Many people misconstrue how challenging it is to become an engineer and the extensive process involved in getting a certified P.E. (Professional Engineer) license more specifically. If you look at the research and talk to experienced P.E.’s, you’ll notice three primary “levels of attrition” during the licensure process. Many aspiring professional engineers tend to drop off during one of these three main phases or “transitional periods” during the process.
But because engineers are entrusted with designing and maintaining engineering operations and projects vital to public safety and the functioning of society, the path to becoming an engineer isn’t supposed to be a cakewalk. In fact, out of all the engineering applicants today, only about 20% are professionally licensed.
So what are the 3 levels of attrition in the P.E. licensure process? And how can an engineer in training avoid these common drop-off points to successfully become an engineer?
3 Levels of Attrition for an Engineer in Training
- Passing the FE Exam for EIT Certification
After completing a minimum of three years of undergraduate/post-secondary school at a legitimate EAC/ABET-accredited engineering program, a P.E. applicant/hopeful must than study for and pass the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) 6-hour, 110-question, computer-based Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) or the Engineer in Training (EIT) test. The FE Exam is offered in seven different ways depending on the engineer’s specific disciple. The seven discipline-specific FE exams include Chemical, Civil, Environmental, Electrical and Computer, Mechanical, Industrial and Systems, and General Engineering/other engineering disciplines.
To pass this rigorous test and gain EIT certification, engineers are advised to start studying months in advance, complete a plethora of timed practice problems, memorize formulas, and learn the art and science of reverse engineering to effectively analyze different situations. But only 60% of engineers pass the FE exam. About 40% fail and then either get discouraged about becoming an engineer or take time off to re-evaluate their situation and/or prepare to retake the FE Exam. Sometimes, engineers will take some time off after graduation or potentially even change majors completely before taking this test. People in these particular situations often have trouble passing the FE Exam because they struggle recalling the intricacies of what they learned in engineering school.
- Completing On-the-Job Training
The second level of the weeding out process in the engineering career path is when an engineer in training is required to get out from behind the desk and experience what it’s like to be a licensed Professional Engineer. One of the job descriptions of P.E.’s is to serve as a mentor to potential future licensees. In fact, in order for a P.E. candidate to even sit in on the final P.E. Exam, he or she is required to have worked with, or under, a professional engineer. This is typically done through on-the-job training, apprenticeship, and/or shadowing as a way to ensure the next generation of engineers has the correct technical and experiential knowledge to hit the ground running on job.
For example, two-time former IECA President and 40-year P.E. license holder Dr. David T. Williams encourages his junior engineers to sit in on classes or workshops he instructs before having them walk around the room to practice answering questions. After helping with a few workshops, he then asks them to give an easy lecture before moving on to the next step. As his training program and succession plan progresses, he eventually has his mentees write papers and make presentations at conferences and for professional societies. This not only helps to fine-tune the public speaking skills of any engineer in training, it also builds a diversified portfolio and resume that’s critical to successfully become an engineer.
- Passing the Final NCEES P.E. Exam
There’s a consistently high percentage of repeat takers of the final P.E. Exam in every engineering discipline who are striving to become an engineer. Some states don’t require an engineer in training to take and complete this test. However, certain states such as California and Illinois require that you pass this exam to be considered an actual engineer. In many states across the country, professional engineers also need to complete a certain number of continuing education units (CEUs) or professional development hours (PDHs) each year to renew a P.E. certification in that state. Such qualified PDH credits include live and interactive webinars and self-study courses, but specific requirements vary state-by-state.
How to Become an Engineer…with Job Security
Engineers today are becoming more and more of a revolving door. While approximately 140,000 new engineering jobs are projected to be created over the next five years—13,000 of which are geared toward the Engineering Manager position—this rise in engineering job opportunities is not only attributed to the increase in new roles that engineers are having to assume. It’s also because of the incredibly high turnover rate in the engineering industry.
Data analyst and embedded software engineers in particular have a whopping 21.7% turnover rate. What’s more, 87% of local government managers are currently over the age of 40, many of whom are Engineering Managers. Millennials (i.e. people born between 1977-1998) are also tending to stay in their jobs for less and less time than previous generations. So once you overcome the 3 levels of attrition and become an engineer, the key to job success and security is finding the right engineering position and making yourself indispensable in order to close that revolving door.