Helbling Insight

Earning a Professional Engineer (PE) License: Is It Worth It?

Earning a Professional Engineer (PE) license has many advantages and these benefits translate into further value to organizations that have employees with this licensure.

What is PE certification and what are the requirements for getting it? 

A PE is an individual who is licensed to practice engineering in a particular state or U.S. territory after meeting all requirements of the law. To become licensed, a person must have:

  • Bachelor's degree in Engineering from an accredited Engineering program.
  • Complete four years of progressive Engineering experience under a PE.
  • Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam.
  • Pass the Principles & Practice of Engineering (P&PE) exam.
  • Earn a license from a state's licensure board.
  • (To retain licensure, PEs must maintain continuing education requirements.)

What are the benefits of earning PE licensure?

The National Society of Professional Engineers says it best: To a client, it means you've got the credentials to earn their trust. To an employer, it signals your ability to assume a higher level of responsibility. To add to that, it positions a professional for career advancement because PEs can:

  • Manage projects themselves.
  • Have full responsibility for design of a project and sign off on it.
  • Be an educator of engineering.
  • Enhance their advancement and financial earning potential.
  • Sign and submit engineering plans and drawings to a public authority for approval, and seal engineering work for public and private clients.

Median Income of Engineers with PE License = $104,132*

How does PE licensure come into play during recruitment?

As executive search consultants who specialize in engineering, construction, facilities management, and real estate development, Helbling & Associates often sees preference for candidates with PE licensure.

Managing Directors Jim Lord and Wes Miller provide their perspective on this topic:

Lord has been a search consultant for nearly 18 years. He says, "While we see PE licensure as a preference for searches in any of our sectors, it is most often seen when partnering with healthcare and higher education institutions, and with private and public corporate entities. PE licensure is considered a high standard of competence in the engineering profession. During searches for certain types of roles, it distinguishes job candidates from one another because it demonstrates enhanced technical capabilities. We see more preference for a PE at a Director level because these roles typically involve technical oversight responsibilities. Being a PE indicates that a candidate has extensive technical capabilities and this creates credibility with an internal team as well as with clients and external consultants. In saying that, it's important to keep in mind that the higher up one is in an organization, the less technical a role can be. It's typically leadership skills that then take precedence, and not the PE license."

Miller agrees and explains, "If a candidate is being considered for a technical role, a PE license can help to provide credibility when dealing with technical matters. As someone elevates themselves to a middle or senior management position, we tend to see less emphasis on the requirement for a PE. At that level, our clients are typically more interested in managerial abilities versus the authority to stamp drawings." He goes on to say, "When we are conducting a search that does require a PE, it changes our recruitment process as it is a priority to our client and we must focus on that qualification. Fortunately, we can gain access to PE records, publicly as well as within our propriety database, and we can streamline our search activities to those who already have or is in a position to gain that credential.”

Lord elaborates further, "I think it's important for hiring organizations to consider that requiring PE licensure puts constraints on a given talent pool. Again, it depends upon the role and the level of necessity of candidates being PEs. I've worked on searches that have a PE requirement, which prompted our client to overlook highly-qualified candidates who did not have a PE. As I said previously, when it comes to a leadership role, business acumen can be much more important than engineering acumen. As an example, in performing a recent search for a prominent university, they actually had a preference for a professional with a non-engineer mentality for their Assistant Vice President of Operations roles. They wanted someone who could 'get out of the weeds' and lead strategically. Not to say that an engineer cannot do that, but in times of stress, professionals tend to work within their strengths, which in this case would be focusing on the engineering details. Wes (Miller) and I would agree that, over the past 5 or 10 years, we've seen more attention on business savvy than technical savvy among particular clients. You can always hire consultants to fill in the technical voids, but leadership typically cannot be hired in."

So, there you have it. If you're an engineer and want to further your career, earning a PE license is certainly something you want to do. It will help you move up through the ranks in an organization. After you reach a leadership role, your licensure will become less of an issue and asset but it will still help you get to where you want to be. *Source: 2013 Salary Survey by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and American Society of Civil Engineers