LETTER: Licensing Engineering Professionals

By on October 12th, 2017 in Magazine Articles, Societal Impact

Dear Editor,

This letter is about the Licensing of Engineering Professionals.

Is there any validity to this practice? The Education Department of the State of New York says — there is. IEEE Policy also says there is.

The reality, I have come to continuously over four decades in practice as an electrical power engineer in the service of more than a dozen U.S. firms — is that there is none!

Proponents of current licensing procedures claim that engineering licensing, which is mandated and conducted by the state, assures the holder of having minimum competence to practice the profession.

Here is what article 7.100 of IEEE Policy says:

“…The IEEE, in furtherance of IEEE Policy 7.6 (Protection of the Public) and IEEE Policy 7.8 (Code of Ethics), as they apply to the United States, recognizes that licensure and registration contributed to the professions’ efforts to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public by ensuring that practitioners meet minimum recognized levels of education, experience, and competence …” etc. (emphasize added)

In principle, we are not against the “licensing” of engineering professionals. What we are against, is the current methods used for licensing, which we have found to be illusive and lacking validity in delegating unquestioned professional responsibility to those holding engineering license from the states. And as such, it is utterly detrimental to the profession and to U.S. industry. We can bring up many case stories exhaustive enough to demonstrate the picture.

The other concern is the expression of “minimum … competence.” In engineering, there is no “minimum” and implied “maximum” competence. In engineering, there is either having competence, or not having competence to handle this or that task or problem.

The third aspect of our concern is emphasizing constantly over and over “to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public” as if that is all there is to it in engineering, narrowly coming down to taking care of an obscure concept of health, safety, and welfare of the public, that is all, while ignoring all fundamental aspects of engineering functions and roles.

The fourth thing that is very bothersome to us, is that licensing certificates do not differentiate between various disciplines of engineering — between mechanical and electrical engineers, between electrical and civil engineers, etc. I had a “supervisor” who was a mechanical engineer, and I had another one who was civil engineer, which compelled me, an electrical power engineer, to justify and explain to them everything I was doing, which they never were capable of understanding anyway. And then they had the right and authority to sign and “approve” my work, because they had an engineering license from the state, and I had none! Their engineering licenses were not in “mechanical” nor in “civil” engineering.” No! Their engineering licenses were in “engineering,” authorizing them to sign engineering drawings and calculations of any discipline — electrical, mechanical, civil, chemical, or structural, etc., etc., in which they had no education, no expertise, no competence, and no training. How could they possibly protect “health, safety, and welfare of the public?” Indeed, how far can the absurdity go? As we see, this is very unscrupulous public policy.

These are things we would like to bring forth to the attention of IEEE membership in a series of articles based on case stories and analysis with the purpose of leading to the adoption of a professional position by IEEE for further action.


Gerald Aksherian is an electrical power engineer and the author of the recently published Illustrated Dictionary Of Electrical Power Engineering. Generation, Transmission, Distribution.