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What does the P.E. license really do for engineers?

The whole issue of licensure has become a shame. The laws in most states define who can be called an engineer, especially here in Pennsylvania. In fact, the board has just instituted a first-offense $1,000 fine for having "engineer" on your business card, signs, or letterhead, etc. Everyone I talk to, though, thinks it does not apply to them; a salesman ("sales engineer") who calls on me laughed. I’m planning to turn a few in to the board for action, just to see what happens. I’m tired of competing against individuals and firms who flaunt the fact that they don’t need to be licensed. There is just generally a lack of respect for the title. Many get the title as a manner of organization within a company, without a degree. It’s sort of the opposite of "I don't care what you call me, just pay me!"

Most of the people claiming to be engineers are really technicians, designers, salesmen, and/or programmers. Seen anyone claiming to be a doctor or attorney for long before being shut down? No, these professions are very protective; engineers are generally too quiet in standing up for their profession.

Is licensure an indication of attaining a level of competence? I can’t say it is. At times, I have felt like giving my license back for the fear of being associated with some of the P.E.s I have worked with. Good test-taking skills have to be the explanation of the success of some of these people in getting licensed, because they just can’t apply engineering principles to the real world.

-- Walt Flasinski, P.E.


I am in favor of promoting and encouraging the pursuit of a P.E. license for EEs. Most EEs who object to such licensure are working for large companies. It’s all too easy to fall back on the industrial exemption as a rationalization for avoiding the moderate effort required to obtain a P.E. license. It then becomes easy as well to assume the company will take care of any safety or ethical issues associated with the company’s products. Experience has shown this to be a dangerous assumption in many cases.

My contention is that through the pursuit and attainment of a P.E. license, the individual engineer becomes much more aware of the need to take personal responsibility for the ramifications of his or her engineering efforts. Certainly the P.E. is meant to ensure a minimum level of competency, but I believe that a powerful advantage of licensure to society is in the greater concern for engineering safety and for the ethics cultivated with the license.

-- Lt. Colonel Cameron H. G. Wright, P.E., Senior Member, IEEE
   U.S. Air Force Academy


 I’m approximately 10 years out of school and am very interested in getting my P.E. license. I think it's a good way to mark a milestone in my education and experience. In addition, I think the P.E. license is an excellent safeguard for those of us who have sweated through the fundamentals to guard against the dilution of the word "engineer."

But there’s a big chicken-and-egg problem in the mechanics of achieving a license. So few EEs in my line of work (consulting/telecom/software) have P.E. licenses that it’s tough to get three references, just so I can apply for the examination! We’re stuck without a critical mass and I don’t see how we break out of it.

-- John Feltz, IEEE Member


I am an electric power engineer and have had my P.E. license for 16 years. I have never seen any benefit from having the license. However, I continue to renew it in case I someday need it for a job; that is, it serves to ensure my employability.  My P.E. license means nothing in my current job with state government.  It also meant nothing when I was an engineer for a major manufacturing company, and meant nothing when I taught electronics as a community college professor.

-- Mike Martin, P.E.


Not having a P.E. license has not made finding employment difficult throughout my career. The testing system seems to be tilted too far to the academic; using mathematics to solve a problem is an important but very small part of the total of most engineering jobs.

In addition, the failure rate of the P.E. test seems much too high.  This at least implies that the skills the test developers emphasize are different from skills the test takers have developed in their jobs. The whole notion results in the feeling that a P.E. license only proves you can pass a test, which has nothing to do with what you do at work.

There is very little difference between what an engineer can do and what an engineer with a P.E. license can do. The question is not "Yes or No?" but "Why Bother?"

-- Robert E. "Bob" Ford, IEEE Member
   Cincinnati, OH


Having read your article regarding P.E. licensure for electrical and electronics engineers, I find myself a little at a loss to understand certain omissions in the thought process.  With all the Pros and Cons stated (in the article), not one bullet asks the question "Why?" outside purely mercenary issues.  Are we to stand by in all professions and submit to the contention that we are not what we are trained to be unless we have the nod of some civil body?  I, for one, resent the notion.  Why does the populace at large assume that some governmental branch knows better how to assess our skills than the institutions that made that assessment at the time of our graduation?

We all studied hard to arrive on the job with a learner’s permit to perform some of the most impressive tasks.  In the process of our initiation, we helped put a moving vehicle on Mars that sent us dazzling pictures and data back—and we did it for less than it took to produce "Water World."  

We participate daily in developing methods and products that make life better in all walks of life.  Where is the evidence that licensure will improve that professional situation, in which we all share great pride?  Indeed, where is the evidence that licensure will not, in fact, degrade that status?  If we really think about it, can we honestly
say that governmental certification has caused any particular profession to improve overall?

I suggest that licensure will act as a protection for the weakest of us, while not giving any of us cause for the pride in our profession that we have always felt.

-- Francis X. Welsh, IEEE Member
   Green Lane, PA




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