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Licensure - evidence of effectiveness

  • 1.  Licensure - evidence of effectiveness

    Posted 09-19-2021 12:16 PM

    I was reading an article that I stumbled upon based on my involvement with ASCE & licensure issues.  The article includes the following:

    "Yet research provides scant evidence that licensing does what it is supposed to do-raise the quality of services and protect consumers. Instead, licensing laws often protect those who already have licenses from competition, keeping newcomers out and prices high."


    I wondered about what that research may be and also what research there may be to the contrary.  Can anyone offer evidence of research or even a study or investigation of the topic.  I have been involved with licensure for many years, including being Chair of the former ASCE Committee on Licensure and Ethics.  It seems to me that much of the discussion of licensure is based on anecdote rather than research, study, or at least something more than anecdote. 

    David Devine P.E., P.S., M.ASCE
    Fort Wayne IN

  • 2.  RE: Licensure - evidence of effectiveness

    Posted 09-20-2021 12:02 PM
    Interesting article.  I have always supported the system of licensure not only for the more commonly known professions of engineering, surveying, medicine, architecture, landscape architecture, but for the trades such as cosmetology, electrician, plumbing, etc.  I found it interesting that the professor in the article had a hard time getting licensed, and I feel bad that she had to jump through excessive hoops to obtain her license, but at the same time, I don't think her being a professor automatically entitles her to a license either.  When I was in engineering school, not all of my professors had engineering licenses and that was their prerogative, but if they did not have sufficient actual design experience, I would not support just "giving" them a license just because they were professors.  There's a huge gap between theoretical and practical application of science.  I look forward to seeing more responses here and in the meantime will look myself to see if there

    Angela Hintz P.E., M.ASCE
    Senior Environmental Engineer
    Buffalo NY

  • 3.  RE: Licensure - evidence of effectiveness

    Posted 09-20-2021 01:00 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 09-20-2021 11:09 PM

    Mr. Devine:

    I suggest that, at the outset, we distinguish between occupational licensure and professional licensure as does the article you cite.

    I, too, searched for and did not find an exhaustive study the relationship between professional licensure and service quality/public protection.

    As a second best, I searched for engineering failures drawn from a range of disciplines and found  disasters that involved chemical, civil, electrical, industrial, mechanical, metallurgical, and petroleum engineering and engineers.

    I do not claim that the failures I studied are a sample, in a statistical sense, of the engineering-related failures population. After studying many such disasters, one realizes they are individually and collectively complex. I could not define the population of disasters, let alone select a representative subset.

    Having offered this caveat, I believe that we benefit from looking at failures, as unpleasant as most are because of the resulting injuries, deaths, and destruction and the often, failed engineers and engineering. Patterns tend to arise and we can learn from them.

    I present my research results in Chapter 3 of my recently published book Engineering's Public-Protection Predicament. (The book, available as paperback or e-book, is introduced here:  http://www.helpingyouengineeryourfuture.com/managing-leading-books.htm )

    Besides reviewing the literature, I studied engineering disasters produced by Ford, Morton-Thiokol, GM, BP, amusement ride "designers," Columbia Gas, and Boeing. The common factor? Organizations operating under engineering licensure-exemption laws tend to develop bottom-line first cultures. At best, public protection comes in a distant second resulting in unnecessary injuries, deaths, and destruction.

    Essentially all states (Arkansas and Oklahoma excepted) and DC have engineering licensure law exemptions. In my view, those laws tend to create, from the top down, powerful, pervasive, and destructive cultures.

    Hospitals must have licensed physicians in charge of surgery, law firms must have licensed attorneys in charge of legal services, and veterinary clinics must place licensed vets in charge of neutering and spaying. In striking contrast, and because of massive licensure-exemption laws, the vast majority of engineers who work for industries, manufacturers, utilities, and government entities and produce massive amounts of risky products, facilities, structures, systems do so without the guidance of accountable and competent PEs, whose paramount responsibility is public protection.

    Make sense?


    Stu Walesh PhD, PE
    Consultant - Teacher - Author

  • 4.  RE: Licensure - evidence of effectiveness

    Posted 09-20-2021 02:23 PM
    While it seems to be true, that Licensing laws are instituted to protect those who are already licensed, there are other practical reasons for requiring a trade or profession to obtain/pass licensing requirements. The first is to establish minimum standards to 'practice' the particular profession, and probably second is to establish a means/method to censure a licensed person who might violate those minimums. Without a License process, there is no means of addressing wrongful acts.

    Charles Brewer M.ASCE
    Glen Allen VA

  • 5.  RE: Licensure - evidence of effectiveness

    Posted 09-21-2021 08:13 AM
    I think the US PE  licensure is one of the best systems that I encountered. The PE exam provides equal bar height for all new applicants. I am comparing the PE licensing in the US with the licensure system in Canada. In Canada, There are no PE exams, therefore, it is the sole discretion of board members to admit new members.
    In some professional trades, each applicant had to work certain hours under the supervision of a licensed professional before he or she can apply for a license. I think it has a prima facie case of conflict of intrest 
    Feras Arnaout , PHD. candidate, M.CE.PE, Peng. PMP

    Feras Arnaout P.E., P.Eng, M.ASCE
    Bellevue WA

  • 6.  RE: Licensure - evidence of effectiveness

    Posted 09-21-2021 03:08 PM
    Fortunately, during the State of Florida 2020 Legislative Session, HB 707/SB 1124 (the "Sunset Bill") failed to pass. The rationale used to justify the bill and sunset all
    occupational and professional licenses under the purview of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, beginning July 1, 2021, was similar to that described by Mr. Devine. Mr. Charles Brewer's concise response comes closest to my own opinions regarding the matter.

    In addition, it would be a difficult task to conduct an adequate study that could demonstrate evidence of effectiveness in raising the quality of services and consumer protection where licensure laws are already in place. If the control population consists of licensed professional engineers for example, then their effectiveness would be compared to... non-licensed practitioners. Florida law prohibits the practice of engineering by anyone not licensed as such. So, the study would consist of illegal activities, which by their nature are under-reported. Therefore, at least in Florida, the non-licensed study population would likely include a statistically invalid/biased sample of unlicensed practitioners. I suppose the non-licensed component could incorporate unlicensed but legal practitioners in another state, country, time period, etc., the reliability of which could be highly questionable.

    We could of course abandon engineering licensure altogether, as the State of Florida legislature recently attempted, then study the before-and-after effects on the quality of services and public safety. While we're at it, we could see how effective our medical, attorney and commercial driver licensure laws have been as well. Seriously, though perfect results can't be guaranteed, a little common sense should at times prevail if safeguarding the public good is our true intention. In this case, and at this moment, Florida lawmakers get that.

    Ronald Eyma, P.E., M.ASCE
    Fort Lauderdale, Florida

    Ronald Eyma P.E., M.ASCE
    Director of Utilities
    Plantation FL

  • 7.  RE: Licensure - evidence of effectiveness

    Posted 09-21-2021 05:16 PM
    Mr. Eyma:

    According to an article by William C. Bracken, PE ( https://fbpe.org/what-is-the-industrial-exemption/ ), Florida exempts from engineering licensure many engineers. More specifically, these (quoting) :

     *  In-house" engineers employed by a manufacturing or other business firm not providing a service directly to the public;

    *  Engineers employed by public utilities;

    *  Engineers employed by defense, space, or aerospace companies; and

    *  Engineers employed by the state or federal government.

    Stu Walesh PhD, PE
    Consultant - Teacher - Author

  • 8.  RE: Licensure - evidence of effectiveness

    Posted 09-21-2021 06:25 PM
    The engineers listed - apparently working within a company or gov't body - should have their work reviewed by a Licensed Engineer in that specific field and "signed/sealed" by their supervising "Licensed" engineer. This process is required by most Permitting agencies.

    Charles Brewer M.ASCE
    Glen Allen V

  • 9.  RE: Licensure - evidence of effectiveness

    Posted 09-22-2021 08:08 AM

    You use the word "should."

    Given that we are discussing public protection, that word is weak, in contrast with "must," "shall," or similar words. "Should" invites evasion, rationalizations, and other mischief which not in the public interest.

    What word(s) does the state/licensure board/etc. use?

    Stu Walesh PhD, PE
    Consultant - Teacher - Author

  • 10.  RE: Licensure - evidence of effectiveness

    Posted 09-22-2021 08:07 AM
    It is worth pointing out that the linked article is discussing licensure for landscape architecture and that the quote itself is from an e-book by the Institute for Justice. The e-book argues about licensure for low-income professions and definitely does not talk about Engineering. I am surprised by some of the licensure that is required by our state and plead complete ignorance of how a Tattoo Operator gets a state license. I could not honestly say if he/she has to sit and study for an 8 hour exam.

    I don't think the article is relevant to our profession and would go so far as to say that there is no research that throws into doubt the quality of services or protection of the public provided by nearly all licensed civil engineers in the US. The article or e-book clearly does not.

    Yance Marti P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer IV
    City of Milwaukee
    Milwaukee WI

  • 11.  RE: Licensure - evidence of effectiveness

    Posted 09-24-2021 12:26 PM

    This topic under similar other threads and contexts came up for discussions again and again – showing the importance of it to an engineer's mind. And rightly so, because it's one's bread-and-butter and career/profession.

    While brooding on the evidence of effectiveness, perhaps there is another way of looking at the licensure system. Licensing is like a Gate – and the keeper of that gate, is the licensing authority. As discussed on some other occasions, that gate keeping is mostly populated by regulating bureaucrats. Also, one has to remember that the necessity of licensing was primarily felt – to ensure public safety and protect the interests of client. Other things followed from these starting points.

    Who can cross the golden (?) gate to become a professional engineer? Well, the criteria – for who can or cannot cross the gate are mostly transparent, but as with everything else, one should not be surprised to see some discretionary confidentiality in them. There came the necessity of: (1) a minimum Bachelors Degree in Engineering; (2) a technical competence exam (thus effectively overriding the earned degree – some countries follow this, others don't see the necessity of it. Further technical competence is not a one-time affair, it must be sharpened, therefore the necessity of continuous learning came into focus); (3) a certain length of successful experience; and (4) an ethics exam (to make sure that those who cross gate are well-tuned to the societal ethical compass).

    Licensure effectiveness? Well, the reality is that most of an average engineer's works are governed by – standards, codes, manuals and experience-led judgments. And in managing things – from project performance and cost-estimates to proposal writing and marketing. Licensed or not (where licensure is not mandatory), these works and the governing conditions dictate what an engineer does, because some are required as part of remaining in business – while others are imposed by clients and regulations. In case of failures to comply with the governing conditions and the associated consequences, a licensed engineer-of-record loses his or her license – but both licensed and non-licensed are subject to trial in jurisdictional courts.





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    Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCE
    Vancouver, BC, Canada