On The Move
BY DANIELLE BOYKIN
When an engineer passes the PE exam and gets that notification that he or she is eligible to become a professional engineer, that’s quite an accomplishment. Yet, during a PE’s career, additional licenses in other states may be necessary for career growth and securing more business opportunities.
Licensure mobility is an increasingly significant topic of concern for NSPE members. According to the 2018 Engineering Outlook Survey, 45% of participants are licensed in more than one jurisdiction. Forty-seven percent of participants agree and 42% strongly agree that states should align licensing requirements to improve licensure mobility for professional engineers.
PEs licensed in multiple states face challenges from the lack of uniformity in processes to approve comity licenses, education and experience requirements, fee structures, and continuing education requirements. In an effort to remove obstacles, NSPE, state societies, and licensing boards are providing resources and taking substantive actions to ease mobility.
A Point of Frustration
NSPE member Karen Purcell, P.E., holds engineering licenses in 14 jurisdictions, including Nevada and Colorado, where her firm’s offices are located. She acquired additional licenses due to client requests, project demands, and as part of the firm’s long-term strategic planning.
Purcell maintains an NCEES record and holds the model law engineer designation. She is also a member of the Nevada engineering licensing board. Yet, Purcell has faced uneven experiences when she sought comity licensure in other states. “In some jurisdictions I submitted my information and I found out within a week that I’m now a licensed engineer in that state,” she recalls. “While in other jurisdictions, it’s almost as if being a model law engineer and having an NCEES record doesn’t matter because it takes a longer period to become licensed. That’s a point of frustration when you have the correct credentials with no disciplinary record.”
Professional engineers who participate in the NCEES Records Program can be designated as model law engineers to inform licensing boards that they meet the education, exam, and experience requirements recommended in the NCEES Model Law. An individual must have earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from a program accredited by ABET’s Engineering Accreditation Commission; gained four years of acceptable work experience; passed the FE and PE exams; and maintained a clean disciplinary record.
What happens if you’re a PE who doesn’t meet the model law engineer designation standards, or you work as a sole proprietor, yet have decades of reputable experience, a clean disciplinary record, and more than one license? Ronald Sparks, P.E., has been licensed for more than 20 years and holds licenses in North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. The owner of Sparks Engineering in Wilmington has an NCEES record, but faces challenges maintaining and pursuing comity licensure in a neighboring state. “The record has been helpful, but getting references of other engineers is difficult when you mostly work alone and now many engineers who know me well are retiring,” he says.
And despite being licensed in three southeastern states, he can’t get comity licensure from South Carolina because his undergraduate degree isn’t from an ABET-accredited program. Sparks hopes that NSPE will continue working with state legislators and boards to remove impediments to comity.
Where’s the Express Lane?
Shelley Macy, P.E., sits on the Wyoming Board of Professional Engineers—the first engineering licensing board in the nation. The efforts of NCEES are really related to comity, she says, since the organization allows for communication between states and territories to create the basis for licensure. “Our duty as board members is to make sure that when someone requests to practice engineering in our states, that we do our due diligence and review their qualifications to make sure that they are competent to practice.”
Expediting comity applications quickly is a priority for the Wyoming board. Upon receiving a complete application, says Macy, applicants can have their license as quickly as the following week and typically no longer than three months for a minority of applicants.
Macy helped research and review licensing mobility issues while serving on NSPE’s Future of Professional Engineering Task Force. The task force was created two years ago to identify areas in which the practice of professional engineering is facing change and determine how the profession can continue on a successful, sustainable path. The task force issued recommendations on many areas of concern to the profession, including threats to licensure, public policy, the value of the PE, and licensure mobility.
The task force assessed mobility trends and barriers and also reviewed how other professions have dealt with similar issues. Macy says the task force took into consideration that there isn’t always a “one-size-fits-all practice,” particularly when engineering design requirements can be different in different states – for example, Alaska and Florida. For that reason, she adds, the task force considered that licensure in the future may have a more regional flavor.
To improve licensure mobility, the task force recommended that NSPE consider the following:
- Continue to support the education, examination, and experience requirements for professional engineering licensure across all US states and territories;
- Support multistate agreements that provide reciprocity between states if an individual is determined eligible for licensure in one of the signatory states. This means licensure in one state counts for licensure in all states, without separate verification of each application for licensure;
- Explore support of temporary licensure when a candidates moves to a new state or territory so as to not infringe on his or her ability to obtain employment;
- Explore support of project-specific licensure in a state in which an individual is not licensed, provided that a local PE supports the project-specific license, which is similar to the pro hac vice system used in the legal profession; and
- With state societies and partners in other associations, advocate for states to align their PE licensing laws with the NCEES Model Law and Model Rules, including provisions on continuing education, to ensure mobility and the individual competency of PEs.
Macy hopes the recommendations will become part of the conversations and actions taken to improve mobility while still maintaining the protection of the public. “Engineers don’t make the news very often for things that haven’t gone well. I believe it’s because the profession really does a very good job of making sure that designs are prepared by qualified engineering professionals.”
NCEES Past President Patty Mamola, P.E., has observed that some states inadvertently make decisions that hamper licensure mobility and comity rather than conforming closely to the NCEES Model Law. “All of the state licensing boards have agreed on the model law engineer standard as the gold standard, so why don’t we make that work?”
“Engineers don’t make the news very often for things that haven’t gone well. I believe it’s because the profession really does a very good job of making sure that designs are prepared by qualified engineering professionals.”
– Shelley Macy, P.E., F.NSPE
When Mamola became the executive director of the Nevada State Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, she learned that the state made comity licensure applicants follow the same application process as individuals applying for initial licensure. The process for initial licensure requires providing transcripts and references, and getting board member approval. She also discovered that hundreds of applicants had been waiting for comity licensure for more than one year, primarily waiting for transcripts and references. “That’s not comity licensure if you’re making them go through the same process,” she says. “When you’re seeking comity licensure, sometimes it’s hard to get references. If you’ve had a 20- to 30-year career, the person you worked with 20 years ago may be hard to find, or your competitor, or even deceased.”
Nevada has made some key changes to help speed up the comity licensure process. The board changed its administrative process to permit applicants to use an NCEES record instead of filling out a form provided by the board. Comity applications will no longer be held for review during board meetings. Applications can be approved as received by a single board member and then verified and approved by the executive director and board chair, all via email. The board’s changes are yielding some positive results. Now the time for approving comity licensure requests has declined to 10 days or less from 75 days.
Another step to improve licensure mobility involved Nevada entering a memorandum of understanding agreement with Wyoming in 2017—the first of its kind. A model law engineer who applies for licensure in either state can choose to be licensed in the other state. State-specific exams and respective fees will still be required, but an applicant will have to complete only one application. The agreement was spearheaded by Corky Stetson, P.E., a past president of the Wyoming board, who faced his own difficulties getting licensed in a neighboring state. This led to a meeting of the Western Zone states in 2016 to discuss mobility challenges and develop a remedy. North Dakota has recently shown interest in the same type of agreement.
“Most states have a law that says if you’re licensed in another state, jurisdiction, or country and the [standards] are equivalent to our state, then we can license you. The crux of the language is equivalent,” says Mamola. “We decided that if you meet the model law engineer standard then you’re good to go.”
“Most states have a law that says if you’re licensed in another state, jurisdiction, or country and the [standards] are equivalent to our state, then we can license you. The crux of the language is equivalent.”
– Patty Mamola, P.E.
South Dakota: Stronger Together
There are also economic and workforce considerations around licensure mobility. Over the past few years, governors and state legislators have focused on occupational licensure in efforts to ease what they define as burdensome requirements and barriers to employment and economic growth.
Mamola says she understands why some governors and elected officials aren’t happy with what’s going on with some licensing boards. “Our governor is trying to diversify the economy and bring more people to work in the state. If we don’t license professionals in a timely manner, they don’t move here and bring their companies here. It’s bad for the economy,” she says.
And for the states that have effective comity licensing processes for PEs, the challenge is to ensure that those processes aren’t eroded by legislative actions. Last year, the South Dakota Engineering Society won a fight against compact licensure legislation—a fight that SDES and other design professional organizations took on because the current comity licensure process is working for licensees. The South Dakota Board of Technical Professions’ executive director has the authority to issue a temporary license within 30 days with a maximum 60-day period to get licensed by comity. “We feel 30 days is adequate for the board to review applications to ensure qualified individuals get a license. Engineers and employers throughout the state felt that getting a license in a timely manner wasn’t an issue,” says Phil Gundvaldson, P.E., past president of the society. “The legislation had potential unintended consequences that could erode licensure. It was trying to lump us into a problem experienced by other professions, but not ours.”
SDES worked within the South Dakota Design Professionals Coalition on a grassroots effort to oppose the legislation. “We worked as one unified group because we’re stronger together,” says Gundvaldson. “The legislators were contacted by an overwhelming amount of their constituents who didn’t support the legislation, and that made a difference.”
The issue of licensure mobility is also on the agenda of federal legislators and policymakers. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission created the Economic Liberty Task Force to address what it believed were burdens associated with occupational licensure. In September 2018, the FTC issued a report Options to Enhance Occupational License Portability, which concluded that “a slow and burdensome process for cross-state practice is unnecessary and there are many options to enhance licensing mobility.” The report recommends that within licensed professions that have a public protection focus, stakeholders and licensing boards should consider options such as model laws, interstate compacts, and mutual recognition models in addition to easing licensing mobility for US military service members and their spouses.
To assist licensees who are serving in the military or are spouses of service members, NSPE is assisting secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force as they evaluate license reciprocity while making decisions about base placements and resource allocations. The Society is working with licensing boards to compile information that will be useful in this review.
“We would love for every state to accept the [NCEES] record and develop a very simple application for their state, which features any questions that they are required by law to have. This is all in one package that can be electronically transferred to that board.”
– David Cox, NCEES Chief Executive Officer
For the Record
For many state licensing boards, the NCEES Records Program is beneficial for the timely vetting of experience and references. The program is designed to maintain the documentation necessary for both initial licensure and comity licensure, which includes college transcripts, exam results, employment verifications, and professional references. “Licensure applicants have those records sent to the state in which they are applying, so they don’t have to recreate the wheel. It’s a fantastic tool to expedite the process,” says Shelley Macy.
The NCEES Records Program has been in use for decades, originally as a paper-based system. Now the program is administered online, and NCEES has made changes to help increase participation in the program. There is no longer a fee to establish a record, nor an annual maintenance fee. Licensure candidates are allowed to start a record once they pass the FE exam, and record holders pay only when a record is transmitted to a licensing board. Currently, NCEES transmits an average of 3,000 records to state boards each month.
NCEES has also spent two years upgrading and integrating its online systems into a one-stop shop called MY NCEES, which allows users to sign up for exams, manage the records process, and record and track continuing education and professional development hours. The system also sends reminders when information in a record needs updating.
“We would love for every state to accept the [NCEES] record and develop a very simple application for their state, which features any questions that they are required by law to have,” says NCEES Chief Executive Officer David Cox. “This is all in one package that can be electronically transferred to that board.”
Cox previously served as executive director of the Kentucky licensing board, which has required an NCEES Record for comity licensure since 2004. Kentucky was also the first state to require the record for an initial application. Fifteen states will accept the record as an initial application.
Championing the PE
In addition to protecting the license, NSPE seeks to ensure that current and prospective PEs have the information they need to seek and maintain the license. The Society also provides resources for members and state societies to help inform legislators and policy makers about issues that affect professional engineering practice, licensure, and public safety.
Members have free access to 11 reports, including the following, that will assist with maintaining licenses:
- Continuing Education Requirements for Professional Engineers: The report provides continuing education requirements for professional engineers.
- Digital Signing and Sealing of Engineering Documents: A compilation of state laws covering the digital or electronic signing and sealing of engineering documents.
- Education and Experience Requirements for Professional Engineers: A collection of state statutes and regulations regarding requirements.
- State Licensing Fees for Professional Engineers: Information about fees to apply for PE licensure, renewal, and reinstatement in each state and territory.
- Disciplinary Self-Reporting Requirements for Professional Engineers: A compilation of state laws that require design professionals to report claims to the state or its licensing body.
Patty Mamola believes that NSPE is valuable because of its ability to address issues affecting licensure portability. “NSPE is a part of the discussion and can help us to make licensure mobility work for professional engineers.”
Are you a PE licensed in multiple jurisdictions? Have you faced challenges with licensing mobility? Have you used any NSPE resources to help you maintain your license? Share your experiences with PE at firstname.lastname@example.org or start a conversation in the Open Forum of NSPE’s Communities.