Changing the Conversation on Engineering Licensure

Fall 2021

NSPE Today: Outlook
Changing the Conversation on Engineering Licensure

BY RICK GUERRA, P.E., F.NSPE, PRESIDENT 2021–22

When I first joined NSPE in 1994, I was so proud to call myself an engineer. I understood that we engineers are in the business of making the impossible possible through the work that we do every day. Growing up with a father who was a licensed professional engineer, I also had a good sense for the meaning and purpose of the engineering license. I was already a PE myself, and took considerable pride in the designation, as a symbol of achievement. I saw the PE as the highest credential available to members of our profession and a great accomplishment. It was not until a few years later that I began to appreciate and take pride in what the PE really represents.

I believe that all PEs reach a point in their careers when we realize that what we do is bigger than each of us as individual engineers. For me, it was when I first learned of the event that led to the enactment of the Engineering Practice Act in in my home state of Texas. In 1937, a natural gas explosion destroyed the school at New London, Texas. The explosion killed 297 students and teachers, making it the deadliest school disaster in American history. I heard this story for the first time six years after I had earned my PE license. To this day, I carry the images of that deadly explosion in my head. And from that day forward, I committed my engineering knowledge and practice to ensuring that no such tragedy ever results from the work that I do.

Each of us has our own unique and personal PE story. Yet we all share a commitment to a high standard of competence, professionalism, and ethical behavior that sets us apart. As PEs, we place service before profit, the honor and standing of our profession above personal advantage, and the public welfare above all other considerations. In today’s world, that makes us extraordinary.

Over the years, my pride for the PE has grown. Not for what it means as a symbol of achievement, but for the noble purpose it represents. As I begin my year as your president, I have a favor to ask of you.

Over the past two years, our NSPE Government Relations staff has tracked almost 500 bills filed across the country that were meant to erode, dilute, or eliminate engineering licensure. The sheer volume of these filings is a clear indication that the public, and more importantly our legislators, have lost sight of the necessary purpose of engineering licensure, and the safety and security it provides for our citizens. Currently, the conversation about engineering licensure revolves around the perceived inconvenience it imposes and the alleged barriers it creates to entry into the profession. The essential purpose and benefits of engineering licensure have been missing from the conversation.

This year, I would like to start a national movement to change the conversation about engineering licensure around the country. I will gladly be the torchbearer for the movement. However, to make a real difference, to have far-reaching impact, we must raise our collective voices and tell our story together. To that end, I am asking all licensed professional engineers to take three simple actions from this day forward, not for me, but for our profession and for the public we serve:

  • Change the way you introduce yourself: When someone asks you what you do, stop saying that you are a civil engineer, a mechanical engineer, or electrical engineer. Instead, introduce yourself as a licensed professional engineer. While the difference may seem subtle to some, there is a big difference. The public needs to know the difference, and if they don’t hear it from us, they will not hear it at all.

  • RICK GUERRA, P.E., F.NSPE, PRESIDENT 2021–22Get to know each other: When you gather at chapter meetings or even meet with other PEs individually or in small groups, get to know each other. Ask your fellow PEs why they are proud to be PEs, and what they are most proud of in their professional life. I can assure you that the answers you get will inspire you and remind you why engineering licensure matters. Then, when you are asked similar questions, you will be equipped to tell the important story of the licensed practice of engineering.

  • Use #ProudPE: Whenever using social media to post anything related to engineering, use #ProudPE. If enough of us do this, it will spur questions about the hashtag, and provide additional opportunities to tell our important story.

Doing these three simple things will position us to change the conversation about engineering licensure around the country and stem the tide of harmful antilicensure bills. Together we can, and we will, make a difference.