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Professional licensure protects the public by enforcing standards that restrict practice to qualified individuals who have met specific qualifications in education, work experience, and exams. In the United States, licensure for the engineering and surveying professions is regulated by each state. Candidates interested in pursuing licensure are encouraged to check the requirements in the state or territory where they plan to practice, as the requirements vary. The WV State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers grants the PE to engineers who meet certain requirements in education, experience, and exams.
Licensed engineers are a select group. Because the requirements are stringent and because there are some exemptions that allow engineers to work under the supervision of a P.E., not all engineers become licensed. Those who do achieve licensure, however, enjoy the professional benefits that accompany this distinction. Licensed engineers also enjoy more career options. As a P.E., you would be able to perform certain tasks, such as:
- Stamp and seal designs
- Bid for government contracts
- Be the principal/engineer in responsible charge of a firm
- Perform consulting services
- Offer services to the public
Engineers who do not perform the above functions can also benefit from holding a professional license. As a PE, you are likely to reach managerial positions more quickly and earn a higher salary than your peers. The PE acts as a standard that shows you have met a series of stringent professional requirements and are a member of a select group of practicing engineers. Because engineering is licensed at the state level, a professional engineer who practices in multiple states must be licensed by each of those states.
The requirements for becoming a PE can be divided into three areas: education, experience, and exams. While each state has its own specific laws and rules concerning professional licensure, the information below describes the general process of obtaining a PE in West Virginia.
Generally, engineering licensing boards require PE candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET. The ABET website allows you to search for accredited programs (select EAC in the “accredited by” field). The WV Engineering Law currently allows for 4 year baccalaureate degrees in Engineering (EAC programs) and Engineering Technology (TAC).
If your degree is earned outside of the United States and is not from an ABET-accredited program, you will be required to have your educational credentials evaluated to determine if they are substantially equivalent to that of a graduate of an EAC/ABET-accredited program. As outlined in WV Engineering Law, the WV PE Board utilizes the services offered by the NCEES Credentials Evaluations service that compares the education of foreign-educated candidates (as well as those earning engineering degrees from domestic, non-ABET accredited programs in combination with a Master’s Degree or PhD from an ABET program) to established criteria standards.
Most states require four years of qualifying work experience. This is consistent with the NCEES Model Law, which classifies qualifying experience as “progressive experience on engineering projects of a grade and a character which indicate to the board that an applicant may be competent to practice engineering.” This is typically done as an engineer intern (sometimes called an engineer-in-training or EIT) under the supervision of a PE. For those graduating from an EAC ABET-accredited engineering program, the WV Engineering Law requires the four years of qualifying experience. However, for those graduating from a TAC ABET-accredited engineering program, the WV Engineering Law requires six years of qualifying experience.
The NCEES Model Law grants one and two years of experience credit for those with qualifying master’s and doctoral degrees, respectively.
The PE candidates must also achieve acceptable results on two exams: the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (FE), which is usually taken in the senior year of college, and the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam (PE), which is typically taken after at least four (or six) years of work experience. Both exams are developed by professional engineers with the assistance of testing experts known as psychometricians.
The FE exam tests knowledge learned during college. It includes a general morning session and an afternoon session with separate modules by engineering discipline. Examinees select the module that corresponds with their major. After passing the FE exam and meeting all other WV PE Board requirements, you will be approved by the board and become an engineer intern.
The PE exam is typically the final hurdle before obtaining the license. It is more specialized, testing knowledge and skills learned through work experience in a particular engineering discipline. NCEES offers several separate PE exams, each with its own specifications that correspond to the engineering discipline.