No P.E., No job?

I do my best to search job postings at least once a day, either at listing websites (Monster and the like), individual firms, and State DOT offices. Want to know what they all have in common? None of them are listing entry-level positions.

I recently visited the NC State Engineering Career Fair and I was able to communicate with many firms, all of whom seemed nice and eager to be there. But upon discussing job opportunities, almost every firm replied that they were not hiring entry-level positions. Excuse me sir, but can you tell me who you expected to find at a college career fair?

It seems as though this is a Professional Engineers market at the moment, if you could call the stale air surrounding the piles of engineering resumes being shuffled into a recycling bin “a market”. But exactly how many PE’s are out there unemployed? Or maybe more importantly, how many people are claiming to be a PE and are not so, and does the current market encourage PE fraud? And how many small firms are actually doing background checks on these license numbers?

After reading Trust Me, I’m an (Unlicensed Architect) in ARCHITECT Magazine, Carol Metzner of CivilEngineeringCentral poses the question: who is policing the civil engineering community and their PE violations? It seems as though state chapters and state licensing boards are unsure of their own jurisdictions, and while they receive numerous violation notices, it is unclear what becomes of the perpetrators.

Carol also wonders if desperation in times of lay-offs will increase the level of engineering fraud. I wonder how many people lie about actually having a degree?

What I can tell you is this: in order to be a licensed Professional Engineer, you must pass the State Board examination in your state following a minimum number of years experience working under another PE. This begs the question, if firms aren’t hiring entry-level positions, how will Engineering Interns ever receive the experience needed to take the State Exam?

You cannot reap what you do not sow, and avoiding entry-level positions now worsens the supply of PEs down the road. If firms can’t find PEs now, what will they be doing three, four, five years from now, when the economy has (hopefully) recovered? And what kind of long term effects will this mean for development when investors are finally ready to start building again with fewer engineers to do the work?

2 Responses to No P.E., No job?

  1. When the economy turns around, industries will once again turn to entry-level engineers to fill their ranks. EIT’s will step in to do the work that they have always done while in training, and the cycle will continue. Granted, for many years, there may be shortage of PEs stamping plans and approving documents. But, the work will still be getting done, regardless of if a PE is doing it or not. Is this damaging to engineering as a profession? Yes. It is damaging to your future career? No. You will get your experience, and eventually you will get your PE. It’s just taking a little bit of extra time because of circumstances that are beyond our generation’s control. Unfortunately, irresponsibility of an older generation brought this unfortunate situation upon us, and now it’s ours to behold.

    Thanks for posting this. There isn’t enough discussion on this right now, so I’m going to contribute too.

    As I see the big picture, the US economy was churning along at an artificially-accelerated pace for many years. People were spending money that didn’t exist- and everyone was fine with it, because everyone was doing it. Then, all the sudden, the debt had to be collected, and people realized that everyone rushing ahead wasn’t keeping the playing field level and the books balanced because some people run faster than others. The lenders were lending because they trusted that the winners would eventually share some of their spoils, but eventually they stopped sharing. Then, the lenders either had to collect the debt or perish, and so they collected, and they pulled everyone that was artificially ahead of the game down with them. Now, everyone is playing the waiting game, waiting for the playing field to level out again.

    It used to be that regardless of who was running how fast, engineers could always get a job. The nature of our profession is that we rise high on the tide of success, and yet still don’t fall so hard when it wanes. This is usually a pretty good gig- the reward we get for paying it forward during the many hard years of undergrad. Therefore, quite expectedly but unfortunately, our profession was way at the head of that artificially-accelerating economy. Now, we’ve been pulled back down to Earth, and we’re all waiting, just like everyone else.

    So yes, this is hurting Engineering, and we feel that is not right. However, everyone is being hurt by this, and we’re just getting our fair share. I’m sorry that you haven’t found work yet. But just remember, you are in a very good position. You have an Engineering degree from one of the best engineering schools in the nation. Think of how far ahead that puts you compared to everyone that graduates from a community college, junior college, or with a non-technical or professional degree. Unfortunately, for recent engineering grads, it’s just not a buyer’s market right now. There is a high supply of much more experienced engineers out there willing to work for much less than before, and they have the edge on all of us. Just remember–they were riding high on the top of that economic wave when it came crashing down. They lost their careers, everything they had worked for with those companies for many years. I think right now, they could use the jobs a little more than the rest of us younger engineers, we who can weather out this storm a little better. Most recent engineering grads don’t have families that need food on the table tonight- another plus/minus of our choice of profession.

    All that being said, this is undoubtedly a huge strain on Civil Engineering, and the engineering profession, as a whole. I do agree with you that state licensing boards and companies nationwide need to buckle down on PE requirements to make sure that there is no dishonesty in our profession. I hope, and am sure, that they recognize this strain and are reacting accordingly. It’s their job. But, if they aren’t, it’s our job to keep them in check. They have the responsibility–on paper–to uphold the professionalism of engineering. But, it is each engineer’s moral obligation to ensure that we keep them, and each other, in check. Off paper, the responsibility of professionalism is all of ours. That’s why I’m a member of the Order of the Engineer.


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