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How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

  • 1.  How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-06-2020 21:53

    We've had a great discussion on the topic of licensing prompted by Stu Walesh's post seeking feedback from unlicensed civil engineers who have worked in in a licensure exemption organizations and  his view that licensure exemption cultures can be personally debilitating for engineers and seriously damaging for society. This has spawned a wide ranging conversation on the relatively low number of civil engineering grads that seek licensure, the role of licensing vs other factors such as culture on the safety of industrial products and activities, the importance of the PE exam, the timing of this exam and preparation requirements, the content of the this exam and the prior FE exam and the differences in professional recognition across different professions. To allow us to be more specific, a suggestion is that we follow up on each of these topics in turn with this topic being the first.



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    Mitchell Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 2.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-09-2020 16:21
    To the best of my knowledge license engineering exemptions are either a matter of law or Professional Engineering Boards in each state. That means a political approach needs to be taken to modify them. It is unlikely that all exemptions will ever be removed. Perhaps state ASCE Government Affairs Committees should discuss the issue with their Board of Directors to decide which types of exemptions are not in the public interest and lobby against those first. Coordinating with the state NSPE section and other state engineering associations would give more heft to the lobbying effort. Expect pushback from some state agencies, local governments and industries. That is why judicious consideration of the exemptions to be potentially reversed is important. Only those with significant public health and safety should be chosen for reversal.

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    Bevin Beaudet P.E., M.ASCE
    President/Owner
    Bevin A. Beaudet, P.E., LLC.
    West Palm Beach FL
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  • 3.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-09-2020 18:26

    I think a big opportunity to increase the number of licensed engineers working in exempt industries is for the states and engineering profession writ large is to rethink the licensing process to ensure that licensing requirements align with the desired end in mind. I see the latter being a demonstration of technical competence, sound judgement, and strong ethical standing. I think this rethink needs to start with the PE exam. From my experience having worked in an exempt industry, the fact that one has an undergraduate degree with a decent GPA is generally enough evidence that a graduate new hire is competent to solve idealized civil engineering problems as assessed in the PE exam  unless it's changed from when I took it. The same should hold true for a graduate new working for an employer that performs engineering services for the public. I think experience and the assessment by one's peers is a far better indicator of an individual's ability than passing a standardized test.

    Recognizing the status quo will not be easy to change I think there are several value propositions in today's world that could appeal to exempt employers. The first value proposition being a benefit they can offer their engineers to enable future job flexibility. This may sound counter intuitive, but this can be important for employers trying to attract and retain top talent in a dynamic business or business subject to cyclical market conditions. If PE licensing is encouraged and supported – while not needed - the employees benefit from having a credential that expands their future marketability if needed. The second value proposition is one of staff assessment; and employers using the PE licensing process as a means of assessing the competence of graduate new hires. On this second point the more important element would be on the references and not necessarily on the PE exam. The third value proposition is the increased self-awareness of what it means to be an engineer that results from the licensing process and a positive impact it could have on an employer's bottom line



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    Mitchell Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 4.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-10-2020 07:47
    I agree that experience and references are important prerequisites for obtaining a PE, but I don't consider them to be substitutes for passing a standardized test.  Some engineers have experience which sounds good on paper, but in actuality it doesn't provide sufficient breadth and depth of knowledge and skill.  And references often serve more as character references rather than knowledge/skill references.

    If anything, I would make the PE test more rigorous and expand it to 2 days rather than 1 day, plus I think there should be a requirement to retake and pass the PE test every ~10 years in order to maintain the PE license.

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    Irfan A. Alvi, P.E., M.ASCE
    President & Chief Engineer
    Alvi Associates, Inc.
    Towson, Maryland
    www.alviassociates.com
    ialvi@...
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  • 5.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-10-2020 10:10
    As more comes to light on the Boeing 737 Max and how it pertains to licensure, this will issue will gain more attention.  One change, I never thought we would see, is colleges putting less stock in the SAT & ACT and challenging the College Board monopoly.  Standardize testing in schools is a constant debate in RI as it attempts to measure itself against MA.  Changing the system, even if it needs to be done 50 times over can be done. If the mighty SAT exam is not beyond reproach, what is?

    I applied for several scholarships while I was in high school.  The only one I received was the one where the committee interviewed me.  If we expect well-rounded engineers, why does the application process not reflect that?

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    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
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  • 6.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-13-2020 11:31
    I am commenting on Irfan Alvi's comment on the PE exam.

    "If anything, I would make the PE test more rigorous and expand it to 2 days rather than 1 day, plus I think there should be a requirement to retake and pass the PE test every ~10 years in order to maintain the PE license."

    Making the PE exam 2 days instead of one, I can maybe see the point of.   If you wish to make the test more rigorous, it needs to be brought closer to the end of the formal study, not made further away.  Right after college, the PE test will be the easiest test you take that year.  4-year later, it is a nightmare for most.

    Making engineers retake a one or two day test every 10-years is a sure way to ensure that 10-years after they graduate, the number of registered PE's in the 10-20 years experience range will quickly become a very small percent.  It would be a shame that that just when the PE's are perfecting their trade, they give it up because of rigorous test that most will fail.  I understand this because I took too long between classes in Ph.D. and failed the first midterm, even though I knew the content because I no longer knew how to prepare for a test.  Given that it takes 10,000 hours of work to become proficient at something, about the time the engineer would become proficient, they would have to take a test on things that they are not proficient in in order to continue to do the things they have finally perfected.  I think that that would be huge mistake.

    Most engineers only focus on a very small portion of the things tested in the PE test.  They know the part on the PE test that they do for the jurisdictions that they work in.  For the rest of the items, they know enough to talk about it intelligently to another expert.  The PE test is extremely generic, and hopelessly academic in nature because it has to be in order to be used across the US.

    Continuing education is the way that PEs stay current on the new methods and processes, stay current on the knowledge that they need to be proficient at what they do, and keep their base of knowledge up.   It is person specific, and driven by what a specific PE needs to continue to perfect their skills.  It is a much more appropriate system than requiring a generic test be passed. I might be able to agree with making the continuing education reporting system more rigorous, as long as we are not taking it totaling into the realm of formal tested material.

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    Dwayne Culp, Ph.D., Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE
    Culp Engineering, LLC
    Rosenberg TX
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  • 7.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-14-2020 08:38
    Dwayne,

    One thing I've learned from the discussions about PE licensing is that there's a lot of variation in the breadth and depth of education, training, and experience that civil engineers are getting.  Over the past three decades, my career has been mainly in the transportation and dam sectors, and civil engineers in these sectors are routinely involved in highway, traffic, structural, geotechnical, and water resources engineering.  Nearly 100% of the hundreds of civil engineers in these sectors that I've interacted with have a PE, if they have the prerequisite 3-4 years of experience.  And as I mentioned in another thread, of the dozens of engineers in my firm who took the PE exam over the years, nearly 100% passed it on their first try.  When I took the PE exam in the 1990s, I found it easy to pass on the first try, and I didn't have to do much studying for the exam because my professional experience had prepared me well for the exam.

    If there are civil engineers in other sectors who struggle to get their PE, that would seem to reflect gaps in their education, training, and experience which need to be remedied, not that the exam isn't aligned with civil engineering practice or is too difficult.

    As far as the length of the PE exam, for comparison, I would go back to the requirements for getting a medical license.  Doctors have to pass four exams - USMLE-1 (1 day), USMLE-2 CK (1 day), USMLE-2 CS (1 day), and USMLE-3 (2 days) - totaling 5 days of exams, as compared to only 1 day for the PE exam.

    I don't expect that a requirement to periodically retake the PE exam would be popular, but, at least in the transportation and dam sectors, I expect that the passing rate would be close to 100%.  I recognize that many engineers would need to do some review before the exam, and, in my opinion, engineers should periodically being doing that anyway, through continuing education.


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    Irfan A. Alvi, P.E., M.ASCE
    President & Chief Engineer
    Alvi Associates, Inc.
    Towson, Maryland
    www.alviassociates.com
    ialvi@...
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  • 8.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-15-2020 10:00
    Irfan,

    I'm not sure when the exam format changed, but I would be pretty confident in saying I know zero engineers that could pass the current exam without at least 50 hours of studying. Transportation might be the only exception.  More realistically a couple hundred hours for some disciplines. There are very few jobs I am aware of that expose an engineer in the proper depth to sufficient material for the exam in its current form.
    There are also areas,  such as site development, that require a PE for career advancement, but there is no PE geared toward that area. Some take transportation, some take construction, others maybe a different one. Even though a large portion of the engineering we do is hydrology and hydraulics, many of us have no practical treatment experience in order to be comfortable with the water resources exam.

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    Heidi Wallace EI, A.M.ASCE
    Engineer Intern
    Tulsa OK
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  • 9.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-15-2020 11:36
    Heidi,

    Your points are well taken.  I did a survey of several engineers in my firm who recently took the PE exam, and here are the results:

    • Their typical time spent studying for the exam was about 100-200 hours. 
    • With respect to the question "On a scale of 0 to 10, how useful was your PE exam preparation with respect to developing the breadth and depth of your engineering knowledge?", the ratings were to 7 to 9. 
    • With respect to the question "On a scale of 0 to 10, how relevant is the material covered on the PE exam to your daily engineering practice?", the ratings were 5 to 7.
    • One of them had a comment, which I agree with, that the scope of the Water Resources/Environmental depth section is too broad.  In my opinion, it should be divided into two sections, one emphasizing drainage/ESC/SWM/open channels, and the other emphasizing water treatment and supply (environmental).
    • Opinions were mixed regarding whether the exam should be 1 or 2 days.


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    Irfan A. Alvi, P.E., M.ASCE
    President & Chief Engineer
    Alvi Associates, Inc.
    Towson, Maryland
    www.alviassociates.com
    ialvi@...
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-15-2020 11:59
    This discussion just caught my eye this morning - so I read through the discussion.  I have a question - why is this an issue?  why do you feel that additional testing is necessary Irfan Alvi?

    Without understanding this why, I believe that the purpose of the PE exam is to exhibit understanding of engineering principles with some experience.  After that, we all tend to specialize in something which is a really good idea, and Dwayne is correct in that the PE exam is general.  I am a huge fan of continuing education and increasing that is fine with me - but it will be in my specialty.  

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Thanks!

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    Stephanie Nix-Wille P.E., M.ASCE
    Claude H. Nix Construction Co./Jasco, Inc
    So Ogden UTNix-Wille
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  • 11.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-15-2020 12:35
    Stephanie,

    I believe it would be in the best interest of our profession and society to set the bar higher for PE licensing, certification in subspecialties, continuing education, etc.

    The percentage of civil engineers who have a PE, and the passing rate for the PE exam, are too low, and yet having a PE by itself doesn't provide strong enough evidence of an engineer having competence or expertise in any particular area of civil engineering.  I'd like to see civil engineering be closer to the model of doctors with respect to testing, licensing, certification, continuing education, etc.

    We're all vulnerable to the risk of overconfidence and inadvertently veering outside our areas of expertise because "we don't know what we don't know" - that's a common theme when you look at the contributing factors to engineering failures.

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    Irfan A. Alvi, P.E., M.ASCE
    President & Chief Engineer
    Alvi Associates, Inc.
    Towson, Maryland
    www.alviassociates.com
    ialvi@...
    ------------------------------



  • 12.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-14-2020 12:47
    Well said, Dwayne. I couldn't agree more. If anything should be rigorous for experienced engineers it is the continuing education requirement. Years ago Florida went from 8-hours (PDH's) every two years to 18. One hour of Rules, Laws and Ethics and 6 or 8 hours I believe for the engineers area of practice.  The remainder can be general. I don't know the requirements of other states, but they should be at least that rigorous.

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    Bevin Beaudet P.E., M.ASCE
    President/Owner
    Bevin A. Beaudet, P.E., LLC.
    West Palm Beach FL
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  • 13.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-15-2020 08:39
    While the continuing education requirement is a great step in maintaining or expanding an engineer's base of knowledge, there seems to be many glaring holes for abuse. There are many offerings in exchange for pdh's that don't provide meaningful knowledge. I know of some simple sales pitches from companies in which participants can receive pdh's. Look at many conference programs from even ASCE to see a lecture that may have questionable content in exchange for a pdh. Are PE's required to take lectures in their practicing discipline to get a pdh? The answer is no. A structural engineer can use a pdh from a wastewater lecture to renew their license.

    The requirement to get continuing education credits to renew a license can be good on its face, but to be of the most practical use, it really needs to have more definite requirements on what content is acceptable. Otherwise, its only real aid is as a cash cow for providers of questionable content.

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    Yance Marti P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer IV
    City of Milwaukee
    Milwaukee WI
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  • 14.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-15-2020 11:35
    Yance,

    I agree with all of your points regarding continuing education.  A requirement to retake the PE exam periodically would be one way to help ensure that engineers are getting useful continuing education, and that would in turn shape the kind of continuing education which is available.

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    Irfan A. Alvi, P.E., M.ASCE
    President & Chief Engineer
    Alvi Associates, Inc.
    Towson, Maryland
    www.alviassociates.com
    ialvi@...
    ------------------------------



  • 15.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-31-2020 09:56
    After talking with some people and thinking about it further, I currently favor the following approach:

    • Make the PE license based on a breadth exam (no depth component).  The exam could be 1 or 2 days.  The exam shouldn't need to be periodically retaken.
    • For specializations such as general structural, bridges, buildings, dams, highways, railways, geotechnical, geoenvironmental, water resources (drainage, ESC, SWM, river H/H, etc.), water supply/treatment, etc., have board certifications which require exams, continuing education, and periodic re-exams (say every 10 years). 

    The approach described above is similar to medical licensing and certification.  The PE would establish basic general competence in civil engineering, but not expertise in any specialization.  The specialty certifications would establish that specialized expertise, and would benefit the engineers who hold those certifications as well as their clients and the public.

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    Irfan A. Alvi, P.E., M.ASCE
    President & Chief Engineer
    Alvi Associates, Inc.
    Towson, Maryland
    www.alviassociates.com
    ialvi@...
    ------------------------------



  • 16.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 01-31-2020 12:20
    I could support the approach you outlined. Your suggestion makes a lot of sense to me. I've always found it odd that an engineer could test for the PE under one category and later practice in a different category, for example I once worked with a PE that tested in water resources and land development but later practiced as a building structural engineer - that never sat well with me. Specific certification requirements for specific design criteria is a good balance of demonstrating a level of competency for public protection based on risk levels. It would raise the value of expertise (i.e. specialists could potentially demand higher fees) while appropriately raising the bar without overreach. I did not fully support the raise the bar initiative that would require every engineer to obtain a masters minimum, but I would support a model where specializations have the bar raised.   ​

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    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management
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  • 17.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 02-01-2020 09:32
    Jesse,

    Regarding the masters degree, over the years, my firm has hired many engineers with the masters degree, and many with only the bachelors degree.  In comparing these groups, we haven't found any correlation between their degree (or the university where the degree was obtained) versus their demonstrated knowledge and performance on the job.  In my experience, it really comes down to the person, rather than the degree.

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    Irfan A. Alvi, P.E., M.ASCE
    President & Chief Engineer
    Alvi Associates, Inc.
    Towson, Maryland
    www.alviassociates.com
    ialvi@...
    ------------------------------



  • 18.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 02-01-2020 16:30
    I think I could support a version of Ifran's suggestion.

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    Dwayne Culp, Ph.D., Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE
    Culp Engineering, LLC
    Rosenberg TX
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  • 19.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 02-12-2020 16:38
    If we start treating engineering like medicine, I think we'll start to see the same problems in engineering that we see in medicine: Specifically, a lack of practitioners and increased costs to the consumer. Of course, for those lucky few who do make it into the profession, it's likely to be financially lucrative...

    How do we best balance the need for public safety vs. the needs of the public for services? (Which is to say, if we limit the number of practitioners to the point where projects cannot get done, are we really doing the public good?) We hold up licensing as protecting the public, but how much of it is also insiders protecting the profession from outside competition (and the lower fees that competition brings)?

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    Joel Dixon P.E., M.ASCE
    Project Manager
    Oklahoma City OK
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  • 20.  RE: How can the (civil) engineering profession influence licensure exemption organizations to value licensing and what are the possible value propositions to the organization?

    Posted 02-13-2020 08:41
    Beyond differences in licensing and certification, medicine differs from engineering in several important ways:

    • Doctors need to go to four years of medical school after getting their Bachelor's degrees.  The workload in medical school is very heavy.
    • After medical school, doctors need to complete three or more years of residency training, often working close to 80 hours per week, with night shifts, for a low salary.
    • Once doctors enter practice as attending physicians, they often work well over 40 hours per week, and are sometimes on call during evenings and weekends.
    • Medical practice inherently involves the challenge of working with people who are ill, sometimes chronically, seriously, and/or terminally ill.
    • Doctors often have a heavy administrative workload related to dealing with third-party insurance companies.

    I don't think that simply changing engineering licensing and certification to be more similar to medicine would bring engineering practice anywhere close to medical practice.  And I don't think we need or should want that, since, unlike the one-on-one aspect of medicine where individual doctors work directly with individual patients and make judgments and decisions in relatively short time-frames, engineering projects usually unfold over longer time-frames, are usually done by teams comprised of people with varying levels of experience and expertise in various disciplines, and usually have checks and balances such as some form of external  review.

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    Irfan A. Alvi, P.E., M.ASCE
    President & Chief Engineer
    Alvi Associates, Inc.
    Towson, Maryland
    www.alviassociates.com
    ialvi@...
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