Big changes ahead for Associate standard

22nd April 2012


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With demand for Associate members rising, IEMA is working to ensure the AIEMA level continues to raise professional competence

Business and industry increasingly tell us that Associate IEMA membership is the minimum level they want from their environment and sustainability professionals. And with more than 9,000 Associate members, almost two-thirds of IEMA’s membership, able to demonstrate their environmental knowledge and understanding, the AIEMA level has a gravitas and a reputation all of its own.

As demands from business have changed, the number of Students, Graduates, Affiliates and non-members wishing to achieve the AIEMA suffix has steadily grown over the past decade.

Current trends indicate that applications and assessments will continue to accelerate as the profession grows and the reputation of Associates spreads further. To ensure the Insitute has the systems, standards and people in place to manage the expected rise in Associate candidates, IEMA has spent the past 12 months working to make some positive changes to the AIEMA programme.

Resetting the standard

As part of this programme, IEMA has appointed a new chief examiner, Helen Manns. The Institute has also worked collaboratively with members, IEMA’s professional standards committee, the AIEMA assessors, approved training providers, businesses and other employers to identify any gaps and to future proof the Associate standard and assessment method.

“The Associate standard is really very robust but essentially, given the speed at which the environment landscape in which environment professionals operate is changing, and having been in place for more than 10 years, it was in need of a revisit and revision,” says Claire Kirk, IEMA’s professional standards manager. “We’ve spent some time revising the standard to ensure it continues to equip Associate members with the knowledge and skills relevant to, and valued by, organisations.”

Manns, who describes her new chief examiner role as one of quality assurance, explains how the changes to the standard and the new assessment route came about: “This all happened as a result of a working group looking at the Associate standard; we put forward recommendations for how we felt it could be improved and serve a better purpose moving forward.”

The structure and content of the Associate standard is largely unaltered, with very little removed. However, several key additions have been made as a result of modernised practice and the wide range of skills now required of an environment professional working in an organisation. Most notably, the additions include the ability to describe the main components of an environmental business case; explain the importance of environmental sustainability across an organisation’s value chain; and improve sustainability through influencing behaviour and implementing change.

From now on, candidates will also be required to be able to collect, analyse and report on environmental information and data, and to describe important ecosystems services in order to successfully pass the Associate assessment, either through independent study or via an approved training provider.

Kirk says the new standard is “driven by IEMA’s skills map”, which was launched in June last year. This is because the skills map is rapidly becoming central to IEMA’s standards, services and training, and ensures consistency.

“We have aligned the Associate standard with the competence requirements outlined in the skills map for individuals fulfilling an ‘operational’ role, making it very simple for anyone wanting to map out the knowledge that they need to achieve the Associate level against the job they are doing or want to do,” she explains.

Kirk is keen to reassure existing AIEMAs – those who have already successfully passed either the open book assessment or an Associate certificate course – that the changes will not affect their qualification.

“The modifications we have made to the AIEMA standard do not take anything away from our 9,000 current Associate members,” she says.

“They have already demonstrated that they have a good level of knowledge and understanding. The revisions do not mean that anyone who is already an AIEMA needs to resit or reapply to maintain their Associate status. All they have to do is renew each year to remain as an Associate member, nothing more.”

A faster, more convenient assessment process

The recommendations from the same Associate working group that instigated the changes to the standard also suggested an overhaul of the assessment method. While the open book assessment (a two-week, 10-question exam) and training route have worked well for many years and allowed several thousand members to become Associates, IEMA recognises that, in an increasingly digital age, it could be more accessible and streamlined.

Members have told us the open book assessment is time-consuming and that it can be a frustrating four-month wait for the results to be distributed. To overcome these issues and to ensure continued fairness, convenience and ease of access, the Institute is introducing a new online examination.

From 1 May 2012, the Associate entry examination will be available online, allowing candidates to take the exam anywhere with an internet connection, at their own convenience.

There will still be two central routes to becoming an IEMA Associate member. Anyone wanting to be taught the principles required to be an Associate member in a learning environment can still take an Associate certificate course from any one of IEMA’s approved training providers.

The online entry exam is open to anyone who feels they have achieved the required level of knowledge independently, and offers them the opportunity to have that know-how assessed.

Candidates for the entry exam will register with the Institute as before and all details and results will be secured in line with the Data Protection Act 1998.

Once they have registered, candidates will be emailed a private link and unique log-in details that will grant access to the examination. Individuals have 28 days from receiving the access details to take the timed 2.5-hour examination, which comprises a series of question-and-answer screens. Users can have complete confidence in the online platform as it captures every letter typed, ensuring that, even in the case of a power or internet connection fault, no answer entered will be lost.

While still requiring the set 80 hours of study, the candidates are not alone in preparing for the exam. IEMA will be providing a solid suite of support, including online materials, pre-recorded presentations, signposting to useful resources and advice from the Institute’s team – specifically from its recently appointed professional development adviser, Victoria Douch.

The online examination also frees candidates from the long duration of the previous process, as it takes just 2.5 hours to complete and, under the guidance of Manns, the results will be available in just six weeks – three months sooner than the old open book assessment, and at no additional cost.

The quicker turnaround is a result of the new assessment method. As exams can now be taken at any time, examiners are able to grade papers in a steady, more manageable stream instead of in three large batches each year.

Through rigorous testing and stringent regulation, IEMA, the professional standards committee, examiners and our trusted online provider have made sure the new entry exam is just as robust as the open book assessment and maintains the standard expected of an Associate member. It is simply a quicker and more convenient method.

As Manns explains: “The centralised exam is very rigorous and I know that it will guarantee that we have equity across all routes.”

More choice

The Associate entry examination will replace the open book assessment at the end of June. So that, from July, anyone wishing to move up to Associate IEMA membership independently – that is, not through a training route – will only be able to do so via the online examination. However, any members wanting to take the open book assessment still have time to make use of this route.

The June round of the open book assessment will run as timetabled and there is still time to register by contacting Tammy Benson on 01522 540069. The number of individuals able to register for the June open book is limited so if that is your preference you are urged to register by 25 May. The choice is yours.

Be one of the first

If you are planning on becoming an Associate member in the coming months without taking a course and want your results quickly then the new Associate entry examination is your best option. If you register with IEMA by 30 April, you will become one of the first people to take the new assessment and you will receive your results in July. A registration form can be downloaded from IEMA's website.

Members will receive further details on the changes later this month and in May, but you can find out more about the Associate standard and the new examination online.

Alternatively, why not contact your professional development adviser, Victoria Douch, on 01522 540069, who will talk you through your Associate assessment and support options and answer any questions.


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