Are You Considering PE Licensure?
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One of the best ways to identify yourself as a professional is to get licensed and maintain it. The reasons are straightforward:
Becoming a licensed professional engineer is the key to your success and potential for employment in the field. It also signals your skills and knowledge to others. Professional engineering licensure is universally accepted by the professional, consumer, and regulatory communities as a standard and assurance of quality, skill, integrity, expertise, and commitment to one’s trade. When it comes to earning a PE license, you’ll find many personal and professional benefits and advantages.
Licensure isn’t just a prudent move for engineers… it’s actually a must-have in today’s job marketplace. Let’s explore the reasons why!
Becoming a Licensed Engineer Is Crucial to Your Professional Career
For professional engineers, there are many areas of everyday job practices where having a license is crucial, and this is true when it comes to both getting a job and doing that job efficiently. Here are some examples:
- You must be a licensed engineer to prepare, seal, sign, and submit drawings and plans to public authorities and private clients for approval.
- Whether you’re a principal consulting engineer or an employee, anyone in charge of engineering work is legally required to be licensed.
- The national trend among institutions of all niches, including government, military, educational, and private sectors, is to have policies that require hiring and contracting only licensed professional engineers, which means that it is increasingly difficult to find quality engineering work without a license.
As you can see, it doesn’t matter what career path you’re on as an engineer; being successful starts with getting your PE license. Can you imagine hiring a doctor without a medical license, entrusting your legal issues to an unlicensed lawyer, or handing your finances over to accountant who’s not a CPA? Those entrusting their projects to an unlicensed engineer would probably feel the same.
In today’s professional world, licensure largely serves as a measure for all entities involved to feel assured that the person at work has mastered the critical elements necessary to get the job done correctly. On your part, getting your PE license demonstrates your commitment to that standard. It also offers proof that you’re legally able to offer your lead engineering services directly for public consumption.
Becoming a PE Is Advantageous To Your Career and Personal Goals
Sure, you may still find opportunities for employment as an unlicensed engineer. But these opportunities can be compared to a door that is only slightly ajar. Work may still be available, but finding and getting that job is more likely to be a long and tedious process.
Consider how that opportunity will serve your career goals and correlate with your personal and financial goals. Wouldn’t you rather have the advantages of becoming a PE on your side? Becoming a licensed engineer can mean the difference between a door of employment that is slightly ajar, and one that is wide open. Let’s look at some of the advantages and explore how they can improve your potential as a PE.
- Job Opportunities
As mentioned above, there are many job opportunities only available to licensed professional engineers, such as working as an engineering teacher or for almost any government agency. Don’t let your lack of a PE license prevent you from seeking higher-level engineering positions.
- Professional Advancement
Licensure is the most important feature of your resume. With PE behind your name, your professional stature rises. Clients and employers will see that you’re equal parts dedicated, a leader, management material, and ready to rise to the demands of authority and responsibility within the position you’re applying to fill. If you want to rise in the ranks of engineering jobs, you’ll need the PE behind your name.
- Respect & Trust
Earning your PE license signals that you’ve taken the time and effort to excel within your chosen profession. This inevitably earns you the respect and trust of clients, employers, engineering peers, engineering professional agencies, and the various communities of professionals that work alongside engineers.
Licensure can also help bridge the relationship between you, the engineer, and other licensed professionals in an increasingly diverse world of modern processes, techniques, and applications on job sites that require efficient and effective communication and collaboration between the design parties.
Without your PE, you can’t seal and sign engineering drawings. So, while your PE gives you authority, the bigger statement here is that without it and the accompanying legal ability to sign and seal such a critical component of your profession, your employment opportunities dwindle to the bottom of the bucket. Also keep in mind that only PEs can serve as expert witnesses and be primary charges for private practices and firms.
- Job Security
We’ve talked about job and career advancement, but what about security? With industry downsizing and outsourcing as an ever-present possibility, you want to know that you have options and financial security.
The best way to do this is to have a PE license so that your scope of practice and employment isn’t limited. As a licensed PE, you have options to become an invaluable specialist or independent consultant. You even have the flexibility to start your own engineering practice or firm. Getting your license also ensures that you’re not left in the cold when currently exempt niches of engineering suddenly require licensure.
Studies have shown that PEs average a higher income throughout their careers. Given the expansion of opportunities and security a PE brings to you, it’s reasonable to expect that becoming a licensed PE opens the door to not only more job opportunities, but also to higher-paying jobs in general.
With Such Benefits, Why Don’t All Engineers Opt to Get Licensed?
It’s been said many ways and in many different contexts, but the words: “I never said it would be easy… I only said it would be worth it,” are highly applicable to a PE license.
You know why you need and should want a PE. Now the question is whether you’re willing to commit. The above benefits are so plentiful, appealing, and worthwhile because they come at a standard of effort by the applicant wanting it. The requirements are stringent, and it takes a commitment of time and energy on your part to earn your PE.
You may think that you’ve already given your all to earning your engineering degree and feel astonished that more is expected of you. But keep in mind that you’ve chosen to enter a prestigious profession, and just like the doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, nurses, and so forth in other prestigious professions, the public and professional community feel safer and more assured as a result of this extra licensing mile.
While PE licensure is not yet required of all engineers, the benefits outweigh the common reasons engineers cite for not becoming licensed, including:
- The mandatory annual renewal that most states require, which is accompanied by fines and sanctions for renewal failures.
- The annual licensure fees charged by most states, which many find difficult to justify if their job doesn’t require a PE.
- The CEU, or continuing education hours, required for licensure renewal. Currently, 42 states require this for PE renewal, and many require specific courses offered by specific providers.
- The unwanted liability and legal risks of signing and sealing documents, which also requires an errors and omissions insurance policy to cover safety and design malpractice, negligence, and other lawsuits stemming from professional impropriety.
What’s the Process for Becoming A PE?
You know the benefits. You know why some engineers choose not to seek a PE. Now, it’s up to you to decide if the advantages of becoming licensed are valuable enough to put the effort and time into becoming a PE. (Read this article for an in-depth review of licensing requirements.)
It’s important to know that the requirements for PE licensure vary from state to state. These are set by each state’s professional state board of licensure, and you should check with the board in your state before seeking licensure, but the process generally comes down to the following three steps:
You’ve completed a four-year engineering degree from an accredited university. To become either an engineer intern (EI) or engineer-in-training (EIT), you’ll then need to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, or FE, which is an exam to test basic engineering principles and knowledge.
This is a one-day test that takes about eight hours in most states. While you can take the FE before actually graduating, you won’t be considered an EI/EIT until you have your degree in hand.
You’ll need to visit your state’s PE licensing board website or office to learn the necessary licensure requirements. The main component will be qualified experience.
As an EIT or EI, you must gain qualified engineering experience. This is done through apprenticeship under a qualified PE for a period of four years. The term “qualified” has significant importance, meaning you should always ensure you understand what the state board expects in terms of the scope of your apprenticeship work and the entity under which it’s completed.
Keep in mind that “qualified work” often extends beyond the broad scope of the work being performed. Within the required scope of work, many state licensing boards also want the applicant to have demonstrated professional characteristics like accountability in designs and independent decision-making skills.
You’ve completed steps one and two, and now it’s time to seek your PE license. In most states, the final step is to pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. It’s another eight-hour exam, but this time it will specialize in one of several engineering disciplines—civil engineering, mechanical engineering, nuclear engineering, industrial engineering, and so on.
Are You Ready to Become a Professional Engineer?
Licensure is the ultimate expression of dedication and professionalism. The assurance that licensure offers to employees and clients cannot be accomplished through any other means, and becoming licensed creates opportunities for professional and personal growth and development that otherwise may be harder to obtain, if not impossible, due to mounting policies and legalities concerning licensure requirements.
While the reasons engineers cite for not getting licensed are valid points, the risks and downfalls of not being licensed are perhaps what truly make the biggest difference in your career as an engineer. For example, if engineering follows the trend of so many other prestigious professions and makes licensure a requirement across the entire industry, what will become of your job and livelihood if you aren’t licensed?
Whether you’re a new engineering graduate or have already been in the engineering job trenches, the bottom line is that you should start thinking now about how PE licensure will affect the trajectory of your engineering career.