Continuing Professional Competency for Engineers

PDH Courses to Improve Continuing Professional CompetencyProfessional Engineering Continuing Education

Going the extra mile to learn everything there is to know about your profession is what sets you apart from your peers. It’s also what motivated you to become a professional engineer. After obtaining your PE license, it’s important that you set aside time for continuing professional competency (CPC). Here’s why.

Importance of Continuing Education

Besides keeping you apprised of developing trends in your field, continuing education (CE) is mandatory to keep your professional engineering license. Each state recognizes the importance of the skills that engineers offer to society. Roads, bridges, and other structures are just a few examples of building projects that need engineering expertise to maintain safety and enjoyment.

Professional engineers are the experts who sign engineering blueprints and documents to certify that a project’s plans meet the industry’s regulations. As a result, nearly every state requires professional engineers to earn a certain number of professional development hours (PDHs) to maintain their licenses. Most states such as Georgia, Utah, and Nevada require you to earn 30 PDHs every two years to renew your professional engineering license. New York requires 36 PDHs triennially, and Virginia calls for 16 PDHs biennially. (For a summary of CEU requirements for every state, click here.)

Even after years of working in an engineering position, there are still areas of expertise that you haven’t tackled yet. What will you do if your manager assigns you to a project that requires knowledge of those areas? You’re ethically obligated to limit your work to your area of expertise, but the role opens doors for new opportunities to expand your domain knowledge. Taking CE courses that are related to those topics helps you to refresh your memory about them just in time to take a junior-level role on the new project. When you bring a professional engineering license and proven expertise to your employer, you can expect higher pay, better benefits, and improved job satisfaction in the long term.

Why is Continuing Education Required by State Boards?

State engineering boards are responsible for creating a safe and healthy environment for state residents. Buildings and products that are constructed to regulatory standards give the public the best chance for optimum safety and reliability. State boards require that you take CE courses to maintain your engineering knowledge and improve your skills.

Civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering are the disciplines that see the most licensed engineers. New technology, improved building techniques, and innovative building materials drive important changes in these engineering disciplines. CE courses help engineers keep abreast of changes in their industry and reduce safety hazards on public projects.

Continuing Education for Specific Engineering Disciplines

Professional engineers have many choices for CE courses that will help them to meet their state board requirements for license renewal. Engineering CE courses that relate to regulations and ethics are available, but the most popular CE courses are ones that teach technical content. Here are some common topics by discipline that you can expect to see in most CE course catalogs.

1 Civil Engineering Continuing Education

Civil engineers can meet the continuing education requirements in a number of ways. Taking courses that are technical in nature is a great way to meet your state engineering board requirements while also learning about best practices in your discipline.

Concrete Construction courses teach all aspects of using concrete in building. You’ll learn the properties of concrete and different mix formulations. The course also covers concrete placement, its use with reinforced steel, and methods for finishing concrete surfaces.

Description of Lands is a CE course for land surveyors. After taking this course, you’ll understand how to document boundary descriptions and locations according to public land survey system standards.

Design and Construction of Road Tunnels is a CE course that will prepare you for the planning, design, and construction phases of road tunnel projects. The course explains geometrical requirements and common tunnel design considerations for modern tunnel construction.

ADA Standards for Accessible Designs courses focus on making buildings safe and accessible to disabled persons. During these courses, you’ll learn about the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) building design guidelines. Instructors for the course often discuss specific ADA features for restaurants, businesses, and medical facilities.

2 Electrical Engineering Continuing Education

Electrical engineers have many options when it comes to continuing education courses. We recommend preparing a technical development strategy to improve your skills. Over time, the newly acquired competency will allow you to achieve your long-term career goals.

Electrical Safety for Power Lines is a CE course that gives guidance about the safe handling of aerial power lines. The course addresses activities such as power line pole erection, pole climbing, and connecting power lines among poles.

Offshore Wind Energy courses address effective ways that offshore wind farms harness wind energy for commercial and residential use. You’ll learn about the common challenges in marine platform construction and offshore power generation transmission.

Electricity Storage Devices courses address energy storage systems and their benefits to commercial and consumer end users. You’ll learn about the capacity of various energy storage systems and the infrastructure that’s needed to transmit power from them.

Electrical Reliability of Power Systems course explains how America’s power grid works. During the course, you’ll learn about the requirements to keep the power grid functioning properly.

3 Mechanical Engineering Continuing Education

Mechanical engineers are often referred to as the Renaissance men and women of the profession. Continuing education for mechanical engineers should be viewed as a great way to maintain competency in multiple disciplines.

Advanced Electrical Knowledge and Troubleshooting courses teach electrical mechanical concepts and common designs for electrical devices. You’ll learn about the inner workings of electrical components and industrial circuit operations. Circuit analysis and troubleshooting tips are also covered in this type of CE course.

Essentials of Heating and Cooling Buildings courses present all aspects of climate control in buildings. The course explains how to calculate loads for heating and cooling requirements in commercial spaces. Upon completion of the course, you’ll find the right HVAC systems based on heat gains and losses as well as heat transfer by people and equipment.

Fundamentals of Metals courses give you an overview of the properties of various metals. You’ll learn about their stress capacities and how they bend or break under certain conditions such as added weight, temperature, and time.

Should Continuing Education be Voluntary or Mandatory?

If you believe that CE for professional engineers should be mandatory, you’re not alone. Only eight states and the District of Columbia don’t require CE as a professional engineering license renewal requirement. The responsibilities of a professional engineer often extend far beyond just a prestigious title on a business card. As a professional engineer, you make sure that skyscrapers don’t collapse, buildings safely transmit electricity, and underwater road tunnels remain watertight. Since lives depend on your work, most people believe that CE should be mandatory for professional engineering license renewal.

Some arguments against requiring CE for license renewal cite the cost of relevant courses and the time away from work and family to complete CE coursework. However, many of today’s CE course providers offer affordable, online instruction that allows you to earn the PDHs that you need to renew your license with minimal disruptions to your schedule.

Read more about mandatory continuing education here.

The Value of Continuing Education

Today’s engineers compete on a global scale thanks to flexible immigration laws, collaborative tech tools, and the internet. Economic turbulence only adds to the pressure on employers to only hire and keep the company’s most valuable assets. CE helps you to be the asset that no company wants to lose. When consolidation happens within your industry, you may have to compete with an engineer who appears to be a more affordable human resource than you. Your generous compensation package is often justified by your CE courses and updated professional engineer license.

It’s no secret that society views engineers as respected members of communities. People praise you for smoothly run cities but criticize you when accidents occur. In the eyes of the public, professional engineers are exceptional because of CE. CE ensures that engineers who work on public projects understand the latest challenges in their areas of expertise. This gives the public confidence that local governments are spending tax dollars on projects that’ll yield good returns on a safer and better quality of life.

Your state’s board has an obligation to the public to deliver services that are safe and cost effective. It does this by hiring professional engineers to review structural drawings and sign off on construction plans. When things go wrong, local governments also must give an account to the people. Since only state-licensed engineers take legal responsibility for public engineering projects, your state board must set strict criteria for the acquisition and renewal of professional engineer licenses. CE and periodic testing are the only ways to ensure that engineers meet professional standards.

Terms for CEU, PDH, LU, and CPC

While you’re aware that CE is important to keep your license and advance career, you may be a little confused about the terms that training organizations use to describe professional development activities and outcomes.

Here are the definitions of the most common terms that you’ll encounter on your quest for engineering professional development.

1 Continuing Education Unit

A continuing education unit (CEU) is the measure of your participation in a formal training or education program. These educational programs are usually sponsored by colleges or universities and are specifically designed to help adult learners to achieve or keep their professional licenses.

2 Professional Development Hour

PDH is the name given for one contact hour of instruction, presentation, or study. PDHs are the measures of training that many state boards use as criteria for professional engineer license renewal. For example, you attend an engineering webinar and pass a test that’s given at the end of the lecture. You get a certificate of achievement. You’ve just earned PDHs. PDHs are rounded to the nearest half hour. If a presentation lasts an hour and 45 minutes, you’ll earn 1.5 PDHs. Some states allow you to carry over surplus PDHs into upcoming license renewal periods.

3 Learning Unit

Learning units (LUs) are used by the American Institute of Architects to represent 60-minute professional development activities. After earning the first 60 minutes of training, LU time is calculated in 15-minute periods. If you teach an architecture workshop that lasts an hour and 45 minutes, you’ll earn 1.75 LUs. LUs are the equivalent of PDHs for architects.

4 Continuing Professional Competency

Continuing Professional Competency (CPC) units are used by some states to measure training time in hour increments. This term is interchangeable with PDHs as they relate to state board requirements for engineering license renewal.

Conversion of Credit Hours

If your course provider issues your professional development credits in CEUs, you’ll need to convert those CEUs into PDHs, LUs, or CPC units depending on your state’s requirements. The PDH to CEU ratio is 10:1. If you’ve earned one CEU, you have 10 PDHs, 10 LUs, or 10 CPC units.

Preventing Engineering Disasters

These tragic incidents may have had happier endings if CE were a priority for engineering professionals and their senior leaders.

Florida International University-Sweetwater Pedestrian Bridge Collapse

The 95-ton, 174-foot walkway that connects the 4,000 students at FIU to the Florida town of Sweetwater was designed to withstand hurricane-force winds. However, less than a week after its debut to the public in 2018, the bridge collapsed and killed six people. Investigators are still examining evidence to find out if the collapse was brought about by an accelerated construction schedule or a design flaw.

Grenfell Tower Fire in West London, UK

The Grenfell Tower flats succumbed to one of the worst residential fires in the nation’s history. After burying 72 people, engineering and fire safety experts are still investigating the cause of such a widespread fire. They confirm that the fire was started by a malfunctioned refrigerator on one of the lower floors of the 24-story structure. Initial reports blamed highly flammable external cladding and insulation materials as the reasons why the fire spread so quickly to upper floors. However, recent findings show that the building’s design may have contributed to the fast-moving fire that destroyed the multi-story structure. Investigators mentioned that the large size of the air gap between the cladding and the insulation caused the fire to race up the sides of the building at speeds that left upper-floor residents trapped.

Approved Course Provider

PDH-Pro is an approved provider for Continuing Professional Competency (CPC) credits in New Jersey (#24GP00025600). We are a North Carolina CPC Sponsor (S-0695). PDH-Pro is an approved Maryland provider of Continuing Professional Competency, and we are an Indiana CE provider (CE21800088).

The Takeaway

Getting and keeping your professional engineering license offers you many benefits. Your license positions you to lead challenging projects at your current company as well as capture the attention of hiring managers at new organizations. Continuing education courses, which are needed to maintain your professional engineering license, are investments that yield high returns throughout your career.