Continuing Education: A Key Component of Licensure

Dec 28, 2010

by John Ryan, P.E.

Although many engineers choose to not become licensed, licensure may provide greater income potential and job flexibility engineering.

To become licensed in the United States, engineers must demonstrate experience and pass both Fundamentals of Engineering and Principles and Practice of Engineering exams. All states except for Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, require continuing education for engineering licensure and license renewal.

Continuing education requirements for initial licensure and maintenance differ from state to state. Engineers in New York and Florida may fulfill their requirement only through approved providers, while other states do not specify or restrict the source of education.

Each state engineering board specifies what counts towards continuing education credit, and how many personal development hours may be earned through the different sources. Some states require ethics as part of continuing education; others specify appropriate subject matter, while some leave educational content decisions to the licensee. This freedom allows engineers to focus on their specialty, learn something new, or broaden their knowledge base by taking nontechnical courses.

Options

Different options are available for obtaining continuing education. Engineers may fulfill their requirements at traditional universities, trade and technical organization seminars, correspondence courses, and online, either through non-profit or private providers. Receiving a patent earns personal development hours in many states, as does teaching a course for the first time (although not usually for professors). Publishing papers, articles, or books earns authors personal development hours. Other sources of credit include participation in professional organizations and self-study.

Some states require licensees to submit documentation to support continuing education activities, but most have licensees log their professional development and submit a brief description with their license renewal. Boards randomly audit a small percentage of licensees each year, so documenting personal development activity is critical.

States may waive individuals from their continuing education obligations for military service, illness, or other extenuating circumstances. Some states exempt engineers past a certain age who have been licensed for a number of years. Engineers licensed in more than one state may usually transfer continuing education credits to other states.

Licensees who fall behind in continuing education will have their license expire, but reinstatement is relatively simple provided professional development obligations are met.

The View from Overseas

Engineers around the world must also meet requirements for licensure and continuing education.

The British Engineering Council authorizes professional engineering institutions to license engineers as Chartered Engineers in specific areas of expertise. To renew their licenses, engineers must pass a formal review that involves documenting continuing professional development. The British system does not specify the quantity or content of continuing education, but it generally involves more than simply taking classes.

FEANI (European Federation of National Engineering Associations) issues the European recognized Eur Ing professional engineer designation. Unlike the U.S. system, the specifics for fulfilling the continuing education requirement are left to the engineer.

Professional engineers in Japan are encouraged to obtain 50 hours per year of professional development, particularly in engineering ethics, science and technology, social issues, and engineering judgment. There are no specific requirements regarding content or providers, although engineers are encouraged to use verifiable sources.

Canadian professional engineers must meet requirements of the licensing province and the national organization, Engineers Canada. Provinces are solely responsible for specifying specify professional development criteria.

For example, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of British Columbia require thirty hours of professional development per year, which must be obtained from more than one method, e.g. courses, self-study, technical conferences, participation on technical committees, mentoring young engineers, and publications or presentations.

Licensure is a milestone in an engineer’s career. Continuing education helps ensure that professional engineers maintain appropriate skills and knowledge while fulfilling their obligation to protect public health, welfare, and safety.

Numerous information resources are available – many if not most online – for continuing engineering education and licensing board requirements. Good places to start looking include NCEES-approved sponsors at RCEP (Registered Continuing Education Program), the ASME website, the continuing education section of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, and state board websites.

[Adapted from"Continuing Education for Professional Engineers," by John Ryan for ME Today.]

Licensees who fall behind in continuing education will have their license expire, but reinstatement is relatively simple provided professional development obligations are met.