-button” technology by carving out a special role for themselves as geodata managers and to identify how they can use their specialised surveying skills to contribute to their organisations’ productivity, safety and efficiency. Land surveyors have also been cautioned against allowing themselves to be marginalised. Karl van Rensburg has encouraged land surveyors to counter this trend by providing a more complete service to their clients and by getting more involved in pre- and post-survey activities (see September, October and Nov/Dec issues of PositionIT).

Technology waits for no man, and surveyors need to look towards this future, identify the business opportunities therein, and grasp them with both hands. Not to be left out in the cold, people working in the GIS field also need to be looking to the future and the implications of technological advances in their sphere of specialisation. They too need to identify ways to offer more value to their organisations and/or clients. As geospatial software and equipment becomes increasingly user-friendly, people who are able to analyse geospatial data and use it for the benefit of their organisations and/or clients, are the ones who will have the most relevance in the workplace of the future.

GIS practitioners need to assess their skills and ask themselves whether there is going to be a need for their skills in the future work place.  Are they simply going to be users of software and equipment or are they going to be the experts who know how to use geospatial data to build our economy and society? Clearly there is a lot at stake and participants in the geospatial sector, whether surveyors or GIS practitioners, need to be paying serious attention to their individual identity as professionals and the status of their profession as a whole.

Following this line of thinking, I would like to encourage people to actively participate in PLATO’s CPD programme. I realise that many people working in the geospatial sector are rattled by the new programme and its requirements. However, a  closer look at the rules will reveal that the conditions are not too onerous. True the need to comply with the CPD programme has come at a time when many people are feeling overcommitted and financially constrained, however, with some strategic planning one should be able to meet the requirements of the programme, while improving one’s skills, keeping up-to-date with new technologies, networking with colleagues and identifying new business or job opportunities.

People who are not registered with PLATO should not let this hold them back from participating in the various CPD-approved activities. After all participation in industry platforms and associations is an investment in yourself.

 

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Tensions were high at the NSIF and GISSA workshop dealing with Geo-information Science (GISc) professional registration held in Pretoria earlier this month. It was very clear that there is a lot of disgruntlement with the PLATO registration process and the PLATO GISc professional academic model.

The main source of dissatisfaction with professional registration arises from the fact that Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD), implemented in 2009, has put many government employees working in the GISc sector in a difficult position. They cannot be promoted or apply for new jobs within government unless they are registered with PLATO. Consequently there is a rush on for them to register and only now are they being exposed to the rigorous requirements of professional registration, including the appropriateness of their qualifications.

The concern of the majority of the people attending the workshop was their inability to see a place for themselves within the professional GISc academic model proposed by PLATO. It would appear that the majority of people in attendance at the workshop were individuals who had qualified in geography and/or the natural sciences and were not able to fulfill the fundamental subject requirements such as maths and science while others were lacking core subject areas such as information technology and geographical information science that are essential requirements in the PLATO GISc professional academic model.

As Heinrich du Plessis explained on behalf of PLATO, the GISc professional model was based on extensive consultations with the GIS industry, starting back in 2003, and by examining professional registration requirements elsewhere in the world. And as technology continues to advance, it is increasingly evident that maths and science are key subjects for people wishing to progress in the GISc field. Ignoring this fact will be detrimental to the profession in the long run.

Du Plessis used the registration process for a Professional GISc Practitioner to illustrate the correct procedure to apply for registration and the subsequent assessment procedure was explained to illustrate the importance of submitting the correct information. Perhaps it would have helped matters if the workshop had explored the other avenues for GIS registration via PLATO i.e. that of GIS Technicians and GIS Technologists. These are respectable options and will in many cases assist with fulfilling the immediate requirements of OSD.

There is also clearly a problem with the PLATO registration process itself. Participants were very vocal about their unhappiness with the lack of communication from PLATO regarding the status of their applications. However, as explained by the panelists, PLATO has limited resources and relies on voluntary support from competent members in the industry. It is also struggling to cope with the volume of applications arising as a result of OSD implementation. The long delays when additional or outstanding information is requested from applicants, also impacts on the turnaround times of applications.

In conclusion, people need to explore the various registration options and establish what works best for their particular situation. However, it is important to note that the onus is on people working in the GISc sector to strive to achieve the highest qualifications and not on the professional body to lower the standards to accommodate everyone. In the end professional registration is about quality, standards and protecting the interests of the public.

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The introduction of Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) by government for various occupations involved in the public service, including that of GIS,  will bring with it benefits to South Africa’s GIS profession. Once implemented OSD will put in place proper career pathing models for GIS professionals working in the public service and provide for dual career paths in terms of which GIS professionals and specialists can progress to levels where they earn salaries that are equal to or higher than that of managers without moving into management or supervisory posts.

The catch is that to benefit from OSD, public service GIS employees will be required to register with Plato, the professional statutory body for surveying and GIS. This is good news for what is a relatively new profession as compared to the more traditional professions of doctor and lawyer.

Increasing the numbers of registered GIS professionals in South Africa will help to raise the status of GIS within both the public and private sectors and help increase the influence of  GIS professionals within their own organisations. Only GIS professionals truly understand the tremendous capabilities of GIS and the power that it has to enhance planning and service delivery levels across all spheres of government. That the business world is catching on to the combined power of location and business intelligence testifies to the power of GIS in enabling efficient planning and implementation of projects.

Individuals already registered or involved in the process of registering with Plato, must be congratulating themselves on having made the effort to register when there was no reason compelling them to do so. Individuals who have not yet registered with Plato may find the idea of going through the registration process rather daunting, but the end result – becoming a registered GIS practitioner – can only bring benefit. Many GIS tenders and job advertisements now call for applicants to be professionally registered and being registered with Plato makes one eligible to apply for these opportunities instead of missing out.

GIS is a relatively new profession but individuals working in this arena have to make an effort to keep up with software developments and industry trends if they want to keep at the forefront of GIS. People who will need to further their studies to facilitate registration with Plato need to bear this is mind and adopt the mindset that improving their career prospects will enable them to develop career paths in a range of organisations.

GIS technology is advancing all the time and individuals resisting the opportunity to improve their skills must seriously ask themselves what they are doing in this profession. Technology waits for no man, GIS professionals included.

South Africa needs skilled workers and any initiative that encourages people working in the geographic information sciences to develop their skills and attain professional status needs to be embraced.

 

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