Professional Engineer licenseBY C. KEVIN FLEMING, PE, FBPE Chair (2021)

I am a Clint Eastwood fan from way back, and some of my favorite Clint movies are the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and ‘70s that got his career rolling. One film, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, is a classic character play between moral and immoral — albeit very loosely — as well as the persona that is both good and bad, but mostly neither: the ugly.

Your Board will review thousands of applications every year, for both the achievement of Engineering Intern and for Professional Engineer. Just like characters in a dusty western, there are those applications that can be approved (the “good”), those that do not comply with the statutes (the “bad”), and then there are those applications that are vague, incomplete, or contain conflicts, such that the application cannot be deemed to demonstrate the requirements of licensure (the “ugly”).

There are four basic requirements for licensure in engineering in Florida. Let’s consider each.

Education

The first is education. Chapter 471.013(1)(a), Florida Statutes, states:

A person shall be entitled to take an examination for the purpose of determining whether she or he is qualified to practice in this state as an engineer if the person is of good moral character and:

1. Is a graduate from an approved engineering science curriculum of 4 years or more in a school, college, or university which has been approved by the board; or

2. Is a graduate of an approved engineering technology curriculum of 4 years or more in a school, college, or university which has been approved by the board.

The statute then directs and authorizes the Board to determine what an approved curriculum consists of. That determination is made as part of the definitions within in Rule 61G15-20.001, Florida Administrative Code — as well as sections 61G15-20.007 or 61G15-20.008 — and Chapter 455.11(2), F.S.

For most applicants, this is achieved by obtaining an engineering science or engineering technology degree from an EAC/ABET- or ETAC/ABET-accredited curriculum.

Applicants whose degree is not from an ABET-accredited school or university must demonstrate that they meet the requirements of Rules 61G15-20.007 or 61G15-20.008 by other means. This is not uncommon, especially for applicants with degrees from other countries where engineering programs are not surveyed or accredited by ABET. This involves having the education program’s curriculum evaluated by comparing it to the standards of Rules 61G15-20.007 or -20.008, F.A.C., as appropriate.

Applicants whose degree curriculum is found lacking have several options, including completing additional college-level courses, obtaining an advanced degree from a college or university whose undergraduate program is accredited, or showing equivalence through examination of the missing non-engineering core subject matter via the College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, for short. “Clepping” courses is an efficient and affordable way to fulfill the general education and basic math and science requirements that foreign degrees often may be missing.

Experience

Engineering experience is the next component of licensure and must be demonstrated as part of the application process.

Chapter 471.015, F.S., Licensure

(1) The management corporation shall issue a license to any applicant who the board certifies is qualified to practice engineering and who has passed the fundamentals examination and the principles and practice examination.

(2)(a) The board shall certify for licensure any applicant who has submitted proof satisfactory to the board that he or she is at least 18 years of age and who:

1. Satisfies the requirements of s. 471.013(1)(a)1. and has a record of at least 4 years of active engineering experience of a character indicating competence to be in responsible charge of engineering; or

2. Satisfies the requirements of s. 471.013(1)(a)2. and has a record of at least 6 years of active engineering experience of a character indicating competence to be in responsible charge of engineering.

Experience, to be acceptable, must be in accordance with Chapter 471.013(1)(a)1. and 2., F.S., and Rule 61G15-20.002, F.A.C.

Applicants should accurately and succinctly describe work that produce engineering design as defined in Rule 61G15-18.011, F.A.C. Applicants must demonstrate a relevant and increasing level of responsibility and the application of engineering knowledge.

Work must be supervised by someone with appropriate seniority, training, and education, and who is responsible for the applicant’s activities. In general, that supervision should come from a licensed Professional Engineer, however, that is not always the case — see Rule 61G15-20.002, F.A.C.

Appropriate experience may consist of work that demonstrates:

  • Engineering concepts and learning (engineering sciences, mathematics, and sciences)
  • Decision-making as part of a process
  • Analysis
  • Original thought
  • Investigation, research, and drawing conclusions
  • Development of standards, processes, details or methods, based upon theory, research, and application
  • Contributing directly to engineering work that is deemed by the statutes to require a licensed engineer in responsible charge
  • Demonstration of experience that clearly demonstrates the applicant’s ability to be placed “in responsible charge” of engineering.

The following activities do not require the application of engineering principles and are generally not considered engineering:

  • Monitoring or reporting, except as a required component of engineering oversight and performed as part of an engineering service
  • Scheduling or logistical activities
  • Negotiation or review of proposals, quotes, etc.
  • Field labor or supervision of field labor
  • Any work the results of which do not exceed the obvious
  • Any work for which the applicant is not competent or qualified to perform.

Applications that clearly describe the applicant’s role, performance of appropriate experience, level of responsibility, and supervision by a senior team member in responsible charge are important elements of the application to convey to the Board. By statute, experience must demonstrate, to the Board’s satisfaction, the applicant’s fitness to be placed in responsible charge. Anything less may be found to be unacceptable upon review.

Examination

Thirdly, every engineer licensed to practice in our state has successfully taken and passed two examinations, each approximately eight hours in length. There are some exceptions, granted by rule, for substantial experience or education by which the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) or the Principals and Practice of Engineer (PE) exam is waived, but these circumstances are rare.

Chapter 471.015, F.S., Licensure

(1) The management corporation shall issue a license to any applicant who the board certifies is qualified to practice engineering and who has passed the fundamentals examination and the principles and practice examination.

The requisite exams are adopted under authority of Chapters 455 and 471, and Rule 61G15-21.001, F.A.C., and administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCEES). Simply put, in almost every consideration, passing the FE and PE exams are required for licensure.

The Board reviews many applications for licensure by comity, persons licensed in another state or multiple states who were issued a license to practice without successfully passing one or both of the required examinations. These applications are uniformly denied.

Good Moral Character

Chapter 471, F.S., is clear that applicants for licensure should be of good moral character. What does that mean, exactly?

Do past transgressions prevent one from entering the profession? Probably not. We are all human and have flaws. All of us have made poor decisions and probably acted in ways that were not in our or someone else’s best interest.

However, engineers licensed in Florida are charged with protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

Our statutes and rules do not require us to become wealthy or to work for free. There is no rule language that suggests how each of us is to go about our work. Short of some administrative directives, our charge is only to stay faithful to that public trust.

This is a complicated matter, and the Board looks at each situation individually. In the end, applicants must always be forthright. Anything less may imply a character not befitting an engineer.

I encourage our applicants to be “The Good,” with the required examinations passed and all requisite education and material experience reported.

After more than six years as a Board member, I can say the Board is eager to review every application. It is rewarding to me personally as a licensee to see a complete education file, a strong accounting of qualifying experience, and all required credentials clearly showing an applicant is qualified to practice engineering in Florida and is suitable to be in responsible charge.

About the Author

C. Kevin Fleming, PE, of Tallahassee, is vice president of McGinniss and Fleming Engineering and the current Chair of the Florida Board of Professional Engineers. He is a member of the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors. Fleming earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Florida State University.