In his article, “Should Engineers Be Licensed,” posted on www.pddnet.com Monday, April 22, Karl Stephen presented an interesting question that generated a great many comments and some debate among readers. Perhaps a way to answer the question is to answer the question phrased differently. Would the business, industry, or process of engineering be better, would things improve, if engineers were encouraged to be licensed?
Licensed practice is commonplace or mandatory in other fields, particularly construction, medicine and law, so should those individuals handily responsible for most every article we use every day also be given greater accountability for the science they practice? Let’s explore what a process improvement perspective might say about it.
There is, as Karl Stephen described, a Professional Engineer (PE) license in existence and it has existed for several generations of engineers. Certain engineering professions do require or encourage practitioners to be PE licensed, usually those in architectural and civil disciplines where people’s safety is at stake if the engineering is improper. Those aren’t the only disciplines that address safety, however.
Popular opinion seems to be that while a license reflects education, understanding, and a certain devotion to persevere through a rigorous examination process, a certificate or license does not a better engineer make. Like Karl Stephen, I too took the Engineer In Training (EIT) exam at the end of college, though when I did so it underwent a name change to the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. It was an 8-hour exam that has not yet been rivaled by any other experience for investment of time and energy or difficulty of written test. It’s no small thing to pass that exam.\
As I developed in my engineering career, I too explored the possibility of achieving my PE license and status. In my state one must be mentored for a minimum of 4 years by another PE and then pass a review board, similar to defending one’s graduate thesis. In my career to this date, I have only worked with one other licensed PE and at the time, technically, he reported to me, not the other way around.
Still, I thought that I could show that my PE colleague was mentoring me at the time and began asking around about what advantages might there be if I did get my PE. Ironically, I was discouraged from doing so.
I am an engineer with a mechanical specialty, which means that I am now somewhat of a systems engineer and a dabbler in electronics too. None of the engineering or business leaders I engaged agreed that a PE on my resume would encourage them to choose me over another candidate. In fact, some said that I would not be hired if I had the PE because of a perception of increased liability to both the engineer and the business. Karl touched on this in his article.
While these tidbits of background might explain why very few engineers are presently licensed, I think the question we want to explore is, “Should we encourage or require them to be?”