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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.
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