A professional license gives you options. When things are great in the labor market people think it will last forever. Unfortunately, that is never the case. Having a backup plan is highly recommended. One of the most important things you can do regardless of your field is to have a professional license. It gives you the ability to work in more environments and it allows you to slip from industry to government to self-employment with ease. You need to have job options in order to have income security.
It is also important to have a license for your career growth. For engineers, many organizations will sort candidates based on whether they have an Fundamentals of Engineering/Engineering-in-Training (FE/EIT) at the bachelor’s level and for experienced engineers the Professional Engineer license (PE). The FE/EIT leads to the PE as you acquire "qualifying experience" and pass an exam. For computer professionals, many employers are looking for Project Management Professional (PMP) certification through the Project Management Institute (PMI).
Alum, Thomas Scheffelin, PE, Air Resources Engineer, with the CA Air Resources Board, shared his thoughts on licensure with me.
“Taking the FE/EIT exam is a good thing to do. Passing it shows you have a certain level of knowledge. It is not easy but if you prepare you can pass it. “
“I passed the EIT exam in 1983 when I was a junior at CSUS. At the time, the library had four copies of the EIT Review Manual. A month before the exam, I began studying the EIT Review Manual every day. I worked all of the problems in each chapter, in all of the chapters. Since I had thoroughly prepared for the exam, the EIT exam was easy – the exam problems were very similar to the Review Manual problems. The more problems one studies and completes prior to the exam, the more problems you will answer correctly. The new “FE Review Manual: Rapid Preparation for the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam” - Paperback – October 21, 2010” is available now for $81.93 on Amazon.”
“I passed the PE exam at the earliest opportunity.”
“Even though I never intended to work for state government, I now do. It is my 4th engineering job: my first job was with a small engineering design/construct firm; my second job was with a small heavy equipment manufacturer; my third job was with Aerojet where I worked for 6 years.”
“At the California Air Resources Board, engineers without a PE can be promoted only as high as Range C. Engineers with a PE can be promoted to Range D. Range D requires a PE and pays $5,928.00 more per year than Range C. Multiply that by the number of years as a Range D, plus a higher retirement, and the financial benefit is well worth the effort to obtain a PE. Always renew your PE license, and you are good for life!”
“Even if one works in industry, or in an organization that does not really care if their engineers are a PE, obtaining a PE is good for the engineering profession.”
Alum, Robert Meza, Software Engineer, with California Department of Technology,
“The PMP certificate is the gateway to any senior management position in project management. Students need to start thinking about it now and move in that direction after graduation if they want to move up in their careers. Sr. Project and IT student assistant hours can be logged as qualifying hours towards the 4500 hours of project management experience required for the PMP license. You also need 35 hours of project management coursework. The PMI web site has details on requirements and they audit your hours so you need the documentation.”
With many government agencies you cannot even apply for an engineering position if you do not have an FE/EIT. In order to advance beyond staff engineer (or to be referred to as an engineer) in many jobs, PE licensing is required. Without reasonable progress to the PE in other organizations you will be terminated.
Not all jobs require licensing. Some companies have an "Industrial Exemption". With an Industrial Exemption engineers working at the company don’t need to be licensed. However, a number of engineers needing to change jobs find it difficult to shift industries without an engineering license. I have had numerous engineers employed in the electronics industry tell me that when they were trying to move into a government agency after a layoff they were passed over because they failed to take the EIT exam. Private industry tends to run hot and cold so you need to be prepared to explore opportunities in government or private practice.
Passing the PE is a challenge. It is also very difficult to pass the EIT, even more so with the passage of time after graduation. Your knowledge retention diminishes with time and your brain gets foggy. The pass rates for California for PE and FE/EIT are posted on the Board of Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors, and Geologists website (www.bpelsg.ca.gov/applicants/exam_statistics.shtml) and PE pass rates range pretty widely depending on discipline area. To pass the exams, a score of at least 70% is needed and studying is essential. It is not hard to understand why people do not pass the exam.
It is certainly not difficult to find a review course. EIT review courses are offered every semester here in the College of Engineering and Computer Science at CSUS. In addition, the CA Society of Professional Engineers offers seminars and review courses for the FE/EIT and PE exams.
Dennis Dahlquist, PE, a practicing engineer and faculty at CSUS College of Engineering and Computer Science, offers some sage advice to individuals interested in becoming licensed. He indicates that with his course the pass rates reach 85%. Here are the details.
Steps to Becoming a P.E.
- Acquire a Bachelors (BS) or a Masters (MS) engineering degree from an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology www.abet.org) accredited school. You will receive four years of credit for your PE by graduating from an accredited university. The Sac State College of Engineering and Computer Science is an ABET accredited college.
- Take the FE/EIT, the first exam on the way to a professional license is the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE). The FE exam is often referred to as the "EIT" exam. Once the FE exam is passed, an Engineer In Training (EIT) license is issued. Take the FE in your junior or senior year when the information is still fresh, a review course can really help. If it has been awhile since taking engineering courses, a more extensive review will be needed. Professional review courses are very helpful for people who have been out of college for some time.
- Obtain qualifying years of engineering experience. After working in an engineering position for the required number of years, take the Professional Engineer (PE) exam. Time required varies based upon education, discipline, and state. Exams are grouped by discipline (CE, ME, EE, etc.). To pass the PE exam, a review course is highly recommended.
For more information:
ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology www.abet.org
NCEES State Board Locator Find your state board of engineering, http://www.ncees.org/licensing-boards/
California State Board of Registration http://www.dca.ca.gov/pels
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES),http://ncees.org
Exam dates: http://ncees.org/exams/
California Exam Applications: www.bpelsg.ca.gov/applicants/eit_lsitapp.shtml
Dennis Dahlquist, PE email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
How to Pass the Professional Engineering Licensing Exams
(FE and PE) full article: http://www.dahlquistpe.com/PE/EIT-PE_EXAM_How_to_Pass.html
Links for further information and seminars to help you pass the professional exams: