Professional Engineer License

#AskAsh-002 – Should I get my Professional Engineer License?

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Professional Engineer License

Question:

Hi Ash,

Several managers at my company have told me they think I should pursue getting my Professional Engineer license.  While I am not opposed to getting it, I am just not sure it will be worth it.  

What do you think?

Thanks,

-Anonymous, Cincinnati, OH

Answer:

Hi Anonymous from Cincinnati!  

Whether or not to pursue a PE license is a question that I am asked quite often.  And my answer is always the same – “It depends.”  

There is not a downside to having your PE license.  However, there could be some downsides related to the time, energy, and money it takes to achieve it.  

The way I like to think about it is what are the benefits of attaining the PE license and do those outweigh the cost of achieving it – both financial and opportunity costs.  Not sure what opportunity cost is?  I didn’t know either until a few years ago.  Opportunity cost is the value of what you are giving up by pursuing one opportunity over another.  

For example, if you decide that you would rather buy a new car than take a vacation to Hawaii, the opportunity cost is not taking a vacation.  

Another example would be if you spent 4 hours a week studying for the PE exam instead of working a part-time job that pays $25 per hour, the opportunity cost is the $100 you would have made working the part-time job.  

Here are some of the questions you should answer in figuring all of the benefits and costs.  This will help you in determining if pursuing a PE license is the right move for you.  

  1. Does your company require it for promotional opportunities?
  2. Does your industry place a high value on it?
  3. What is the financial impact?
  4. Will it help you achieve your 5- and 10-year plan goals?
  5. What is your alternative?

Does your company require it for promotional opportunities?

  • Does your company have a policy (formal or otherwise) that requires engineers to have a professional engineer license to be promoted to certain roles or certain levels?
  • If so, are those roles ones that you would like to be considered for at some point in your career?  

At my former company to attain “Principal Engineer” job title (the highest level in the engineering hierarchy), engineers had to have their PE license.  However, for me there was still little incentive for me to obtain it because I had reached a comparable level and pay range through a managerial track.  

But for others, not having their PE license seriously interfered with their ability to be promoted within the engineering job hierarchy.  Unfortunately, this not only affects job title, but pay as well.  For engineers who have reached the top of the pay range for their job title, not being able to be promoted often means that they are unable to receive annual raises.

Does your industry place a high value on it?

  • Do other companies in your industry have require engineers to have a professional engineer license to be promoted to certain roles?
  • If so, are those roles ones that you would like to be considered for at some point in your career?
  • Will it help you be recognized as an engineering subject matter expert?

Similar to the previous questions above, if the PE license is high valued in your industry it could be worthwhile to pursue it, even if it is not a priority for your current company or role.

For example, as the National Society of Professional Engineers points out, licensure for engineers has become increasingly important for governmental or educational positions.  

Additionally, only a licensed engineer may prepare, sign and seal, and submit engineering plans and drawings to a public authority for approval, or seal engineering work for public and private clients.

What is the financial impact if you do or do not get it?

  • Who will pay for the tests and study materials?  
  • Does your company reimburse for these?  
  • Does your company offer a spot bonus or raise to reward you for obtaining your PE license?
  • Will your salary be stunted because of not having your PE license?

While the financial implications will not likely drive your decision, it is important for you to consider them.  Some companies reimburse for testing costs, others do not.  A few companies even offer an automatic raise if you obtain your PE license.

As mentioned above, there was not a financial benefit for me to obtain the PE license, since I was achieving similar salary advancements through a managerial route.  But for some there is – so check out what your company offers!

Will it help you achieve your 5- and 10-year plan goals?

  • What do you hope to accomplish in the next few years?  
  • Will getting your PE license accelerate you reaching your goals?  
  • Is obtaining your PE license just something you want to do?

This is completely personal here.  You have to decide what your career goals are and whether achieving the PE license will help you reach them.

If you know the PE license is something you want to accomplish…just because…then go for it!  Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants! 🙂

What is your alternative?

  • If you do not pursue your PE license, how will you be spending your time and energy?
    • Vegging out on the couch?  
    • Obtaining a Masters of Engineering degree?  
    • Obtaining a Masters of Business Administration degree?  
    • Working on high-priority, resume-building projects?  

I firmly believe that you should be actively developing throughout your career. Sometimes this might be through a seriously challenging on the job project.  Other times it might be through formal programs or courses.  Maybe it is through reading the awesome blogs of engineering leadership thought leaders (shameless plug here!).  Or it could be through pursuing your PE license.

Depending on your goals and desired career path, there are a number of things you could be doing to further develop your skills.  

For me, my interests, and my career, I decided to go back to school to earn a Masters of Business Administration degree.  It was the best option for me early in my career because it strengthen my business acumen.  Additionally, the program I attended required significant group work – further developing my leadership and collaboration skills.  

After earning my MBA, I had still planned on pursuing licensure.  However, when I became pregnant with my first child everything changed.   No longer was there time in the evenings for studying or any “extras”.  So any progress in achieving my PE license came to an abrupt halt. And with the birth of my second, I do not see if picking back up any time soon.  

To PE or not to PE?

After you consider the questions above, you will have a better understand if pursuing a PE license is the right career move for you. If it isn’t, be sure you have a plan for growing your professional and leadership skills in other ways.  

Whether you decide to pursue your PE or MBA or MEng or some other development program, take action now!  Do not allow another few months slip by without you working toward some development goal!

PLUS  Setting Priorities - What is your water?

Think you should get your PE license but want some more information about what to expect from the PE exam?  Check out the article How Hard is the PE Exam by James Doane. His site is packed with great tips for preparing for the PE exam.  While you are there you can sign up for a free study guide for PE exam!  

Obsessed with your engineering impact!

Ash

P.S. – As always, this advice is for this person’s specific circumstances based on the information provided to me.  While it is solid general guidance for everyone, please use caution and sound judgement in applying it to your situation.