The Path to Professional Licensure
Having professional licensure can give you a leg-up in your engineering career.
The engineering profession is made up of highly educated people whose careers are devoted to protecting the world’s health, safety, and welfare. One of the clearest ways a practitioner can demonstrate commitment to these values is through formal licensure.
In order to earn the title “Professional Engineer” (and with it the appending of the initials “P.E.” after one’s name), an engineer must demonstrate success in three areas, known as “the three E’s”: Education, Experience, and Examination. That is, one must: 1) earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering from an accredited institution or university; 2) gain at least four years of experience in the professional practice of engineering, and; 3) sit for and pass nearly 14 hours’ worth of licensure examinations.
I had the chance to learn more about the importance and the meaning of that “P.E.” title from ASME’s own David Soukup, managing director of governance, who is a P.E. himself as well as a Fellow of ASME. He is deeply committed to the engineering profession and to the importance of professional licensure.
Thomas Costabile: Why is licensure such an important area?
David Soukup: I think it is an obligation that ASME has to kind of reinforce the fact that we are members of a learned profession. It recognizes that we are interested in protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public through the laws of the states and territories of the United States. ASME-wise it represents a large base of our membership. Over 30 percent of the senior members in the U.S. are licensed professional engineers.
T.C: What’s the importance of the three E's?
D.S: The three E’s are education, experience, and examination. It is very much like getting a driver's license. You have to receive some training to learn how to drive, get an examination—a road test—and some experience out in the real world.
So in engineering, you need to have the education which is a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, four years of progressive engineering experience, and you need to pass two exams. One is the fundamentals of engineering exam, which is six-hour test, and the other is an eight-hour principles and practice of engineering exam.
Examinations have changed over the years. Nowadays, you take a specific fundamentals exam in mechanical engineering. Then you have a choice of three exams to take for your P.E. exam. Now you can take the F.E. exam using a computer. Starting very soon there is going to be a computer-based P.E. exam for mechanical engineering.
T.C: What are the key benefits of becoming licensed?
D.S: It opens up career opportunities related to ASME. Some of our codes require that you have a P.E. license to sign off on the design. If you are thinking about practicing in another country, there are reciprocity agreements that recognize the licensing exam. Having the letters P.E. after your name makes your resume stand out. P.E.s also get about 10 percent more in terms of salary every year.
T.C: What’s the difference in your opinion between licensure and certification?
D.S: Licensure is done by the states and territories of the U.S.—the state of Kentucky issues a P.E. license. Certification, on the other hand, is done by private organizations. For example, ASME has a geometric dimensioning and tolerancing certification program. It's like how physicians get a medical license, but then on top of that, they become board certified. There is actually some movement to change the engineering model so that there is a state license but then on top of that, one would get certified in a specialty area.
T.C: Where does ASME fit in all of this?
D.S: ASME members serve on exam-writing committees and licensing boards. We provide continuing education for people to maintain their license. Engineers need to have about 15 hours of continuing education every two years. ASME participates in the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying and actually we are the lead Society of a coalition called Licensing that Works. This is a group of 11 engineering societies that believe in maintaining the bachelor’s degree as the education requirement for licensure.
Thomas Costabile is Executive Director/CEO of ASME. This column was adapted from a recent podcast. To listen to the full conversation, visit the ASME Today & Tomorrow podcast on SoundCloud, Stitcher, or iTunes.