The Case for Requiring Professional Engineering Continuing Education
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The engineering profession does not currently have a uniform, national requirement for continuing education. Continuing education for professional engineers has many different definitions because the requirements are developed on the state level. As a result, the United States lacks a cohesive national standard for engineering continuing education.
In this article, we define continuing education as post-degree educational activities for licensed professional engineers. The terms professional development and life-long learning are referenced because they emphasize education as the primary method to achieve their objective. The state-by-state system we have in the US leads to confusion about the type of activities that are considered continuing education. To compound this issue, the existing requirements vary in scope, documentation, and renewal period. We will review the existing continuing education requirements of all 50 states, and evaluate the benefits of having a national standard for all professional engineers.
Benefits of Continuing Education
Continuing education provides benefits for the engineering profession, the individual engineer, and society at large. The profession benefits because the overall level of competency is enhanced and, in states where engineering ethics courses are required, there is a higher awareness of ethical behavior and professional conduct.
The benefits to society are numerous. Having a well trained and knowledgeable community of professional engineers leads to a more robust profession that translates into better and safer infrastructure, buildings, and products.
Continuing education offers numerous benefits to the individual engineers, too.
Higher Salary: Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that professional engineers who work in sectors that utilize new technology earn more than those in older, more traditional areas. Similar trends are seen for other professions as well.
Remain Current: Technology is constantly changing. Professional engineers can remain current with the latest developments, technologies and best practices through continuing education. This training not only improves your skills and overall success, it can also boost your confidence and job satisfaction.
Maintain Credentials: Most states require some level of continuing education for professional engineers to renew their licenses.In addition, some professional societies also require training to maintain membership and certification. Regardless, these credentials represent an endorsement of your skills and overall competency.
Add Expertise: In addition to meeting license renewal requirements, continuing education provides an opportunity to expand your expertise and take your career to the next level.
Continuing Education Courses Key to Lifelong Learning
One of the reason given for requiring continuing education is that it demonstrates a commitment to lifelong learning. This focus on maintaining competency and always wanting to know more is a cornerstone of the engineering profession. Engineers are by their nature curious about the world around them. This interest in understanding how things work is the foundation of the technical knowledge and expertise the profession is known for.
Science and technology continuously evolve as new discoveries are made. As our knowledge base grows, standard engineering practices must change to incorporate our refined understanding of scientific principles. Recently graduated engineers are taught these new concepts as part of their education. Engineers who have been out of school for more than a few years must maintain their commitment to learning in order to remain current an in sync with the profession.
Ethics Courses for Professional Engineers
The requirement for ethics training varies from one state to the next. Most states allow engineers to receive continuing education credit for courses that address ethics and management. However, only three states have a specified form of ethics training – Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Ethics training for professional engineers is a very good idea. The ASCE calls professional engineering ethics training the “cornerstone of engineering practice” (Policy 376) and advocates that all state engineering boards should require at least one hour of engineering ethics each year.
Summary of Professional Conduct and Ethics Requirements
The following states require engineering ethics as part of their continuing education standard.
- Indiana: 1 hour every 2 years
- Louisiana: 1 hour every 2 years
- Maryland: 1 hour every 2 years
- Mississippi: 2 hours every 3 years
- New Jersey: 2 hours every 2 years
- New Mexico: 4 hours every 2 years
- Texas: 1 hour every year
- Wisconsin: 2 hours every 2 years
- Florida: 1 hour ethics and 1 hour laws and rules
Although the other states do not require ethics, they all accept courses as credit within this topic. In addition, the canon of ethics in every state emphasizes the value of ethical behavior and professional conduct. Many ethics courses are focused on these concepts because of their importance to the profession.
The State of Mandatory Continuing Education
Currently, 42 states required continuing education courses for PE license renewal, according to our resource on engineering continuing education requirements by state. Colorado and Arizona are among the states that do not require professional engineers to complete continuing education hours before renewing their licenses.
Many employers reimburse engineers for continuing education, but this practice is by no means universal. We believe that this is a mistake for several reasons. First, employees have come to expect that mandatory training should be paid for by their employer – even if it isn’t the employer requiring it. Second, your competitors are doing it. This puts your firm at a disadvantage because it creates the perception that your benefits package is deficient. Another reason to reimburse your engineers for their training is that it shows your commitment to improving their skills and understanding of the engineering profession.
39% of the 5,420 engineers nationwide responding to a salary survey indicated they were reimbursed for continuing education as a benefit. The average amount of reimbursement for continuing education is $2,619 per year.
Continuing education requirements for engineers vary by state. This makes it difficult for professionals who are licensed in multiple jurisdictions to comply with the training requirements. NCEES has been advocating for national standards to normalize the rules and regulations. They note that consistent standards better ensure similar levels of competency across the country. Many states have voluntarily adopted these guidelines, but many have not.
Despite the inconsistencies from state to state, there are reasons to be optimistic about achieving a national standard. We have seen 42 of the 50 states adopt continuing education standards for professional engineers in the past decade. Most of these states require 15 hours of training every year – 15 hours if renewal is done annually and 30 hours if renewal is biennial. Seven of these states (Alaska, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia) currently require less than 15 hours. Most of the eight states that do not require continuing education are currently discussing and evaluating regulations to include CEU standards. If history is a reliable predictor of the future, we may have training requirements for professional engineers in all 50 states by the end of this decade.