Abolish the P.E. Exam
Abolish the P.E. Exam
To be clear, I am not proposing the removal of P.E. designations and all the ethical and selfless obligations that constitute being a Professional Engineer. An engineer shall hold the safety of the public paramount. Engineers shall continue to make decisions based on engineering standards, which has never been limited to licensed Professional Engineers. PEs shall remain under strict orders to adhere to the imposed code of conducts and face civil penalties or disciplinary action for failing to perform in accordance with the State’s licensing board and their bylaws.
This is focused on civil engineers' experience, due to my background as a Civil Engineer in Washington State.
Civil engineering is a very broad field consisting primarily of 3 years of introductory courses and a 4th year of more specialized courses. During that 4th year, most universities require a civil engineering graduate to attempt the Fundamentals of Engineering exam before graduating. It is essentially a final exam to test students on what they learned in the past four years in engineering (various categories), mathematics, science, economics, surveying and ethics. In theory, it is a good idea, but how many individuals enjoy getting tested (again) on a subject they learned 3 or 4 years ago and have not utilized then? The concept is heavily flawed and ends up belittling the the university and their degree. Most students not able to pass the FE exam end up not fully utilizing their degree by not working in the engineering field. The typical path takes new graduates into the construction industry where they usually start as unskilled laborers or traffic control assistants. The pay discrepancy is not usually apparent in that path when the economy is booming, but the stifling of those fresh engineers' careers is apparent. As the years pass, they may be able to rise into a project management position while being heavily supervised and not fully trusted because they still do not have a worthless piece of paper claiming they are an "Engineer-in-Training". If 4+ years of engineering courses are not enough to earn an individual that endorsement, then surely a non-practical exam is not the answer. I proposed the FE be completely eliminated and replaced with letters of recommendation and recognition verifying a minimum of 4 years of schooling at an accredited university within the major and/or work performed under the strict supervision of a Professional Engineer.
As for the lucky ones that did pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, the journey does not end there. The valuable experience earned by years of work while certified as an Engineer-in-Training is tarnished by the lack of a P.E. stamp. After garnering 4 or 5 years of experience, an Engineer-in-Training is finally ready to rid one's self of the blemish placed on her by society and the job market for not being a Professional Engineer on paper. All throughout her lucky years of employment, she has been focused on her employers' needs and has soaked plenty of practical knowledge and priceless wisdom from her experienced fellow engineers. But she has put in her 4 to 5 years of experience and she needs to take and pass her Professional Engineering exam before she can move into any position of leadership or management. She can earn her Professional Engineer designation by simply getting tested on information she learned 4 to 9 years ago and has not used since. She also does not get the ability to use the technology she has mastered. She does not get to employ her masterful research skills that she's perfected due to the availability of the web at the tips of her fingers. And perhaps worst of all, she does not get to wield her network of professionals that she worked hard every day to surround herself with. She used her network on a nearly daily basis to prefect her level of job competence, but now that she has reached the P.E. milestone, none of her accomplishments matter and she is thrown into the same barrel that standardized exams love to measure students by. She is forced to reduce her job's priority to a lower tier so she can relearn all the useless information that the system decided is essential. Even though she has done her time and followed the script by achieving the proper and applicable experience, she still did not use 95%+ of what she learned at her university. What she didn't use regularly, she forgot, as is the case for any of us in any scenario.
Even though she has been successful at her job and has impressed her employer by embodying the mission statement of civil engineers by putting the safety of the public above any other interest, the system did not allow her to be compensated and moved to a position of leadership so others can learn from her ethical upbringing. Upholding the code of ethics and following the State Licensure Laws are not enough because she has not obtained a piece of paper that tells society she is ethical. She continues stressing, and 2 of her projects go over budget due to her lack of focus. She has been staying up very late studying material from more than 5 years ago that she has yet to this day use. She does not succeed at the test the first time after putting in nearly 400 hours of studying while also being employed full time. She brushes off the set back and dedicated more time to study as she has to wait 6 months to take it again. She eventually does succeed, but she ends up stressing over having to remember material that would be easily accessible had such a scenario risen in the field.
Even though she has not learned any new or useful information, she is able to get promoted into a position of leadership, even though she had spent the last year under-performing when compared to her true potential. Such setback does not go unnoticed by her employer, and her potential promotion gets delayed yet again.
At least she has that piece of paper that obviously makes her a more intelligent and ethical individual.
The point I dragged on about and want to get across is to portray how useless such a broad certification is. As with the F.E., I am not proposing to get rid of the P.E. license as I firmly believe in the codes that it strives to uphold. The safety of the public should indeed be placed above all, and a code of ethics should absolutely continue to govern such a license, but there is no place for an outdated and useless exam in our society. Every year, NCEES collects $1,500,000+ in administration fees alone from civil engineers taking the P.E. exam for the first time. That does not include the price of the test, which is an additional $4,000,000. The fightback against abolishing the test is not that of selfless nature but of absolute greed. The board is important as is the case in other careers, but their goals have been shifting away from the benefit of the civil engineer and the safety of the public.
I fully recognize the need for continued education and license fee. I give them the fees more than willingly as I want the field to continue to improve with time as I have improved my job competence by taking CEUs and increasing my network of like-minded individuals.
I ask for your signatures so we can stand up to the corporate greed. If they want us to have 10 years of experience, then we can ask the P.E.s we worked under for that proof. We can get it notarized if they do not trust us.
Please share this with your friends and relatives and especially with those individuals at high positions in the government. It took many of us to explain to the governor how NCEES planned to go ahead with the PE exam amid the pandemic, and they only canceled the exam after external pressures were reigned onto them. Just because we have gone through the broken system and passed the 2 exams doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make it better for future generations. Our legacy is what we leave to the generations that follow.
Thank you all!
*NCEES numbers came from their own tables and have on been rounded slightly. They claim approximately 15,000 civil engineers take the exam every year. The P.E. exam costs $350, with $100 going to administration fees per their website, and the rest pays for the costs updating exam material and educating the engineers and the public.