Published on

Life of Canadian PI by Ethel Clemente Fernandez

It’s not all about making more

By Ethel Clemente Fernandez

    Graduation 1988
Graduation, 1988
  Passing the Board Exams, 1990
Passing the board exams, 1990
  Philippines departure 1995
Leaving the Philippines, 1995
  APEGM 2013
Members of APEGM 2013 (l-r) Rodel Hernandez, Mario Dueñas, Edgar Duroni & James Jadormio

If you were already working at an industry-leading company, earning a salary equivalent to a pay grade of P. Eng. Level 1 and aging gracefully, would you still go back to school to pursue an engineering profession? Curiously, five out seven acquaintances I’ve asked said no. Reasons range from being too old to being already financially stable.

Rodel Hernandez had the same set of reasoning for a while. Hence, it took him a full nine years to finally take the plunge into a sea of books and ride the waves of mental, physical and financial challenges.

Flashback to year the 1988 when Rodel graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology. He always dreamt of becoming a lawyer, but decided to take Electrical Engineering instead because, most of his high school friends are leaning towards engineering and the field of engineering was available near his hometown at the time.

As most engineering graduates, his first job was not as an engineer, but as an electrician at Metro-LRT (Light Rail Transit) Line 1 in Manila. He took this job as a stepping-stone to an engineering career while being able to financially support his parents and siblings.

He got his professional electrical engineer license in 1990 when he successfully passed the Philippines board exam. Even with that license, it still took him years to gain employment as a junior engineer at a manufacturing industry in the province of Cavite, finally succeeding after competing with hundreds of candidates in every application. With hard work and impressive performance, he worked his way up to the senior engineer position and was put in charge of the Electrical Section/ Maintenance Department.

He never once thought of immigrating to Canada, as he had a good job back in the Philippines that could provide a comfortable life for his family. In 1990, his wife joined her family here in Winnipeg and gave birth to their first daughter. They kept in touch over the years by mail, as there was no Internet back then. It was not until he heard his daughter’s request to accompany her to school, that he finally decided to join them in 1995.

In immigrating to Canada, he realized he needed to start from scratch and first worked as a technician at Energy Systems Ltd at St. Boniface Industrial Park, for three months. He then held several jobs, until he was laid off. But instead of taking a backseat, he took this opportunity to accept a provincial educational sponsorship and studied Electrical Engineering Technology at Red River College. With only one income source from his wife’s part-time seasonal job, by the time he completed the course and earned his diploma, they were $20,000 in debt. The diploma, however, paved the way for a lucrative job offer at Manitoba Hydro as Technologist 1. Over the years, he took various jobs there, which include, Test Technologist, Electrical Technologist, Technical Assistant 1, 2 & 3, Technical Officer 1 & 2.

With engineering still in the back of his mind, he initially contacted the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists in the Province of Manitoba (APEGM) in 2001, however, at the time, he was not ready to go back to school yet.

He gave it another thought in 2009, when his supervisor encouraged him to get a P. Eng. designation. He was not entirely convinced yet again as dreadful thoughts of dealing with books, classrooms and a backpack at his age clouded his mind.

It took another year for him to finally decide to pursue an engineering course in power systems, initially as part of a Professional Development Plan discussed in his annual performance appraisal. He contacted APEGM again for assessment of credentials, this time with more enthusiasm, but more grey hair. When the assessment result came, he was given several options to fulfill APEGM’s academic credentials requirements.

As his priority was to provide for his family, he chose courses-in-lieu of technical examinations option. His plan was supported by his employer and agreed to pay his tuition fees and books, as long as the grades were C or better. The agreement also included employee retention clauses, where plan and scheduling were outlined. He had to maintain a full time work schedule, while taking part time studies at the University of Manitoba (U of M). That means making up for lost time while in school.

He knew that taking this option equates to a plethora of challenges, which included keeping up with new methods and technologies, complexity and availability of courses, not to mention the added pressure to perform in a larger capacity at work. There were discouraging and low times, but with his family’s support and understanding, he completed the required courses and was academically qualified in a span of three years.

He was finally registered as an Engineer-in-Training (EIT) in 2013. While typically, EITs would take four years to get a Professional Engineer (P.Eng.) designation due to a four-year engineering work experience requirement, Rodel got his professional designation in that same year.

After being with Manitoba Hydro for over 13 years, Rodel Hernandez, P. Eng., now works as a Power Quality Engineer – his fourth engineering job position in two years, having also been involved in System Planning, Capital Budget Planning and Generation Maintenance Engineering (GME).

Successful at hurdling challenges, Rodel encourages PIs who are thinking of going through or currently in the process, to continue to persevere.

“I know it looks tough at the beginning and seemed at times intimidating. Eventually though, like many of us that went through the process; you will find success at the end. There’s a famous quote that states: ‘A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.’

I hope that my story help inspire our fellow professionals to instil hope and desire to improve themselves. If we can elevate the profession within our community, and as a group, we are also elevating ourselves with a renewed tradition of excellence in the field of engineering in this part of the world. May God bless us all in all of our endeavours.”

Rodel may not have gained much from an economic standpoint with his P. Eng. designation, but he had gained more than what he could ask for with a boost in his image and recognition from colleagues. Indeed, the plethora of challenges morphed to a plethora of career advancement opportunities.

Ethel Clemente Fernandez is a registered member of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of the Province of Manitoba (APEGM). She currently works for a federal crown corporation and is serving on the Executive Committee of the Filipino Members Chapter (FMC) - APEGM. For inquiries, please e-mail