PEO CEO/Registrar shares insights on her career and future goals

Jennifer QuagliettaIn a world where science and passion converge, Jennifer Quaglietta (ChemE 0T5 + PEY + MEY + Skoll) emerges as a true leader, reshaping the landscape of engineering and inspiring a new generation of professionals. As the new CEO/Registrar of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), her visionary leadership transcends the conventional boundaries of her chemical engineering background. In a recent interview, she offered insights into her journey, from her early “tinkering” days to her unorthodox ChemE path that led her to the helm of one of Ontario’s most esteemed regulatory bodies. With determination and a focus on empowering engineers, Jennifer envisions a future where collaboration and innovation flourish, propelling the engineering community into a stronger, more sustainable tomorrow. As she paves the way for a dynamic era of engineering, she invites all stakeholders to unite and seize the privilege of self-regulation, shaping a profession that not only safeguards the public but sparks boundless possibilities for generations to come. The stage is set for an extraordinary transformation, and Jennifer Quaglietta stands poised at the vanguard, ready to lead the charge.

What led to your decision to study chemical engineering?

As a child, I always enjoyed ‘tinkering’ and had a passion for science and math. Chemical engineering offered a program in which I could combine the application of science and math with the hopes of applying it to a career that would enable me to improve people’s lives.

What led you to choose chemical engineering at U of T?

It’s a highly regarded program that offers multiple options for specialization and a unique experience for co-op, the 16-month Professional Experience Year (PEY) program.

Describe your ChemE journey?

My journey was likely different than most others. I am a ChemE 0T5 + PEY + MEY + Skoll. I chose many of my electives in the biomedical engineering program and spent my PEY working at Apotex, a pharmaceutical company. After unsuccessfully applying for medical school, I took some time to refocus and re-plan. I then applied and gained acceptance to the Jeffrey Skoll Program. I completed my Management Experience Year (MEY) at the Bank of Montreal and entered the Rotman School of Management to complete my MBA in parallel. It was an incredible experience.

What was your most memorable ChemE/Skule moment?

I don’t think I have one memorable moment, but rather many. I will forever remember the day-long labs that kept many ChemE students captive for long hours in the Wallberg Building. Professor Paul Jowlabar’s Chemical Engineering Lab was one of my favourites!

Describe your career path after graduating, including major career milestones.

I have dedicated over 20 years in the public and private sectors to advance health outcomes, safety, and quality in healthcare. I have worked in pharma, government, acute care and insurance, and now, the regulatory sector.

What advice would you give to current ChemE students?

Enjoy the academic journey and be open to a world of opportunities. Engineers work across all sectors and in a large variety of roles.

As the CEO/Registrar at PEO, what do you see as your primary goals and priorities for the organization in the coming years?

I am humbled and honoured to have been named PEO’s new CEO/Registrar. As PEO’s new leader, I will lean on my experience both as an applicant and as a licence holder as I collaborate with PEO staff, volunteers, stakeholders, and Council on furthering PEO’s aim to be a professional, modern regulator that delivers on its statutory mandate to protect the public interest. As CEO/Registrar, I support the goals and objectives defined by PEO’s Council in our 2023-2025 Strategic Plan – what I call our North Star – and the targets set out in the operational plan devised by staff. The four strategic goals guiding PEO’s focus for the next three years emphasize modernizing processes, optimizing organizational performance, improving governance, and creating a vision for PEO that generates value for all stakeholders. Specifically, our strategic plan commits PEO to:

  • Enhancing the application process to make sure it is fair, transparent, accessible and efficient, maintains competency, and complies with the Fair Access to Regulated Professions and Compulsory Trades Act (FARPACTA);
  • Reviewing licensing business processes and incorporating changes to improve efficiency without sacrificing public safety or security; and
  • Ensuring all licensing activities reflect the values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

And of course I support PEO staff who are hard at work on numerous major projects, including the launch of PEO’s mandatory continuing professional development program for its approximately 90,000 licence holders earlier this year, as well as implementing changes to the application and licensing system to comply with requirements under FARPACTA.

Given the rapidly changing technological landscape, what strategies do you believe are necessary to ensure that professional engineers are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in their careers?

To ensure professional engineers are equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in their careers, it is important to adopt strategies such as:

  • Continuous learning: Engineers need to embrace a mindset of lifelong learning to keep up with the rapidly changing technological landscape. They should actively seek opportunities to upgrade their skills, stay updated with the latest advancements, and explore new technologies and methodologies.
  • Professional development programs: Organizations should provide regular professional development programs, workshops, and training sessions to help engineers enhance their technical expertise and stay abreast of industry trends. These programs can be conducted internally or externally and can cover a wide range of topics such as emerging technologies, project management, leadership skills, and interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • Collaboration and networking: Encouraging engineers to collaborate and network with their peers, both within and outside their organizations, can foster knowledge sharing and exposure to different perspectives. Participating in professional societies, attending conferences, and engaging in online communities can help engineers expand their knowledge base and stay connected with the broader engineering community.
  • Practical experience and projects: Providing engineers with opportunities to work on challenging projects and gain hands-on experience is crucial. Engaging in real-world problem-solving helps engineers develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills. Organizations can create a supportive environment that encourages engineers to take on diverse projects and encourages innovation and experimentation.
  • Adaptability and flexibility: Engineers should develop adaptability and flexibility to navigate the evolving technological landscape. This includes being open to learning new tools and technologies, embracing interdisciplinary approaches, and being willing to step outside their comfort zones. Adaptable engineers can quickly adjust to changing requirements and contribute effectively to their organizations.
  • Soft skills development: In addition to technical skills, engineers should also focus on developing soft skills such as communication, teamwork, leadership, and project management. Strong interpersonal skills and the ability to work collaboratively are essential for engineers to effectively communicate ideas, lead teams, and manage complex projects.
  • Ethical and social awareness: As technology continues to shape society, engineers need to be aware of the ethical implications of their work. Understanding the social and environmental impact of technology and considering ethical considerations is crucial. Organizations should encourage engineers to develop a broader awareness of the societal implications of their work and provide guidance on ethical decision-making.

By adopting these strategies, professional engineers can stay ahead in their careers, adapt to the changing technological landscape, and contribute effectively to the advancement of their field.

How do you plan to engage with and address the concerns of younger generations of engineers, who may have different expectations and priorities when it comes to their professional development and career paths?

Engaging with and addressing the concerns of younger generations of engineers requires understanding their unique expectations and priorities. We need their support to foster innovation, drive change, and foster a thriving economy. An important part of PEO’s work involves stakeholder engagement undertaken by our External Relations department. As Ontario’s engineering regulator, PEO engages directly with its licence and certificate holders.

How do you envision the role of PEO evolving in the future, and what steps do you plan to take to position the organization for long-term success?

PEO Council, committees, and staff began the background work to ensure PEO is balancing its regulatory mandate and has a licensing process that is effective and measurable yet fair and inclusive. It is a commitment I share as I lead PEO into its second century of engineering regulation. Beyond working together on our strategic goals and major projects, my focus is on our people.

As we work towards our strategic objectives, my biggest challenge will be ensuring staff well-being, particularly when we have several large transformative projects to deliver. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement refers to joy in work and workforce well-being in a 2017 whitepaper that concluded the same issues that drive burnout also diminish joy in work, and by identifying and addressing those issues they could ensure the nurturing of their workforce. The goal is to enable staff to thrive, not just persevere. We will focus on bringing joy to work and ensure staff feel engaged and empowered and see themselves in the vision as they work to deliver the strategy. As CEO/Registrar, it is my job to ensure PEO maintains a positive work environment. Our executive leadership team – including me – must employ empathetic leadership. I take this to heart. PEO’s focus has shifted its social and corporate responsibility to focus on equity, diversity, inclusion, belonging, and accessibility. The organization has actively been working towards this in several ways, including the establishment of PEO’s Anti-Racism and Equity Code last year.

Our ability to be agile is also important. To be truly agile, fostering an atmosphere of continual improvement is essential – as are having clear goals. Innovation, creativity, and agility go hand in hand. At PEO, we are starting to bring a design-thinking approach to projects that will help us support our teams and our strategic objectives. Charles Kettering, an accomplished inventor, engineer and businessman, famously said, “If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.” We’re going to keep our ears to the ground.

As I support Council’s work to realize the goals of our strategic plan, I also look forward to working with our new president, Roydon Fraser, PhD, P.Eng., to help him and Council define a vision for PEO. I hope to facilitate meaningful dialogue with licence holders and our stakeholders to help them see value and relevance in PEO. Their engagement is essential. We have an opportunity to get feedback from our nearly 90,000 licence holders. In fact, at my recent fireside chat with Ontario Society of Professional Engineers CEO Sandro Perruzza, I posed the question: How can we better leverage their expertise to become a truly modern regulator? As the country’s largest engineering regulator, I would like to see PEO positioned as a regulatory leader at the forefront of modern-day engineering regulation. I think we can get there – but our staff, Council, and volunteers must continue to build together.

As someone who has achieved significant professional success in the field of engineering, what advice would you offer to students and young professionals who are just starting out in their careers?

Building a successful career takes time, dedication, and perseverance. Stay focused, stay curious, and never stop learning. Here are some tips to consider for students and young professionals beginning their engineering careers:

  • Set clear goals: Define your career objectives and establish short- and long-term goals. Having a clear direction will help you stay focused and motivated.
  • Gain practical experience: Seek internships, co-op programs or entry-level positions to gain hands-on experience in your field. Practical experience will complement your academic knowledge and make you more marketable to employers.
  • Continuously learn and adapt: Engineering is a rapidly evolving field with continually emerging disciplines. Stay updated on the latest advancements and technologies. Pursue continuous learning opportunities through workshops, seminars, online courses or advanced degrees.
  • Build a strong foundation: Master fundamental concepts and principles of your engineering discipline. These will serve as a solid base for your professional growth.
  • Develop technical and soft skills: Apart from technical knowledge, develop your communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and leadership skills. These skills are highly valued in the workplace and will set you apart from others.
  • Seek mentorship: Find experienced professionals who can guide and mentor you throughout your career journey. Mentors can provide valuable insights, advice, and support based on their experiences.
  • Build networks: Seek licensure, engage with professional organizations, join engineering societies, attend industry conferences, and participate in networking events. Building a solid professional network will expose you to different perspectives, reveal opportunities, and keep you connected with industry trends.
  • Embrace challenges: Take on challenging projects or assignments – embrace them as opportunities for growth and learning. Take initiative, show enthusiasm and be proactive in seeking new responsibilities.
  • Be adaptable: Engineering is dynamic, and new technologies and methodologies emerge frequently. Embrace change, adapt to evolving circumstances, and be willing to learn and explore different areas within your field.
  • Maintain a work-life balance: While dedicating time and effort to your career is important, it’s equally essential to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Take care of your physical and mental well-being, pursue hobbies, and spend time with family and friends. Fill your cup and recharge.

How do you plan to work with other organizations and stakeholders in the engineering community (including ChemE) to promote collaboration and knowledge sharing and to advance the profession as a whole?

We created our External Relations department to develop a strategic approach to stakeholder relations. That approach ensures that regular, coordinated and meaningful engagement is maintained with government, co-regulatory bodies, licence holders, and others to build PEO policies, practices, and strategic initiatives. Our External Relations team has started to discuss priority issues with key stakeholders. Engagement initiatives like this build ongoing, two-way communication with our stakeholders, and identify and address gaps or potential risks to our operations.

The work of our External Relations function aligns with that of our Governance department, and the documented input will support deliberations on several relevant matters. Our Communications department will use the feedback to strengthen our messaging to all stakeholders. Ultimately, our engagement efforts will help to ensure PEO continuously delivers and communicates well-considered and credible regulatory outcomes that align with its mandate to protect the public interest while maintaining public confidence.

Finally, what message would you like to convey to the broader engineering community in Ontario, and how can we work together to build a stronger and more sustainable future for the profession?

Stay informed and get involved in your profession. Self-regulation is a privilege. When the province granted professional engineers the right to self-regulate on June 14, 1922, it placed tremendous trust in Ontario’s professional engineers to protect the public interest. Your voice matters. Seek licensure, and vote in PEO’s Council elections. By voting, you’re doing your part to ensure that we, as professional engineers, are in a strong position to continue regulating our profession to protect the public interest and promote the integrity of professional engineering in Ontario. Better yet, run for Council in PEO’s annual elections – councillors help shape the engineering profession for years to come.