An illustration of experience, showing a head with gears, light bulb, and wrenchBY BABU VARGHESE, PE, SI, CGC, CCC, FBPE Chair (2020)

These are turbulent and uncertain times. The lockdown due to COVID-19 has resulted in many engineers losing their jobs or being furloughed. I certainly hope, since the economy is beginning to show improvement, that these engineers will find better opportunities.

As life goes on, virtual graduations are everywhere, and newly minted engineers are looking for real jobs. It is important for them to understand the pros and cons of career choices they make and how it affects professional growth. Though most engineers are aware of the four years of required experience for licensure, it appears they are generally not aware of what constitutes acceptable qualifying engineering experience for licensure.

Engineers have always been an attractive bunch of potential recruits for employers in other professions, which are quite disconnected from engineering. Job fairs at universities and other career placement events are clear examples of this trend. Large construction companies, accounting and financial firms, software companies, and business consulting companies are the most common ones hiring traditional engineers. A traditional engineering firm designing buildings or bridges never considers hiring someone from a different profession and then training them to be engineers, unlike other professions that do just that. These professions figured out that it is easy and worth it to train engineers because of their logical and methodical approach, which leads to better results.

When the remuneration package is attractive, especially at the entry level stage, engineers very often abandon their field of study and join a different profession. After a couple of years, it becomes difficult to come back and pick up where they left off, and therefore most do not try to resume engineering, except the ones who joined construction companies.

Construction Engineers

A young engineer may find it enticing to join a large construction company due to the tempting prospects, which include a 25-percent to 30-percent increase in salary, moving to a different city after about nine months or so when a project is done, and the attractive reimbursable and benefits package when compared to a traditional engineering design office’s compensation package. There is nothing wrong with any of these wonderful aspects. However, the problem starts when such engineers apply for licensure. The experience most of them claim on their licensure applications are:

  • Construction scheduling
  • Quantity estimates
  • Contract negotiation
  • Coordination with subcontractors
  • Coordination with design professionals.

There are construction firms that employ engineers to perform engineering work, such as value engineering analysis, design of tunneling systems, design of temporary support systems, formwork system design, etc., which are all acceptable as experience. Other construction firms employ them as construction superintendents, though the job title may be different. Those listing that type of background will face engineering experience issues.

When their application is denied for licensure, a few of the rejected applicants appeal and appear for an informal hearing in front of the Board. At least one or two applicants appear in front of the Board at every board meeting. All the experience they narrate, consists of what a general contractor does, which has nothing to do with engineering decision-making. It is heart wrenching to reject these applicants who have excellent engineering educations but lack the appropriate engineering experience.

There is an engineering rule — Rule 61G15-20.002, Florida Administrative Code — outlining acceptable experience. The following excerpts, in particular No. 12, can help an applicant determine what is acceptable engineering experience:

1. The acquisition of acceptable engineering experience should logically follow and constitute an application of the engineering education previously obtained.
4. Experience must be progressive on engineering projects to indicate that it is of increasing quality and requiring greater responsibility.
7. Experience should be gained under the supervision of a licensed Professional Engineer or, if not, an explanation should be made showing why the experience should be considered acceptable.
12. Experience in construction, to be creditable, must demonstrate the application of engineering principles.
13. Experience should include demonstration of a knowledge of engineering mathematics, physical and applied science, properties of materials, and the fundamental principles of engineering design.
14. Experience should include demonstration of the application of engineering principles in the practical solution of engineering problems.

Documenting Experience

In evaluating your application, the Board’s Experience Committee must determine whether your experience qualifies you for licensure. That means, the committee must be able to verify, understand and evaluate the facts you have presented. Do not assume that the brief summary you provided will be obvious to the committee.

A specific, detailed summary of your engineering experience will greatly increase your chances of approval. You should write a draft of your experience and run it by your supervising Professional Engineer or someone who is familiar with the licensure process to review it before sending it to the Board. Be honest. In some cases, it is better to wait until you have sufficient experience to qualify you for approval.

Intent of the Rules

Ask any experienced engineer the reasons for their success, and you will most likely hear about their first job and the Professional Engineer who trained them. This is where most engineers learn about the engineering decision-making process, ethics, and integrity, and where their work product is critiqued for quality control and accuracy.

After gaining licensure, most engineers work somewhat independently. Over the years, the Board has learned that a well-trained engineer is less likely to make the common errors that lead to disciplinary actions. And that is the goal of the Board’s Rules.

Working under an experienced and reputable engineer must be a paramount goal for graduating engineers, and the rewards will be evident at a later stage in their careers.

About the Author

Babu Varghese, PE, SI, CGC, CCC, is the president and principal engineer of Abtech Engineering Inc., a multi-disciplinary engineering firm, in Fort Lauderdale, which he founded in 1988. He has served on the Board since 2015, and was its vice chair in 2019.