PROTECT: The third, and final, step in NSPE's Strategic Plan

Brad Peterson, P.E., CFM, LEED AP is Vice President of Infrastructure at Crafton Tull. This article is the last in a series he wrote during his time as ASPE president in 2016. 


When I began my tenure as NSPE President, I chose to use this column as a platform drawing attention to the NSPE Statement of Principles developed as well Race for Relevance. In previous columns I explored the first two steps in the NSPE Strategic Plan: DEFINE: providing a clear definition of why licensure is important to the engineering profession. PROMOTE: ensuring our profession is seen as valuable, exciting, and rewarding. This entry addresses the third, and final, step – PROTECT.  This installment will outline a few of the actions we can take to protect future and current licensed engineers so we can continue to protect effectively the health, safety, and welfare of the public.  

 PROTECT: through vocal opposition to unlicensed practice

Just as we have a responsibility to support and encourage those pursuing licensure, we have a duty to seek out and oppose the practice of engineering by unqualified practitioners. In a 2010 survey conducted by NCEES, state licensing boards found that unlicensed practice, or offer of practice is among the top 2 most common violations of state engineering rules and statutes. Often times the infringement is as obvious as the operation of a public water system. Other times the violation is less evident, such as the development of autonomous vehicles or abandonment of a mining operation.

As Professional Engineers, we have an ethical, and in some cases legal, obligation to call attention to potential health and safety threats posed by unlicensed practitioners. The intention is not to remove competition or inflict needless regulations; it is to assert involvement and oversight by licensed professionals in matters of public health, safety and welfare.

PROTECT:  through advocacy for highest standard

The Brooks Act, adopted by Congress in 1972, requires a Qualification Based Selection (QBS) when seeking the services of architects and engineers. The idea is that most people wouldn’t hire a surgeon based on the lowest price, so it shouldn’t be when selecting an engineer to design our roads and bridges.  

One way to protect the future of licensed engineers is by supporting (QBS). Part of ensuring that public safety is not monetized is observing fair and just business practices. It is important to know the registration and licensing requirements in your jurisdiction. To effectively raise the issue of adherence to our professional requirements, we must commit to continued learning and professional development.

PROTECT: through legislative action

Professional Engineers understand complex problems and, through formal education and extensive training, develop solutions. Part of protecting the future of our profession is active involvement in preventing attempts to undermine the engineering process or licensure requirements. One example is bills introduced under the veil of economic stimulus that aim to eliminate occupational licenses, placing engineers in the same licensure category as barbers, cosmetologists, and florists. While those are necessary and respected consumer services, they simply don’t require the amount of training as becoming an engineer. Moreover, public safety and welfare is not in their hands.

Fortunately, there are steps we can take to oppose regulations that expose engineers to excessive liability and responsibility beyond the accepted standard of care. Use the NSPE Daily Design Email, Open Form, and Website to stay informed about action issues, including the latest legislative and regulatory developments.  Follow the Legislative Action Center and NSPE-PAC. Play an important role in policy making and civic leadership. Work is being done on your behalf and deserves support.

PROTECT:  through active membership

Participation is perhaps the most important step in protecting P.E. licensure. To lead our profession in the right direction we must take part in developing the Position Statements and Professional Policies. We have a responsibility to mentor and serve as role models to young engineers and those seeking licensure. Our organization is better when we take the time to hear the concerns and challenges faced by fellow engineers. Use your voice to help define where our great profession is headed.

My goal in this series was providing a blueprint for putting our Society’s mission into action. I found the way for me to do that is by highlighting the similarities that bind us as professional engineers. We are tied together as representatives of a profession we chose to make our career. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the NSPE is the only organization that addresses the needs of engineers across all disciplines. This is our organization and only we can ensure it maintains its status, integrity, and relevance.