Developing Standards Professionals
A Report on the 2014 ICES Conference
In forming the group that would become the International Cooperation for Education about Standardization, or ICES, John Hill, standards manager at Sun Microsystems, said, "Companies as well as standards bodies need well-educated standardization experts. Standardization processes should keep up with the times. Who will progress the theory and practice of standardization? Will universities provide us with such people? My dream is that we cooperate to promote education about standardization and manage its realization." Since 2006, ICES has joined academic institutions and standards organizations to help make that dream a reality.
The International Cooperation for Education about Standardization, known as ICES, held its ninth annual conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on August 14. ICES conducts yearly conferences to promote and support the development of standardization education worldwide, and more specifically to support workshop participants in developing educational material about standardization.
The conference theme this year focused on education about standardization throughout a professional's career and was held in conjunction with the annual conference of SES, the Society of Standards Professionals, and the annual World Standards Cooperation Academia Day. More than 75 participants from 15 countries attended the ICES event.
The three main sections of the conference included a contributed papers panel and panels offering the perspectives of young professionals and students, and senior and mid-career viewpoints. In addition, the participants heard opening remarks from conference host John Walter, CEO, Standards Council of Canada and keynote speaker Bonnie Rose, president, standards, CSA Group. A networking session was also held after the main conference, during which contributed posters were viewed and discussed.
Of the 10 papers submitted, ICES reviewers selected papers from authors in Canada, China, Japan, the Netherlands and the United States for presentation. Although presenters agreed that many different types of "standards professionals" exist, and approaches to education about standardization varies, there does not seem to be consensus as to what extent a professional society should function in defining credentials within the field of standardization. "Developing standards for the profession," as one writer couched it, could create an exclusivity that detracts from the requirement of international standardizing bodies to remain open on a nondiscriminatory basis, regardless of experience level. Participants agreed that the credentialing of standards professionals is an interesting topic to be considered carefully in the future.
During their panel, the young professionals discussed their first introduction to standards and how they have enhanced their skills and knowledge in the field to meet employer expectations. This provocative discussion provided interesting insights into the challenges the standards industry has for educating up-and-coming professionals.
Without fail, each of the presenters explained that they "fell into" their job in standards rather than looking for such a position. One presenter even remarked that upon researching a job opportunity at a standards organization he could not find a job description on the Web for a "standards professional." Another speaker commented that once he started participating on a committee, he discovered that "standards development is more than coming up with the best technology; it involves a whole eco-system of decision making." Suggestions for what could have helped, or did help early on in their careers, included learning strategies for building consensus, use of their university's capstone project to incorporate standards, and mentorship by existing standards professionals. Attendees were urged not to underestimate the skill set of new employees. Recruiting new developers should focus on the benefits of being at the standards table when decisions are made.
The panelists from the senior and mid-career group discussed career opportunities and challenges in standardization, many of which matched the challenges facing younger professionals. One presenter noted that the biggest hurdle in his career was convincing upper level management that participation in standards development was of value to the company. One suggested solution was to apply standards education to society as a whole at all levels. Another interesting observation was that important leadership skills are learned at the standards table, but that seasoned professionals already with those skills under their belt can have an advantage over their standards peers.
Poster presentations were displayed at a networking session after the main conference event, and ASTM International staff took the opportunity to present information about the ASTM Leadership Connection (www.astm.org/LEADERSHIP). Through this program, launched in 2013, ASTM has promoted the fact that participation in standards development provides one of the richest professional development and learning environments found anywhere. Conference participants agreed that the resources ASTM provides as part of the Leadership Connection initiative matched well with the conference theme.
The next ICES conference is scheduled for Incheon, Korea, in April 2015.James Olshefsky is director of external relations, global cooperation, at ASTM International.