October 7, 2016

Today the Professional Engineer’s Exam is the doorway to professional recognition as a licensed engineer.  However, I am not convinced that a bachelor’s degree and four years of experience plus an exam will enable current practicing engineers, much less future engineers, to successfully protect the health, safety and welfare of the public in a world that is increasingly uncertain.

Over the last year it has been my privilege to serve as president of both the COPRI Board of Governors and the ACOPNE Board of Trustees.  During this period it has become increasingly evident to me that ASCE needs to create and promote a more comprehensive vision of, and clear pathway to, the highest level of civil engineering practice and seek to develop and recognize engineers of exceptional capability by setting a stepwise protocol to a world standard for civil engineering practice.

Part of the work has been undertaken (M. Woodson, Resolved: We Must Raise the Bar to Advance the Profession, July 6, 2016).  The ASCE “Raise the Bar” initiative to require a Master’s degree as a prerequisite for engineering licensure is a necessary addition to achieving a progressive, professional development staircase, but it is not sufficient.  Similar to the medical and other licensed/learned professions, a comprehensive pathway would not only require the aforementioned advanced academic work (as well as continuing education activities) but also must promote on-the-job training to gain real-world experience in a chosen engineering specialty area as represented in the activities of the ASCE Technical Institutes (e.g., COPRI).  In addition to work experience, it is essential that the senior practicing engineers know that there are additional steps for them to take to advance their careers.  The mechanism that I recommend is for ASCE to promote the mastery of the engineering “body of knowledge” that is specific to each engineering specialty and upheld by the Technical Institutes. This mastery would be demonstrated by written and/or oral examination given by senior practitioners, which leads to Board Certification through ASCE’s Civil Engineering Certification, Inc. (CEC) (e.g., ACOPNE).  The Career Staircase figure illustrates the stepwise relationship between academic levels and professional experience and certification.

I believe that both the pursuit of higher education, demonstrated by an advanced engineering degree, and real-world experience, validated by peer-review, exam, and ultimately board certification, will lead the profession to higher levels of performance, which can best serve the public’s desire for civil engineering services, including protecting their health, safety and welfare.  The Society should create and promote a comprehensive professional development program as described above to assist our members in enhancing their professional capabilities and to achieve and be recognized for their competence at each level on their way to preeminent professional stature.

Written by 2016 ACOPNE President, Thomas H Wakeman, III, Eng.Sc.D., Dist.D.NE, Dist.D.PE, F.ASCE