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Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

This is referencing thread730-373612: Against a Separate Structural Engineering License in Florida or Anywhere Else which is a closed thread.

I am contemplating moving to another state from my current Texas address. I've lived here for 22 years, and loved it, but (according to She Who Must Be Obeyed) it's time to move on.

The new state of residence happens to be one of these that has adopted S.E. licensing, along with many others - NOT Texas, thank heaven.

Now, it's not really that I disagree with the notion of separate licensing entirely - though the reference in the O.P. in thread730-373612: Against a Separate Structural Engineering License in Florida or Anywhere Else, I think, hit the nail on the head when he mentioned "guildism" which was something that first appeared in Europe in the late middle ages, and was intended to keep the number of practitioners of a craft as low as possible, to make their fees as HIGH as possible. Well, I'd love to have my fees as high as possible, but in the current climate, where owners, architects, and developers see engineering as an off-the-shelf commodity, I suspect they will find ways to circumvent that somehow - possibly by prevailing upon legislators to pull at least some of the teeth of the law regulating engineering licensure.

But anyway, what I really have in mind is this.


I'll give you an example I know well - MY OWN!

I'm 59, and have been a licensed professional engineer for thirty years. It was EXACTLY thirty years ago this month, that I took and passed the P.E. exam in another state (not Texas), and I have at one time or another been a licensed professional engineer in six or seven states. During that time, I have been doing structural engineering at least 90% of the time, with a little civil thrown in to keep things interesting. Never, at any time, have I been "under the responsible charge" of a licensed STRUCTURAL engineer. And in fact, it has been at least TWENTY years since I've been UNDER ANY ENGINEER except myself!

Well, let's look at the requirements in the state where I am almost certainly going to be locating.

According to their board rules, to become a licensed professional structural engineer, as they term it, you must:

1. Be a licensed P.E.

2. Take and pass ALL FOUR sections of the SE exam (Vertical Buildings, Vertical Bridges, Lateral Buildings, Lateral Bridges) - Note that FAILING ANY ONE of these four sections means you fail the whole thing, and will have to retake ALL FOUR SECTIONS.


Use of three of the following four materials as they relate to the design, rehabilitation or investigation of buildings or structures: steel, concrete, wood; or masonry.
Selection of framing systems including the consideration of alternatives and the selection of an appropriate system for the interaction of structural components to support vertical and lateral loads.
Selection of foundation systems including the consideration of alternatives and the selection of an appropriate type of foundation systems to support the structure.
Design and detailing for the transfer of forces between stories in multi-stories buildings or structures.
Applications of lateral design in the design of the buildings or structures in addition to any wind design requirements.
Applications of the local, state and federal code requirements as they relate to design loads, materials, and detailing.

4. Have the following experience in AT LEAST ONE of the following areas, also verified by an S.E.:

Structural design of any building or structure two stories and more, or 45 feet in height, located in a region of moderate or high seismic risk designed in accordance with current codes adopted pursuant to [state law].
Structural design for a major seismic retrofit/rehabilitation of an existing building or structure located in a region of moderate or high seismic risk.
Structural design of any other structure of comparable structural complexity.

(NOTE That under 3. and 4., the total number of "hours spent" in doing these various activities must be supplied, and verified by an S.E. in charge.

Now, what this all means is that I, EVEN IF I TAKE AND PASS THE EXAMS, would find it nearly impossible to meet the "experience" requirement of the laws of this state, even though I've been doing structural engineering for literally decades, because there's virtually no way in hell I will be able to have this verified by an S.E. since I've only ever worked with ONE, for a short time about ten years back!


"No one is completely useless. He can always serve as a bad example." --My Dad ca. 1975

RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

First, I'm a proponent of the SE exam and at a minimum SE title restrictions. I also support grandfathering for people such as yourself. Just want to get my position clear so you understand my biases.

To address your specific points:

2. You have this wrong I'm almost positive. They mean both sections (morning and afternoon) of the vertical and lateral days of the 16-hour SE exam. I don't know of any state that requires you to pass both the bridges and buildings SE exam. However, note that both bridges and buildings appear on the morning section of the SE days; the afternoon long-answer questions are where it's split buildings/bridges. Also, I don't know of any state that requires you to pass all the sections at the same time. This would be ridiculous, the exam is very difficult (as it should be) and passing it in a 2 day period would 100% be unreasonable. Most states say that you have to pass both days in a 5 year period which seems reasonable.

3. & 4. This seems like exceptions would need to be made; but then again the state may be doing it's own form of protectionism. Either way, I would hope that the state would have an option to meet (either by letters/phone or in person) with the board to discuss your particular situation, professional experience, and qualifications. Have you investigated this option?

That said, if what you say is true, then I agree. It wouldn't make sense to so clearly prevent competent engineers from states without SE licensure to work in that state. Of course, some other state board decisions make zero sense so I wouldn't put it past them to have this be one as well.

As a broader point without getting too off topic; are you opposed to SE license and/or the 16 hour SE exam in general (assuming the rules make sense)? For example, you're coming from Texas, which has a lower seismic load that even my home state of Maine. Going to a SE state I assume you're moving to a higher seismic activity region. Perhaps you are comfortable with designing for high seismic regions but do you feel most other non-seismic structural engineers are? Doesn't it make sense to ensure they have at least been tested to those more advanced areas of structural engineering? What about engineers who are not structural engineers predominantly; have you not run into any engineers clearly practicing outside their experience and qualifications? I know I've seen it in many disciplines but (for me) structural engineering has appeared to have the most egregious examples where the self-policing seems to not work as well as it should.

Professional Engineer (ME, NH, MA) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries

RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

JME but passing an exam is a pretty poor test of an engineer's ability so the additional licensing and education requirements being pushed seem rather silly to me. If the issue is preventing engineering mistakes whether caused by incompetence or simple boo-boos then the best solution IME is to require unbiased, independent peer review. Rather than requiring special licensing, for critical (or maybe even random) projects an outside firm/consultant/individual review should be required. OTOH, if there is no local issue with engineering mistakes I would submit that the system is working well as-is.

RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

CWB: I agree about peer review but this obviously adds way more cost than licensing. It's definitely a good idea though if the industry could bear it I would agree it's the better alternative.

However, regarding the SE exam I actually think it is a very good test of an engineers ability. I would highly doubt anyone who is not a competent structural engineer could pass it. You simply cannot guess and bluff your way through it easily.

Professional Engineer (ME, NH, MA) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries

RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

There was recently a post about getting references for your SE application. Someone said that there was a service where you could mail in sample calcs and have some review it, and then they would refer you.

I am not sure if this is true, or even what states it might work in. Does anyone recall that thread; I couldn't find it in my 2 minutes of looking.

RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

I cannot comment on the SE as I do not work in the civil/SE realm other than to say that I remain respectfully skeptical. Has any quantified data been published showing a positive effect in affected states since its inception? Several times in recent years I have searched unsuccessfully for similar data regarding continuing education requirements for PEs so am curious. While I would agree in theory these are "good" ideas, working with the EPA on various regulatory matters has turned me into a bit of a libertarian.

RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

CWB1, good thought for sure. I don't know of any state that has significantly changed their rules enough to be effective in recent years though so it would be hard to compare. Maybe some of the Western states might have changed more recently than I'm aware of but I was under the impression they've all been SE states for a while. Florida would have been a good case to follow but didn't they recently roll back their SE license requirement changes?

Professional Engineer (ME, NH, MA) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries

RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

Utah just converted over to a partial practice act for structural engineering a few years ago.

But data on how this has reduced structural collapses or problems - not sure about that.

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RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

appot, the Structural Engineeers Association of California (or whatever SEAOC stands for) will review your qualifications and calculations to provide references if you don't have the required network yourself. It takes something like 6 months.

The name is a long story -- just call me Lo.

RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

Following through with Lo's reference to SEAoC, here is what they state at this Link:

RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes


the Structural Engineeers Association of California will review your qualifications and calculations to provide references

Seems rather sketchy. Were they also the driving force for the regulation requiring the additional license?

RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

I'm sure they were (or their predecessors were)

But, they do it for free, so... I'm not sure what sinister motive you're implying.

The name is a long story -- just call me Lo.

RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

It appears to me that theyre rather contradictory, pushing more regulation while selectively providing means around that regulation. What this leads to is simple quid pro quo, if you support the guild's policies the guild will stretch its ethics to support you as a qualified engineer for the SE exam. OTOH, if the OP very publicly spoke against the additional exam would he not have a relatively difficult time finding references bc of the legislation the guild helped create?

RE: Structural Engineering Licensing Gripes

CWB1 I do not follow how the SEAOC reviewing your work is "providing means around the regulation". The applicant still has to have references willing to PUT THEIR NAME ON THE LINE for them and they are doing it for FREE. Sorry for the caps, but felt I needed to scream that at you

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