Continuing Education for Professional Engineers
Professional engineers are required to earn continuing education hours as part of their license renewal. This mandatory training is extremely valuable because it helps engineers develop their technical skills, ensures they keep up-to-date with the latest advancements, and maintains the overall competency of the engineering community. This commitment to continuing education has produced an incredible safety record over the past 50 years and helped foster public trust in the engineering profession.
Continue reading to learn more about continuing education requirements for professional engineers.
Why Do Professional Engineers Need Continuing Education?
Although it goes without saying that engineers are lifelong learners, there are plenty of benefits professional engineers gain from mandatory continuing education. Here are just a few.
1. Protecting Public Safety
Engineers are critical to the health, safety, and welfare of the public. They design bridges that don’t collapse, buildings that resist natural disaster, vehicles with brakes that work every time, and computer systems we can trust. Requiring engineers to complete continuing education every year keeps their technical skills sharp, refreshes their knowledge of international standards, and hones their understanding of industry standards and practices. This enhanced level of competency leads to improved public safety.
The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) demonstrates the concept of public safety by asking an important question: Why do professional engineers matter? The answer: Engineers make a difference in the world. Their focus on safety and maintaining high standards is the single most important reason that our infrastructure and buildings are safe and reliable.
This also explains why the public has such a high level of trust and respect for professional engineers.
2. Keeping Up with Latest Developments
Professional engineers complete continuing education courses for a variety of reasons. One important benefit of ongoing training is it allows engineers to keep up with the latest technical and engineering developments.
Continuing education requirements also ensure that engineers know the current safety standards and best practices for their discipline. This is important because it prevents the profession from becoming stagnant – and moving forward has led to the development of new technologies and improvements in safety that we have all come to expect from the engineering profession.
3. Complying with State Regulations
Currently, 42 out of the 50 states require continuing education as part of engineering license renewal. This means engineers must complete training courses, attend technical conferences, or participate in meaningful educational activities. Check state requirements here.
Back in the day, simply being a practicing engineer was sufficient for keeping a license. But the profession has evolved, and engineers must now earn continuing education hours to keep up with the times and remain in good standing.
The regulations differ between states, and many engineers are licensed in several jurisdictions. Having multiple PE licenses requires planning and coordination to ensure all of the required courses are completed prior to the renewal date. Read our article on how to manage continuing education requirements with multiple PE licenses.
4. Maintaining Professional Development
Every profession, including medicine, science, and engineering, requires some level of ongoing skill development and maintenance. This concept, which is known as Continuous Professional Development (CPD), is defined as: “developing, maintaining and documenting professional skills”.
It is important for engineers who are looking to advance their career and stay current on industry standards should participate in continuing education activities.
5. Collaboration and Networking
One of the best benefits of continuing education is the “meet and greet” part. Whether it’s through conferences, trade shows, university classes, or online forums, the networking element of these technical training activities is always there.
People often make new friends, learn what others are up to, explore possibilities of collaboration, and find exciting work opportunities. There’s so much to share when a bunch of engineers get together, especially when they work in the same field. Shoptalk never ends!
6. Exploring New Fields of Interest
Continuing education is a wonderful way to explore other engineering disciplines and technical areas that you are curious about. Many engineers use the CEU requirement as an opportunity to expand their knowledge and understanding of technical matters and grow beyond the confines of their practice.
Straying outside your main field of work not only earns you PDH credits, it also contributes to your professional development and may facilitate a future career move. The multi-disciplinary aspect of knowledge also provides a better understanding of your own work and helps when you work on a large or complicated project.
7. Keeping a Stellar Resume
A professional engineer who is constantly learning new skills and continuing their education is a highly competitive employee. No matter what the economy, there will always be jobs for professionals who learn new things and push themselves to be better engineers. There is no better strategy to enhance your career than constantly learning more about your field of work and increasing your overall competency.
8. Maintaining the Competency of Older Engineers
Technology has been changing at break-neck speeds over the last several decades. And this progression phases out anyone who isn’t willing to keep up.
The older demographic of engineers has enormous experiences and priceless skills. However, they’re the ones most affected by the industry dynamics. Moreover, they often find themselves having to compete with fresh graduates who have updated knowledge and sought-after skills.
It would be a huge loss to see the older engineers sidelined because of their outdated skills and approaches. That’s why continuing education is essential – it ensures that every engineer is competent and relevant.
How To Obtain Professional Development Hours (PDHs)
Engineers earn continuing education credit by attending workshops, participating in seminars and completing online CEU courses through providers such as PDH-Pro. Each course or activity must be technical in nature, relevant to the engineer’s professional work, and prepared by a professional with expertise in the subject area. Courses in ethics and state laws are also accepted by state engineering boards.
Engineers earn CEUs, also referred to as professional development hours (PDH), for every hour of education related activity completed.
Obtaining a specific amount of provable continuing education is necessary for license renewal. The requirements differ from one state board to another, so you have to check the licensing requirements for each license you hold.
There’s a perception that any course and any training can be applied toward the continuing education requirement. Some engineers try to take credit for non-technical and general training such as orientation and safety drills. However, only courses that meet the requirements of the state engineering board can be counted as professional development hours.
Each state has different requirements. However, they all have some general requirements in common.
What Counts as PDH
The following activities can be counted as continuing education credit for PE license renewal. While this is generally true in most states, it’s best to check with the state board to see what applies and what doesn’t.
- Completing a technical, online course related to your field
- Attending engineering and technical conferences
- Attending technical webinars
- Taking an engineering course in a university or institute
- Receiving professional training related to your work
- Teaching a technical college class if you’re not a faculty member
- Teaching an online course
- Publishing a peer-reviewed technical paper related to your profession
- Authoring a published technical article or book in your field of work
- Heading an organization or serving on a committee in an engineering society of technical organization
What Doesn’t Count as PDH
Things get really tricky sometimes, and what you might see as worthy of credit hours, might not be accepted as such. Here are some examples.
- College courses that are not in an engineering discipline or technical
- Math, statistics, and other general studies in BS, MS, and PhD programs
- On the job training
- Refresher and going-back-to-the-basics courses
- Company orientation
- Company policies and procedures training
- Self-improvement and self-development classes
- Liberal arts, business, financial, risk management, and other non-technical classes
- Just being a member of an engineering organization, committee, club, or society
- Attending trade shows, conferences, or conventions without participating in the workshops or lectures
- Repeated courses in the same renewal cycle
- Repeated content under different titles in the same renewal cycle
- First aid, safety, CPR, and similar classes
- Courses that are deemed irrelevant to your field of work or state
You might have noticed that many of the courses and general technical activities we complete are not suitable for engineering CEUs. However, this doesn’t mean they’re not important, or that we should focus solely on what gains the credits. You still need to learn about safety, business studies, and even liberal arts. You can also expand to other technical areas, and that would definitely benefit your career in the short and long run.
How to Choose the Right Continuing Education Courses
Time is the most precious commodity in the world. So if you’re going to dedicate a sizable chunk of time to acquiring new information and learning new skills, this better be good. Here are a few pointers for choosing the right mix of materials for your continuous education.
1. Look for a Return on Investment
There’s a return on investment (ROI) for any training or education you decide to get.
Sometimes the ROI is pretty high if it moves you faster and further on the corporate ladder. It would be nice if it gets you a financial boost. And it would be justifiable if it gets you some influence, prestige, or clout in your circles.
The ROI of education and knowledge is never zero. Benjamin Carson says; “There’s no such thing as useless knowledge. You never know what doors it’s going to open up for you.”. This is so true. However, we still try to maximize our benefits, especially when we put in that much time, effort, and money.
In a nutshell, you get good value if:
- This equation yields a high figure:
ROI (%) = [(Monetary Gains – CE Costs)]/CE Costs x 100
- You can renew your PE license
- You get promoted
- You get noticed in your field
- You feel more confident
- You can solve bigger problems
- You can simplify a process
- You can optimize a process
- You are much better at planning and analysis
- You are picked for leading more complex operations
- You are needed in more than one division/department/field
- You feel excited, engaged, and enthusiastic about work
- You get a new perspective and understanding of your field
- You can teach and train others
- The whole organization benefits from the CE programs of its PEs
2. Going Deeper or Going Wider?
Continuing education could go in one of two directions: vertical or horizontal. Meaning; that you can add more depth to your field of study, or get to know the basics, plus, what lies right outside your field.
In the vertical manner, you’d become a better expert in one application. While in the horizontal approach, you’d have a holistic integrated knowledge. This can also be viewed as being detail-oriented vs. having a big-picture perspective. Both approaches are good and useful. Choose one or the other based on your current work experience and knowledge level.
3. Choose a Dependable Provider
There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of online and physical institutes that offer continuing education for engineers. The platform that you choose needs to be dependable in the sense that it should provide high-quality education plus accredited certificates of completion.
Some professionals prefer reputable universities as their name alone on the certificate is proof of authenticity. The downside of this option is the often long commute, the commitment to a lecture schedule, and the limited subject matter offered.
This is not the case with online courses, which don’t require any commutes at all, are available on-demand, and offer a huge variety of courses. The authenticity part remains in need of verification though. Not all digital platforms are as valuable as others. So you’d have to do some background checks before diving in.
Furthermore, some states only accept proof of PDH from pre-approved providers. You’d need to check that as well.
4. Focus on Your Field of Work
A good point to start is taking a look at your field of work. What are the newest advances in technology, standards, equipment, manufacturing processes, and products? These are all valid subjects you need to know more about.
Maybe there’s a twin field that you’d benefit from understanding better? For example, the way computer architecture, systems design, and programming are often interlinked. Another example is quality assessment, quality control, and total quality management. These are like salt, and they fit in almost any field of work.
Project management is another Jack-of-all-trades, and it’s a rare occurrence that an engineer feels that he or she doesn’t need to study it well. Some people see the ‘management’ part and assume that this might be a little irrelevant for them if they aren’t holding management positions.
This is not very accurate, since project management is just as concerned with the proper planning and execution of their own work, as it is with managing multiple teams in mega projects. In my opinion, project management is a fundamental course for any professional engineer.
Sustainability is also among the common denominators for engineering studies. And it’s not a specialization limited to environmental or architectural engineering. The concept of sustainability is pretty wide and once you get to know it, it can literally change your mode of work. To the better, of course!
5. Are You Thinking About a Career Shift?
Continuing education isn’t beneficial only in developing your knowledge of your current field. You can also broaden your understanding of related fields. This would certainly unlock a myriad of opportunities, and with them, career advancement.
It’s worth mentioning that as of 2018 the number of Big company CEOs with an engineering background became higher than the ones with a business specialization. Elon Musk, Darren Woods, Tim Cook, Jeff Bezos, and many other engineers hold the majority of the top spots of the Fortune 500 companies.
To get there, a good strategy is to study various perspectives of management and leadership. Even if these courses don’t count as worthy of PDH in your state, they’re still valuable assets for your career advancement.
Another option is to expand your knowledge to other interests. If you’re a chemical engineer, you might consider environmental or industrial engineering material. Or, if you’re an electronics engineer, big data and coding might be appealing to you. The world is much wider than we think it is, we just need to explore it with a courageous heart and open mind.
6. Check the Licensing Requirements
This is highly important. As you browse through hundreds of available courses, you might feel a bit overwhelmed. We all do. And a good way to stay get the most benefit is to look for the licensing requirements in your field, rank, position, and State.
The yearly PDH often ranges from 12-15 hours per renewal cycle. Some states would require more or less, and there might be other stipulations regarding the topics covered. It’s best then to check these details as well, and then move on to choosing the courses that fit the bill.
In addition, keep in mind that technical material isn’t the only requirement in PDH. Most states would also stipulate doing some work related to practicing ethics and professional conduct. This might not constitute a huge amount of your studies, but it’s a useful and valuable course.
It’s also mandatory in about 12 states like Texas, New York, Florida, among others. The list is expected to grow, as this is a favorite topic among state boards. A minimum of one credit hour of ethics courses is required, with some states exceeding that to two or three credit hours per renewal cycle.
7. Do You Need Pre-approved Courses and Providers?
Some states only accept courses from pre-approved courses. Currently, this applies in:
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- New York
So if you’re registered in one of these states, then you need to procure a list of the courses that would contribute to your PDH. A few other states might also stipulate working with pre-approved providers, then you have to cover that as well.
While that might seem a bit too specific or limiting, it actually has some merit. It’s a guarantee that the continuing education efforts remain on point. Moreover, it’s a double-check of the quality of knowledge offered and the subsequent assessment methods.
If you’re registered in several states, and you notice that some of the requirements are lenient while others are more stringent, that’s a common occurrence. Most PEs who need to work across states follow the hardest rules of compliance. This way, they’d be easily authorized to work under all licensure demands.
Do Your Own SWOT Analysis
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You might’ve come across this method if you ever studied strategy formulation. While this approach is often presented within the context of business analysis, it should be utilized on an individual level.
We all have strong suites and Achilles heels. And quite often in life, we are faced with unexpected opportunities and setbacks. It’s wise then to be fully aware of what we’re doing best and roll with it, as well as where we need to improve and work on it.
As for opportunities, there’s a trick successful people know well. They often say that good luck is when preparedness meets opportunity. Getting a proposal from a big corp would serve you well if you have the right qualifications. That is to say, if your continuing education covers their areas of interest.
Threats might not very clear at the outset, but there are a bunch of them in almost every industry. The most obvious is being laid off as redundancy when the economy stalls. Only the people with common skill sets can be seen as redeemable losses.
Naval Ravikant said on several occasions that if you have a skill set that someone else can be trained to do, then this job will soon be replaced by AI. That’s why you need to work on developing a skill set that makes you irreplaceable and indispensable.
Another threat could be your unease with public speaking, leading teams, understanding the business side of tech, or any number of work issues that we’re not taught in college. They might not be technical in nature, but they have a huge effect on how we perform in our fields.
These skills are teachable, and they’re often life-changing. Soft skills usually don’t count as PDHs, yet, the clever engineers know that they need to include them in their continuing education programs.
What Are the Available Continuing Education Courses?
Back in the day, universities and academic halls were the only proper places to receive technical education. But the internet changed that model as it changed everything else in our lives. So in addition to the classical ways of learning, there’s a mode of learning that’s gaining popularity among professional engineers, which is online courses.
There’s a wide array of available online continuing education courses for every engineering specialization you can think of. Professional engineers can easily find material that would interest them at various points in their careers. Or that suit specific projects that they’re working on.
Most providers of continuing education courses make sure to include material that counts as PDH. License renewal is an important matter, and the various providers cater to that target. In addition, they also offer general interest courses, and the possibility for professionals to expand their knowledge base as much as they like.
Do You Need to Spend a Fortune to Get Your PDHs?
The price of enrolling in a continuing education course at a college could be quite substantial, depending on the name of the university or institute. Attending conferences, seminars, trade shows, and workshops could also cost a hefty amount. Especially, if you participate in a bunch of them every year.
The online alternatives for classes and conferences are often less costly and much more accessible. The prices vary from one provider to the next, and your own requirements would affect the final amount. But a ballpark figure would be around $200 to get the required PDHs for license renewal.
In other words, you don’t need to spend a fortune on continuing education to get the necessary compliance. And any further investments of time or money can easily show returns in the very near future.
The previous sections demonstrate why continuing education is a must for professional engineers. Besides its necessity for compliance with state board regulations, these courses add a lot of value to an engineer’s career.
The greatest builders of all time were known for their voracious appetites for learning and understanding the world around them. They all sought excellence in their work, and diligently accumulated the knowledge that led them to total mastery.