Engineers should take a skills proficiency test

By JONATHAN PATTERSON | November 9, 2017


PUBLIC DOMAIN Licensure is often not required for engineers and not important in the industry.

In today’s world, with technology at the forefront like never before, engineering is more important than ever. Future innovations like commercial space travel and advanced AI make building a bridge look easy.

Despite the growing role of engineering in society and the mass influx of students flocking to the field, the qualifications to become an engineer have remained mostly unchanged over recent decades.

Currently, to become what most people would consider an engineer, you would only need a bachelor’s degree. Although the accreditation for undergraduate engineering degrees is particularly rigorous, this does not make up for the fact that the number of credit hours required for an engineering degree has been steadily declining over the past century.

To become a licensed professional engineer, in addition to completing a bachelor’s degree in engineering, a candidate must gain four years worth of work experience and pass two exams: the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam.

Although passing the FE and PE exams is no easy task. Only about 20 percent of engineers choose to become a licensed professional engineer.

This is, in part, because undergraduate engineering programs cannot adequately prepare students to pass such thorough screening as well as a masters program would, and also because the industry does not make it a priority to require such licensure.

However, as the technology that engineers continue to produce and work with becomes more complex each day, we need to prepare future engineers better than their predecessors.

The idea of increasing the educational standards to which engineers are held is not new. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has already proposed a plan, called Raise the Bar, to amend state engineering licensure requirements.

Not yet enacted, Raise the Bar claims it is in the best interest of the public, and the field of civil engineering, that the educational licensure requirement be raised to either a master’s degree in engineering or 30 credits worth of additional graduate or upper level courses in STEM. Support for increased schooling is not limited to the ASCE though.

The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) House of Delegates voted by a 77 to 17 margin in July of last year to support the idea of changing engineering licensure criteria to include academic or other educational requirements.

This followed a move by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) the year prior to adopt a position statement stating that future demands for increasing technical and professional skills have resulted in the need for additional education beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Despite a growing consensus among engineering professional societies on the matter, groups such as the Engineering Deans Council contest that such a policy change would negatively affect students.

Regardless of any such dissent, the incredible boom we have experienced in science and technology during the early 21st century calls back to the findings of a report published a decade ago by the National Academy of Engineering.

“The exploding body of science and engineering knowledge cannot be accommodated within the context of the traditional four-year baccalaureate degree,” the report read.

In the time since that report was released, the legitimacy of its conclusion has only been further validated. The technical problems engineers must face today are more complicated than those faced by engineers a decade ago. The same statement will hold even more true for engineers a decade from now.

It is time for each and every state to adopt higher standards for professional engineering licensure, and it is time for the industry to place more importance on licensure in the hiring process. It is in the best interest of the general public, but also in the best interest for the field of engineering at large.

Engineers are just as important to our society as doctors or lawyers, and like doctors and lawyers, the subject matter they must master is highly complex, and the work they do can impact the lives of many.

So, like other professions of similar significance and difficulty, it is in everyone’s best interest that engineers receive additional education and training beyond that of a bachelor’s degree.

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