The Power of the PE License
Somewhere near the end of your university engineering program, you face a choice about whether to pursue the Professional Engineer (PE) license by taking the Fundamentals of Engineering exam (FE exam), or skipping it altogether. If you do take and pass the FE exam, you face another choice after roughly four years of progressive experience as an Engineer-in-Training (EIT) about whether to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam (PE exam), or again pass on the opportunity.
It’s easy to rationalize not pursuing the PE license. You might think you’re too busy at work, that studying will take away from your personal life or that the effort won’t be worth it if your company doesn’t require the license.
All these reasons might be true. Most people need a great deal of studying to prepare for these two eight-hour exams. And many companies do not require a PE license for someone to work in the engineering field. But the excuses ignore one indisputable truth: the power of the PE license itself.
The PE license confers many benefits upon those who earn it. Here are some of the most important that contribute to the power of the PE:
Your PE License Sets You Apart
The PE license demonstrates that you have the equivalent of a four-year engineering degree, four or more years of progressive experience (in most states), and a multidisciplinary understanding of physical and engineering principles. It shows that you have met all the standards required of the profession. For fields like electrical engineering where the PE is preferred but usually not required, it gives you another opportunity to stand out.
A PE License Generally Means a Higher Salary
According to the National Society of Professional Engineers’ 2010 Engineering Income & Salary Survey, the median salary of engineers in all professions without a PE license was $94,000, whereas the median salary of engineers with a PE license was $99,000 -- a difference of about 5 percent.
A PE License Can Be a Differentiator in the Hiring Process
If a company has to choose between two qualified applicants, one with a PE license (or an EIT working toward his license) and one without, which one do you think it will choose? Companies typically decide based upon which candidate they believe will bring the most benefit to the company. Remember, a company reaps the benefits of their employees’ PE licenses as much as the employees do -- so having the license truly represents a win-win situation.
A PE License Gives You the Ability to Sign and Seal Plans and Drawings
Only a licensed engineer can submit plans and drawings, and be in charge of work in the private sector. These requirements lead to more responsibility for the licensed PE, and thus greater career potential.
You Can Officially Call Yourself an Engineer Only If You Have a PE License
If you do not have a PE license, you cannot officially call yourself an engineer -- and your company cannot identify you as an engineer -- in official documents, such as business cards, letterheads and resumes. Additionally, you will need to register as a PE if you decide to work for yourself as a consultant.
You Can Work Anywhere in the Country
Since the FE and PE exams and the minimum registration requirements are standardized nationally, you can work as a professional engineer if you transfer to a state other than the one in which you were licensed. You would need to register with the board of engineering in your new state, and your new state may have additional requirements, but in general, you can use your PE license throughout the US.
The Web site of the National Society of Professional Engineers might best summarize the power of the PE: "Licensure is the mark of a professional. It’s a standard recognized by employers and their clients, by governments and by the public as an assurance of dedication, skill and quality.”
So when deciding whether to start down the path to your PE license, consider all the excuses not to do so as short-sighted. Instead, make the wise career choice to give yourself the power of the PE.
[Jason Kent is a professional water resources engineer and manager with a large engineering consulting firm in Portland, Oregon. In his 11-year career, Jason has tackled engineering problems such as dam removal, bridge scour, flood waves and stream restoration design, as well as management issues including hiring, training and marketing. He is also a public speaker on topics including engineering career development and volunteerism, and has contributed to multiple magazines. Jason can be reached via email or on Twitter.]