Most consulting engineers need to become a registered or licensed engineer in the state where they work. Once licensed, these engineers are known as “professional engineers” and are permitted to put the designation “PE” after their names. Professional licensure means that the engineer has completed a certain level and type of engineering education and has demonstrated through both professional experience and examination a specific level of competency in a field of engineering. There are four steps to becoming a PE:
- Graduate from an accredited engineering curriculum. (Engineering curricula are accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology [ABET]).
- Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam (FE).
- Obtain four years of engineering experience, although this can vary by state.
- Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam (PPE), once the minimum years of engineering experience have been obtained.
Why would an engineer go through such a rigorous process? It is widely held that the PE license increases opportunities for hiring, promotion, and professional development. This is particularly true in an increasingly global
economy. In addition, there are some positions that can only be held by PEs.
- Only a PE can prepare, sign and seal, and submit engineering plans and drawings to a public authority for approval, or seal engineering work for public and private clients.
- Some states require that individuals teaching engineering or engineering design courses be licensed.
- Consulting engineers or private practitioners find the PE designation to be invaluable in bidding on and securing contracts.
- Some government agencies require that certain higher-level engineers be licensed.
Regardless of whether or not the PE license is a requirement in a specific engineering career path, it is important to keep in mind that if you are among a group of candidates for an open position and each of you is considered to be equally qualified, the one who has a PE license is most likely to be deemed the best choice for the position. That individual has met a standard of excellence that is documented for the employer.
Some engineers think that licensure is not necessary for those involved with industry. However, according to the website Manufacturing.Net, PEs working as plant engineers command higher salaries than their counterparts without licensure.
It is possible in today’s economy that it will become necessary to be licensed in more than one state. Despite some variation, due to local laws and regulations, most states have the same general requirements for licensure. This allows for a process called reciprocity, which means that an engineer can be licensed in more than one state without further examination.
To hold multistate licensure, the standards of each state must equal a minimum standard. It is important to consult the state licensing board in each state in which licensure will be sought, to make sure that all requirements are met. Remember that licensure laws are exclusively under the control of individual state legislatures.
To maintain one’s PE license, continuing education may be required. At this writing, fifteen states require PEs to complete additional education for relicensure. These are called Continuing Professional Competency (CPC) rules. The rules vary from state to state, but, in general, PEs are required to complete fifteen professional development hours (PDHs) per year. These hours can be acquired through different types of activities, including course work, as stipulated by the state. See the Appendix for a list of state examining boards.
Additional information about professional licensure can be obtained from:
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), ncees.org
NCEES list of state licensure boards, ncees.org/licensure/licensing_boards
Professional Publications online resources, ppi2pass.com
American Council of Engineering Companies, acec.org