Define. Promote. Protect. The Importance of Professional Licensure

Brad Peterson, P.E., CFM, LEED AP is Vice President of Infrastructure at Crafton Tull. This article is the first in a series he wrote during his time as ASPE president in 2016.  

Define. Promote. Protect. Those of you who have had an opportunity to review the NSPE Strategic Plan know that these words have been adopted as the organization’s Statement of Principles. I wanted to begin my tenure as ASPE President by giving my take on the benefits of having a simple, unifying message for ASPE and engineers in general. It is easy to become distracted by the many differences between disciplines. However, learning to focus instead on the numerous similarities is critical to maintaining relevance. The Strategic Plan is designed to do just that: put the spotlight on member engagement and involvement. The reality is that membership numbers are slipping across the board. This is due in part to other organizations offering other places for engineers to spend their time and money. In order to stop the trend currently splintering our membership, it is essential that we deliver this concise new message explaining who we are and what we do.

DEFINE. In order to successfully implement a strategy based on the idea of raising awareness about being a Professional Engineer, you must first have a clear and concise definition of what it means to be a PE. Along with the requisite education, technical competence, and registration maintenance, a PE has an obligation to the health, safety, and welfare of the public at large. This type of responsibility calls for a high measure of professionalism and dedication to quality service; not only service to clients, but also to improving communities through public involvement, volunteerism, and philanthropic acts.

PROMOTE: As we all know, engineers don’t just drive trains. We know this because it is our chosen profession. As such, it is our job to educate the public on the dozens of practices that fall in the category of Professional Engineer. When a registered PE becomes involved in programs such as Engineers Week and Project Lead the Way, they help shape the public understanding regarding the integral role engineers play in providing meaning and value to communities where they live and work. Social Media is becoming an indispensable tool for exposing students, educators, and the general population to opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM.) Twitter campaigns like #BeAnEngineer and #ilooklikeanengineer are promoting the diversity of the people and careers available to Professional Engineers.

PROTECT: Perhaps the most important of these Principles is the responsibility we have to defend the engineering profession through active opposition to practice by unlicensed individuals. As Professional Engineers, it is imperative that we take the time to educate legislators and lawmakers from all levels of government on the fundamental need for PE registration. It is critical to our profession that we protect and support high standards for obtaining licensure. Just as critical is the support for high standards in ethics and professionalism. The NSPE is the only professional engineering organization made up of engineers from any discipline. A desire to maintain the integrity of our profession is a common thread among all areas of practice.

We know that ours is a profession that, when done properly, often goes unseen by the public at large. Many outside the engineering industry are not aware of the education, training, and experience that are required for licensure. Nor do they realize the potential consequences of allowing unqualified practitioners. It is the primary goal of the NSPE to draw attention to the benefits of licensure and advocate for the licensure of all engineers directly affecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public. This organization uses its national platform to encourage leadership training, multidisciplinary networking, and education as a way of effectively raising awareness. It is then up to us to strengthen that impact through involvement on the national, state, and local level.