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1. Should all engineers be required to be licensed?

Short answer: No. Long answer:

The PE program makes sense so that the state can have some sort of "qualification" requirement for engineers that are signing legal public documents. It is utterly pointless for engineers working in government or industrial functions. It fails to even consider them.

The PE organization is a trade union. It all depends on whether the businesses typically require union bid contracts or not. If the businesses are happy with non-union labor, then there's no issue. If the union in an area is very strong/powerful, then there is a larger desire to be a member of the union. Just because they pretty it up and call it the professional engineer's organization and/or have the state involved in the membership process, the result is the same.

Just like the bar association, a PE is just membership in the professional organization, nothing more, nothing less. The licensing requirements are about as steep from a technical point of view as those for a CDL. Yet there are plenty of lawyers who should stop "practicing law" and maybe start doing it, to say nothing to truck driver's who shouldn't be allowed to drive. A PE is no different.

Understand what the licensing requirements are:

1. Pass the EIT (aka PE). Essentially, this is a test of all the basics in the various fields of engineering (civil, mechanical, electrical, etc.). Recently, the test has been changed so that certain ones are specialized to a particular field, but there is also a group of engineers still allowed to take the old test (nuclear engineers, chemical engineers, mineral processing engineers).

2. Pass the "FE". This is where you essentially document that you have been out in the "real world" doing real world work. This one does vary quite a bit. A lot of it is just transcribing your resume to a standard form.

3. Worked for another PE, or get one to sponsor you (unlikely). This is virtually impossible to achieve in most cases for anyone other than those working in engineering firms or other engineering jobs where contact with the "public" aspects of it are quite regular. In the past 8 years I have never worked for and hardly ever even worked closely with PE's. My projects have been multi-million dollar additions and changes to industrial plants. Even Fortunate 500 companies rarely have engineering departments with dozens of engineers staffing them.

4. The "continuing education" requirement in some states. This means that you have to routinely take some outside course work to continue learning more. In and of itself, I don't really have as much of a problem with this. I have usually met the goal, but not intentionally.

5. Had at least 3-5 years of experience in an engineering job doing essentially exactly what a PE would be doing except without the title. This sounds like getting into the actor's guild. You can't be a member of the inner circle until you break some law which compels you to join the inner circle.

Notice that nowhere in all that is there any sort of "PE's are better engineers" requirement. If you've been doing engineering work at all and you can pass a simple review of the fundamentals of engineering (which as many have mentioned requires some reviewing for a couple weeks if you are rusty), you're in. That's it on the technical side of things. There's no going out and documenting what you've done and coughing up references for a panel to review your abilities and skills or any other sort of realistic acid test of skill. It's simply a rubber stamp for civil engineers. You can tell that right out when you are allowed to take the FE test when you are in college and not just prior to getting the license. They don't care how many times you flunk the test either.

2. assuming they are able to pass the test and have the experience, why might an engineer choose not to be licensed?

Uhh, because again unless you happen to work in an engineering firm, your chances are very small that the phase of the moon is such that you'll be able to meet the other requirements? Look at where I'm at now. I work in a large foundry with 400 employees. There are precisely 3 engineers: 1 mechanical, one electrical, and one environmental. The environmental engineer has a PE from previous job experience. The other pair of us never even had the opportunity with both of us going on nearly 10 years with experience in multiple plants and roles. And I'm the "manager" in the group, not the environmental engineer.

Hell, I'm more likely to be able to qualify for the state electrician certification test than the PE! I could pass the test easily now (questions based on knowledge of the NEC). I just need some hours doing work as an electrician to meet the background requirements.

Even if I met all the requirements, there's the simple question: what value does a PE have? If you plan on testifying as an expert witness, it HELPS meet the court's requirements (but it isn't an acid test). If you advertise yourself as "Joe Engineer" then it prevents the engineer's guild (those administering the PE system) from suing you.

If I were going to start an engineering firm, I wouldn't be doing contract engineering anyways...there is far more money in designing, manufacturing, and selling equipment in certain areas. In that function, I'm certainly the "engineer" since the designs are mine. But even if it was a one-man company, I still wouldn't need to cough up my annual union dues to the engineer's guild. Because I'm a manufacturing operation.

Even if it's a design firm, there's still no PE requirement. I can happily design houses, buildings, and facilities, and sell blue prints. I just put myself out as a designer. No PE needed unless it's the state government buying and they require a PE signature.

My degrees are in electrical engineering and mineral processing. My talents are very strong in maintenance, process engineering, instrumentation, communications, and controls. I don't need a PE to exercise any one of those in the area where that sort of skill set is in demand. Although I have worked almost exclusively in union plants, I feel no compulsion to join a trade union. Plus, the trade union clearly doesn't recognize or support what I do. So I have no use for them and they have no use for me.
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