What Is a Professional Engineer? Everything You Need to Know

There are more than 800,000 professional engineers in the United States.

What is a professional engineer? And how are they different from other engineers? When is a PE required for an assignment?

Professional engineers undergo a rigorous training process. Here’s what you should know about hiring one.

How Does Someone Become a Professional Engineer?

Professional engineers command a high level of respect than their uncertified counterparts. They may also enjoy better employment opportunities.

To become licensed, engineers must complete a four-year engineering degree. They should also work under the supervision of a professional engineer for at least four years.

Graduates from state-approved engineering programs get classified as “engineer interns” or “engineers-in-training.” They must successfully complete the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. In many cases, the school engineers trained in can guide them to professional engineers looking to take on apprentices in their area.

A prospective PE must also pass two intensive competency exams before becoming licensed by their state. Each state has its own licensure board that administers its own exam and required qualifications. Preparation classes and materials are available.

After becoming licensed, a professional engineer is still required to take continuing education classes and training to update their skill set regularly. PEs generally make more money than other engineers.

What Can Only a Professional Engineer Do?

Only professional engineers may sign, seal, and submit engineering plans for approval. They can seal PE stamps stating that all of the work was prepared under the direct supervision of a professional engineer. 

Many jobs require someone with a PE license to work as a senior engineer or engineering consultant. They testify as expert witnesses, conduct patent work, or advertise engineering services. 

PEs are responsible for the work, as well as all of the lives affected by the work. They must hold themselves to high ethical standards of practice. Licensure is a legal requirement for those overseeing the work.

In most cases, only professional engineers are allowed to teach engineering students in training classes. Having a license helps educators prepare for futures in engineering.

In many state, local, and municipal agencies, only licensed professional engineers are permitted to do work. This is particularly true for those with higher levels of responsibility. 

What Types of Professional Engineers Are There?

Training, post-college work, and exams will depend on an engineer’s particular discipline.

Civil engineers, for example, supervise, operate, and construct infrastructure projects in public and private arenas. These may include roads, buildings, airports, and tunnels.

Mechanical engineers design power-producing machines. These may include electric generators, steam engines, or gas and refrigeration systems.

Mechanical engineers also design machines inside buildings. This includes elevators and escalators.

Architectural engineers work on the construction, planning, and design phase of projects. The focus is on building structure and interior design, such as lighting and plumbing. In some areas, natural concerns such as earthquakes and hurricanes require special consideration.

Electrical engineers design components of electrical equipment. This may include system grids, power grids, automobiles, and more. They may also work on developing energy from natural sources such as wind and solar.

Computer engineers work on telecommunications, networking, and software application. It is an industry that’s continually growing and in-demand. New areas include cybersecurity, cloud computing, and web development.

Industrial engineers work for manufacturing companies. Their job is to increase productivity and decrease waste spending. Industrial engineers can also test employee productivity and in-house practices.

Chemical engineers apply chemical reactions to solve problems. They may design new products in foods, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. It is a broad engineering degree that allows for many types of employment.

There are lots of special disciplines when it comes to engineering. When you are looking to hire an engineer, be sure to search for someone with experience and expertise in your job’s particular area.

What Should I Look for in an Engineer?

There are lots of folks out there with engineering degrees. When hiring one, you will want to get recommendations from others who have hired professionals for their jobs. 

If you can’t get any referrals for some reason, be sure to ask prospective engineers for references that you can speak to about their experiences. 

Was the engineer professional and easy to communicate with? Did they work well with their teams? Did they exercise patience in all situations?

Good engineers will pay close attention to detail, as well as the larger picture. They should also be inventive about solving new problems as they arise.

You will obviously want to look for a licensed professional engineer or a team that is supervised by one. Most engineers will also have public liability insurance. This will protect you against any damage that may occur on or around the premises associated with your business.

Ask your prospective engineer or team for their licensing and insurance numbers before you hire them. Call up the appropriate organizations and verify that they are valid.

Make sure you get the cost for the work you are doing in writing before you hire. It should be agreed upon so that there are no surprises when the work gets completed.

Get to Work

A professional engineer will have years of education, professional experience, and continued training. You can be sure that your job will be done with the utmost care. Be sure to look for a license when you are looking to get an important job done.

For more great advice on hiring professionals, read our blog today.