Chair’s Column, April 2017

Posted on April 13th, 2017

If you are fairly new to air quality, and by that, I mean with less than four or five years’ experience, this column is for you.

We have started an Early Careers Group to help our Associates and less experienced Members develop their skills, and to meet others in the same position. The idea is that the group is organised and run by our members. The first event is scheduled to take place on Thursday 8th June in London, and we have plans to take it on tour to other parts of the country.

I am definitively not in the early career group, having worked in air quality management since 1976 (when I started my PhD on tropospheric ozone). But what I have learnt over the past 40 years is the value of my network. We cannot know all the answers to every problem we come across as air quality practitioners, and Google cannot always provide the answers.

I have drawn on expertise from my network on a number of occasions, and it has proved invaluable. I remember one time needing to assess the impact of a major road on air quality at a new development some 150m below the road (it was in a former quarry). I discussed the issue with Professor Bernard Fisher, my predecessor-but-one as chair of IAQM, and together we came up with a viable solution. I would have struggled without his help, having just joined an engineering practice that worked extensively on land development projects. It was my first major project of this type; having never previously undertaken land development work. These days, most of our members work on such projects, but my early career was different, working on policy at the interface between science and regulation.

Air quality managers in consultancies are generally good at teaching their staff how to undertake an air quality assessment. I suspect most are not so good at teaching their staff the wider issues that enable them to become good consultants. Our guidance requires the use of professional judgement, as it is impossible to cover all our profession’s assessment needs. Much of the time it is easy to make a professional judgement, but there will be projects where this is very difficult. It takes time to development the skills to make good judgements, especially when dealing with an issue you have not come across before.

This is why it is important that you attend as many IAQM and other events as you can, because talking to colleagues from other organisations, developing your network, listening to presentations, and asking questions, will make you a better air quality practitioner. You will broaden your knowledge, and over time develop the ability to make robust and defensible judgements.

A Member once told me that IAQM’s Routes to Clean Air Conference is not relevant to Members’ day-to-day work. I disagree. Members need to understand the wider air quality arena; modelling is just one part of our work, and is generally the easy bit. Understanding the causes of poor air quality, the limitations of new monitoring techniques, the evidence of real world emissions from vehicles, trends in air quality, and the effectiveness of measures to improve urban air quality have all been covered at our recent events. Having a broad knowledge is essential if you are going to become an air quality practitioner able to exercise your judgement in a professional manner. The importance of having a broad knowledge becomes clear when you are dealing with the public, and if you become an expert witness at planning inquiries/hearings or for litigation.

As a member of IAQM you are required to undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD), and record it, ideally using the IES tool. The IAQM have published guidance (pdf) on what IAQM members need to evidence in their CPD submissions.

Each year the IAQM randomly audit 5% of members CPD records (in addition to the 10% IES audit). We rely on our members being truthful and realistic. If your CPD record shows that you are spending a very significant amount mentoring staff, then it is clear that this is a core part of your job and therefore does not count as CPD. Recording that you spend an hour a week reading a short internet news bulletin also seems excessive. These are two real examples from our last audit. Not only should you be accurate, but it is also good practice to update your record as soon as possible after you have attended an event, to enable you to realistically complete the ‘reflections’ section. The IES published an article on how this should be recorded last year.

The IAQM is determined to help individuals build fulfilling and successful careers in the air quality field. Sign up to the first event today to help build your network, skills and CPD record.
Dr Claire Holman, IAQM Chair