NZ Geomechanics News

Professional Engineering Geologist – Body of Knowledge and Skills

1. Introduction

This document defines the core knowledge and skills that a Professional Engineering Geologist (PEngGeol) is expected to have in order to competently investigate, analyse and communicate complex engineering geological issues which may arise as the result of the interaction between geology and the construction of engineering works, as well as to assess geological hazards and develop measures for mitigating them, in New Zealand. This Body of Knowledge and Skills (BOKS) is intended to complement and inform the Professional Engineering Geologist assessment process.

The purpose of this BOKS is to:

  • Define the prerequisite skills and knowledge that are required of a PEngGeol;
  • Provide a framework for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and postgraduate training.

This BOKS has two key parts:

  • The knowledge and skills are listed in the table in section 3. The list is comprehensive, but not exhaustive.
  • The types of complex engineering geological problems and activities that a PEngGeol should be able to carry out are listed in section 4.

A PEngGeol is not expected to have all of the listed knowledge and skills. Rather they will have a broad range of them and in particular those relevant to their practice area. The knowledge and skills will be to a level sufficient to competently carry out the listed engineering geological problems and activities.
Care should be taken when comparing this BOKS to the BOKS for a Chartered Professional Engineer (Geotechnical). This BOKS relates to PEngGeol competence standard, whereas the CPEng (Geotechnical) BOKS relates to the specialist field of geotechnical engineering in the context of the CPEng competence standard, which applies to all areas and disciplines in engineering.

2. Background

Engineering New Zealand expects all Professional Engineering Geologists to:

  • Have a geology degree at honours level or a postgraduate qualification in engineering geology, or be able to demonstrate equivalent knowledge
  • Demonstrate they can assess the nature of the ground in activities requiring specialist and in-depth engineering geological knowledge
  • Demonstrate they can work closely with other engineering professionals to solve (identify, investigate, assess and communicate) complex engineering geological problems.
  • Demonstrate they can work closely with other engineering professionals to convey engineering geological context.

Engineering New Zealand gives sets out these expectations in a competence standard(2), which requires every Professional Engineering Geologist to demonstrate competence in their Practice Area. Competence for PEngGeol focuses on engineering geology practice and analysing complex engineering geological problems to inform land use policy, assessment and specific engineering solutions. The applicant needs to demonstrate that they have the ability, commitment, knowledge and skills to act effectively in each of these situations.

Engineering geologists wishing to register as PEngGeol are expected to demonstrate a breadth of knowledge and skills (refer Section 3) that they are able to apply in a range of situations and localities (refer Section 4). The PEngGeol competence standard comprises twelve elements grouped into four competence areas:

1) Engineering geological knowledge
2) Professional acumen
3) Managing engineering geological work
4) Analysing technical problems

Areas 1 and 4 can be considered the knowledge and skills required by a PEngGeol that distinguish them from those of other Chartered Professional Engineers, although it is acknowledged there is some overlap with CPEng (Geotechnical). Guidance on how Engineering
New Zealand defines complexity is given below:

Complex engineering geological activities means activities or projects that have some or all of the following characteristics:

a.) Diverse resources, e.g. people, money, equipment, materials and technologies;
b.) Recognising, understanding and resolving significant problems when wide-ranging or conflicting engineering, engineering geology and/or other related issues defined by ground conditions interact;
c.) New techniques or processes, or the innovative use of existing techniques or processes.

Complex engineering geological problems means problems that have some or all of the following characteristics:

a.) Wide-ranging or conflicting technical or engineering issues;
b.) Not easily recognised, understood or resolved without in-depth engineering geological knowledge;
c.) Issues infrequently encountered, in an unfamiliar geological setting or requiring an original method of assessment;
d.) Outside practice covered by guidelines, standards and codes of practice for professional engineering geology;
e.) Involvement of diverse groups of stakeholders with a wide range of needs;
f.) Significant consequences in a range of contexts.

Applicants for PEngGeol need to demonstrate their competence for independent practice against the competence standard for their area of expertise. An application typically includes five stages: preparation, validation, evaluation, recommendation and decision. The evidence that is submitted with the application includes their engineering geology qualification, work records, learning records (CPD), referees, Practice Field(s), a description of the Practice Area and a self-review demonstrating competence against the Assessment Criteria. The evaluation includes an interactive assessment including a Lead Assessor and a Practice Area Assessor. They make a recommendation to the Competency Assessment Board which makes a decision regarding the application. There may be a requirement for future reassessment at a pre-defined interval.

3. Knowledge and Skills

In looking to establish a set of knowledge and skills for a PEngGeol, NZGS has defined the knowledge and skills required in order to deliver engineering geology outcomes for the different phases of a project. For a typical engineering/engineering geological project this may be:

  1. Scoping of Engineering Geological input to issues / problem / project;
  2. Review of existing data;
  3. Site or route selection;
  4. Establishment of an initial geological and engineering ground model and assessment of the engineering geological issues that need to be addressed in a project;
  5. Development of engineering geological investigation programmes focussed on addressing these issues;
  6. Performance of engineering geological mapping, geotechnical field investigations and laboratory studies;
  7. Interpretation of geological, geomorphological and hydrogeological conditions and hazards;
  8. Refinement of initial ground model and clear communication of the significance of geological conditions and hazards to other engineering disciplines and related professionals involved in the project;
  9. Development of recommendations related to design, mitigation and construction;
  10. Preparation of engineering geological reports;
  11. Documentation of the geological, geomorphological and hydrogeological conditions and hazards encountered during construction, and interpretation of the implications of those conditions for design or construction progression;
  12. Supervision, inspection and sign-off of the geological, geomorphological and hydrogeological aspects of construction, post-construction and site monitoring;
  13. Awareness and use of key technical documentation, guidance and standards;
  14. Understanding of key building, environmental, resource management and health and safety regulations.

It is recognised that there is some capability overlap with other engineering professionals, in particular with geotechnical engineers. Many projects require the input of an experienced geotechnical engineer due to the type and complexity of the problem and the design issue being addressed.
The following table lists the core capabilities expected of a PEngGeol.

4. Examples of complex engineering geological problems and activities

The PEngGeol competence standard requires an engineering geologist to demonstrate an ability to scope, investigate, analyse and communicate complex engineering geological problems. The engineering geologist uses his or her knowledge and skills to complete these tasks. The NZGS has identified a number of examples of complex engineering geological problems and activities to assist a PEngGeol applicant.

A candidate applying for PEngGeol is expected to demonstrate that they are capable of carrying out all of the following complex engineering geological problems and activities. The candidate does not need to have actually carried out the following problems and activities. Rather the candidate can demonstrate that they are capable of carrying out the problems and activities by drawing on relevant evidence from other problems and activities.

a.) Mapping and characterisation of difficult soils and/or rocks for either infrastructure route selection, land development, dams, tunnels or mines;
b.) Mapping and characterisation of complex soil and rock masses for stability assessment of natural, fill and cut slopes, under static and seismic loadings, and to inform the design of potential mitigation measures;
c.) Mapping and characterisation of a range of ground conditions to inform the design of either IL 2 buildings (as defined by AS/NZS 1170.0; as an example of typology), or bridges, dams and tunnels of comparable importance, on or in a range of foundation types;
d.) Assessment of situations with high risk to life or property where special precautions or expertise are or may be required to identify and assess impacts from geological hazards, for example during a response to an emergency event such as an earthquake
e.) Characterisation and selection of soil and rock construction material for earthworks requiring a range of characteristics and properties.

5. Comments on demonstrating competency

The complex engineering geological problems and activities listed in Section 4 represent a range of projects to which knowledge and skills would be applied by Professional Engineering Geologists working within small, large or specialised organisations.

Applicants are expected to have at least five years’ of practical experience following graduation, with exposure to a range of complex problems and activities, and to have been supervised by and have their work reviewed by a more experienced PEngGeol or CPEng (Geotechnical).
Applicants should also be able to demonstrate that they understand the boundaries of their own knowledge and skills and will actively seek assistance when asked to work outside their competence or level of expertise.

It is acknowledged that applicants will have gained a range of both experience and competency for each complex problem and activity to which they have been exposed. They are likely to have worked as part of a team, in which case they will need to demonstrate they have taken responsibility for a major part of the problem and activity and/or that their experience of complex problems and activities has been spread over more than one project.

Demonstration of competency is likely to be through a combination of:

  • presenting a portfolio of geological models, assessments, reports and drawings;
  • outlining the steps and judgement calls in the investigation, analysis, communication and reporting of specific elements;
  • presenting case studies of project issues encountered, investigated and resolved;
  • demonstrating their contributions, which may include use of referee support as to their roles and outcomes.

It is recognised that there are specialist fields or activities in engineering geology that are not specifically covered by the above BOKS (e.g. geothermal resource development). Engineering geological activities in these fields and activities require much of the same knowledge and skills as listed in the table in Section 3 and may also require working from first principles using their broader understanding of engineering geology and specialist knowledge of geological controls and impacts in their field of activity. It may therefore be possible to meet the PEngGeol BOKS requirements above even though the range of activities differs to a degree from that listed in Section 4.


NZ Geomechanics News, NZGS Guidelines
Geoff Farquhar
NZ Geomechanics News>Issue 99 – June 2020

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