Continuing Education for Professional Engineers

Professional Development Hours for EngineersContinuing Education for Professional Engineers

To renew their state licenses, professional engineers must complete a specified number of professional development hours (PDHs), which varies state to state, through continuing education courses. The required activities are designed to help to keep engineers aware of the latest advancements in their field, cover topics related to proper ethics, and help them become better able to provide safe, effective engineering services for their clients and the public at large. In this article, we’ll take a look at which classes and activities to pursue, and which not to pursue, in order to acquire the professional development hours you need.

How to Get Professional Development Hours

Professional engineers (PEs) have lots of options when it comes to taking online continuing education courses to fulfill their PDHs. The key is that the courses and activities have to provide the PE with new information, training, and skills to enhance their ability to properly do their jobs. These options can include:

  • Taking college courses online
  • Attending board membership meetings
  • Attending live seminars, conferences, or workshops
  • Learning through webinars
  • Teaching courses in an area of expertise
  • Hosting seminars
  • Receiving patents
  • Completing self-paced online courses offered by the state or by private organizations
  • Auditing college sponsored courses
  • Completing short classes or tutorials
  • Attending advanced training courses
  • Authoring published books, articles, or papers
  • Participating in programs offering educational outreach

In many states, for a professional engineer to get PDHs that are accepted as continuing education credits towards license renewal, the sponsors, and sometimes the courses and activities, must receive pre-approval from the state’s engineering board. States sometimes provide a list of pre-approved sponsors, courses, and activities from which the professional engineers can choose, while others provide only the criteria that they must meet in order to be approved as PDHs for license renewal. It is the responsibility of the professional engineer to make sure the activities they pursue meet the criteria of their state’s engineering licensing board.

Record Keeping for Continuing Education

Professional engineers who fail to do so may find that the courses and activities in which they were involved are not allowed as PDHs towards renewing their licenses. If this occurs, the PE has to participate in and complete additional approved courses and activities in order to maintain and renew their professional engineer’s license. Failure to do so can disqualify the PE from being able to work on certain types of engineering projects.

Professional engineers must keep an accurate record of all continuing education courses and activities they complete annually, if they are to be counted towards the required PDHs for license renewal. Those records must include the name, duration, certificate of completion, sponsoring organization, and number of PDHs the course or activity provided. In some states, the professional engineer is required to keep those records for as long as 7 years. Although the state engineering boards may not check the records every year, they do ask for records when conducting periodic audits.

Read our article on Converting Continuing Education Credits to PDH.

Activities That Do Not Count Towards Professional Development Hours

The rules governing acceptable continuing education courses and activities vary from one state to another. However, the generally accepted rule is that in order for a course or activity to be counted towards PDHs, it must have a clear objective and provide content that maintains, enhances and expands the knowledge of the professional engineer and their ability to practice.

We wrote an extensive article on activities that don’t count for PDH.

Some common situations that don’t meet these standards include:

  • Online courses not requiring successful completion of a quiz to pass the course.
  • Courses with presenters that are not properly qualified.
  • Courses lacking evidence of pre-planning, available records, and target audience input.
  • Attendance records only including invoices, sign-in sheets, or receipts from conferences.
  • Nontechnical subject matter that doesn’t address professional ethics, business management practices, or aid in professional development.
  • Computer software courses on spreadsheets, word processing, presentation, or web design.
  • Elementary, entry-level training courses for regular full-time employment.
  • Financial planning, real estate, or foreign language courses.
  • Attending trade show displays.
  • Personal improvement courses.
  • Self-directed study.
  • Attending required business or general committee meetings.
  • Speed reading courses.

Exemptions to PDH Completion

There are a few limited cases in which a professional engineer may receive an exemption from the requirement to complete PDHs in time to renew their license. One is if the PE is a member of the U.S. military and is on active duty. In this case, the military member must provide the engineering board with official documentation proving they were on active military duty. PEs recovering from a serious medical condition can apply for a renewal exemption by submitting a completed Medical Waiver Request form and a letter of explanation to the engineering board.

Benefits of Earning PDHs

In addition to being a requirement for professional license renewal, continuing education activities also offer engineers a number of other benefits. One of the most important is that they enhance the professional engineer’s continuing professional competency. The field of engineering is constantly changing and the information and skills required to properly perform professional engineering services must be continually upgraded. Professional engineers must regularly get the appropriate type and amount of upgrades to their knowledge to do their job properly and maintain necessary continuing professional competency.

Being a licensed professional engineer provides innumerable benefits; it also signifies an engineer has attained a high level of competency, knowledge, and skill. Only a licensed professional engineer may legally prepare, sign, seal, and submit engineering drawings and plans for approval, seal engineering work for private and public clients, serve as private practitioners or consulting engineers, and be responsible for engineering projects. Completing the required amount of professional development hours through continuing education is essential for maintaining these responsibilities through licensure as a professional engineer.