Professional Engineering (PE) Licenses Offer Access to a High Growth Market

by Joel Erway
Posted 02/16/2015

Becoming a licensed PE is a privilege that must be earned by demonstrating competence and experience. To begin the process, each state requires aspiring professionals to pass a Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. They also require that engineers work for a certain number of years practicing under a licensed Professional Engineer before they are eligible to apply for a professional license. This web site is a great resource for frequently asked questions about professional licensing.

Once you do become licensed, the benefits to you and the community you'll serve are plentiful. Considering what you have to gain, now may be the perfect time to start planning.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics Employment Projections, between 2012 and 2022, the anticipated retirement of thousands of baby boomers will provide significant opportunities for upcoming engineers. The two top engineering fields in terms of growth are Construction and Computer engineering, which are projected to grow at a rate of 21.4% and 18.0%, respectively.

Need more of an incentive to become an engineer and work toward your PE license? A recent college salary report by lists the top 10 majors with the best salary potential. Engineering majors make up 70% of that list.

Figure 1 – Image Courtesy of

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers reported in their 2013 Salary Survey that the earning potential for engineers is dependent on four key factors: job experience, location, discipline, and skills. According to this report, “engineers with a PE license reported a median annual income of $104,132.”

The Path to a PE License

As engineers, we tend to overthink almost everything. We set a plan and analyze all aspects in hopes of anticipating and avoiding any roadblocks along the way.

The ideal path would be to:

•  graduate from an accredited engineering program

•  obtain the Engineer-in-Training (EIT) certificate by passing the FE exam

•  land a job practicing under a licensed PE

•  work for the minimum number of years of experience required by your state

•  pass your PE exam

But the truth is, when it comes to becoming a licensed PE there is no typical path. The National Society of Professional Engineers told the story of Allen Oertel, PE, who proved that even at age 48, there is no time like the present to become licensed. Mr. Oertel stated that without a PE license, “…I began to see that many of my advancement opportunities would eventually be limited.” So, he persevered through the hurdles of juggling family commitments with higher education to eventually become licensed. He now serves as an associate and group manager and supervises 13 fellow engineers and technical staff members.

Mr. Oertel estimates that he spent approximately “600-700 hours preparing for the F.E. and P.E. exams”. Was that time commitment worth it? According to Mr. Oertel, absolutely. “I am obviously an advocate for professional licensing and continuing education and believe I can serve as an example to my co-workers that one is never too old to accomplish life's goals, both professional and personal.”

A Certificate is not a Certification, and neither one is a License

Obtaining any professional credentials will certainly boost your value in your engineering field, but sometimes understanding the difference between certificates, certifications, and licenses can be confusing. The NSPE published a report that helps differentiate between them.

Certifications, such as the Engineer-in-Training certification, “…attest to an individual's capability to perform a defined task or related series of tasks…” and “…require a sufficient period of experience acceptable to the certifying body and successful completion of an examination.”

Certifications should not be confused with certificates, however. Certificates are simply acknowledgement given to individuals for attendance or completion of a particular course or study. For example, your employer may hire a third party to give specified training on a new computer software program that you will be implementing in the office. After you finish the course, you may be offered a certificate validating that you attended and completed the course.

Licenses go beyond certificates. When it comes to engineers serving the public, “licenses are employed by governments, usually states, to regulate the practice of certain professions to protect the public from incompetence and misconduct of practitioners…” and “… are required for a professional to offer those services to the public. Certifications are not required and do not grant authority to a professional to offer services to the public.”

Licenses and certifications work in conjunction with each other. In order to obtain a PE license, one must first obtain an accredited certification (i.e., an EIT certification) from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).

The difference between a licensed PE or PS and an accredited EIT certification is important—particularly for your career path. While both distinguish you from other engineers without credentials, once you're a PE, you'll have more opportunities to grow your career and serve your community. For more information about engineering certification and licensure, or for review materials to help you pass your FE or PE exams, visit PPI's website, at .

PPI, publisher of quality professional licensing exam review material since 1975, has sponsored promotion of their professional exam review training on They have no editorial input to this post. All opinions are mine. – Joel Erway.

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