Professional Engineer Certification Practices in India

G. Venkata Prasad, Director of Operations, Deep Foundations of India, & Dr. Putcha Sastry, Vice President, Smart Structures, Florida, USA, compare a Professional Engineer’s practices in India with that in the USA, and highlight the potential in India to achieve international engineering standards.

Scenario in India
Currently, there are two bodies at the national level in India offering laid down guidelines for issuing a Professional Engineer certification: The Institution of Engineers (India) – IEI and the Engineering Council of India (ECI).

The IEI has been recognized as a scientific and industrial research organization by the Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India. Besides conducting research, it provides grant-in-aid to UG/PG/Ph.D. students of engineering institutes and universities.

IEI holds the International Professional Engineers (IntPE) Register for India under the global International Professional Engineers Alliance (IntPEA). The Institution also awards the Professional Engineers (PE) certification.

It has a laid down processes and the criterion to certify Professional Engineers after assessing their qualification, experience, and competency, in conformity with the nationally accepted standards. It offers PE certification in 15 engineering disciplines to bachelor degree holders in engineering, or equivalent, with 5 years’ experience in engineering practice.

Procedure for PE Certification
Applicants are expected to undergo the Continuing Professional Development program which includes ‘Technical Educational Knowledge Update’ through added qualifications; and ‘Professional Expertise and Management Skills Upgrade’ through additional training and experience. Each of these categories can be further broken down into significant parts and each part can then be assigned a weightage and achievement value. The quality and quantity of the IE (India) Continuing Development Program shall be assured by the prescribed development assessment method. It is the aggregate of Credit Hours earned that will determine as to whether an applicant for P Eng. has secured at least 75 Credit Hours for fresh applicants since graduation and 125 Credit Hours within his/her five years certification validity period for renewal.

Engineering Council of India (ECI)
The ECI was established in April 2002 as the apex body of the engineering profession in India by the coming together of a large number of professional organizations and institutions of engineers to work for the advancement of the engineering profession in various disciplines and for enhancing the image of engineers in the society, by focusing on quality and accountability. Today, there are 33 Indian Engineering Professional Associations/ Institutions as members of ECI, representing practically all major engineering streams and 8 associated government department nominees on its board.

Its objectives include:
  • Representing Member Associations in government and non-government bodies and interacting on common policy matters relating to the engineering profession.
  • Working for the setting up of a Statutory Council of Engineers and later interfacing with it, providing support and inputs for developing systems and procedures for the registration of engineers, CPD, code of ethics.
  • Facilitating authorization of Member Associations to register engineers; assisting them in developing internal systems for undertaking registration, CPD, enforcing code of ethics; and providing a common forum for CPD to support the Member Associations.
  • Helping in the analysis of existing education systems and bodies, and making suggestions to make the education relevant for the engineering profession and employability.
Procedure for PE Certification
Registration of Professional Engineers (PEs), Associate Professional Engineers, Student Engineers, and some other categories voluntarily were launched by ECI on November 16, 2015. Each Professional Engineer is expected to meet minimum Continuous Professional Development (CPD) requirements before being considered for registration or renewal of registration. As per this, each Registered Engineer has to accumulate a minimum of 250 Credit Hours for 5 years, counted from the date of registration in the National Register of Professional Engineer. The Credit Hours would be calculated as per the prescribed mechanism. To qualify for Credit Hours, a CPD should be relevant to the engineer’s registered specialization/s and should be a quality program and approved by the concerned Member Association of ECI.

Scenario in USA
The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) in the US is a professional association representing licensed Professional Engineers in all the states and territorial societies in the country. NSPE exhorts the importance of a licensed Professional Engineer: “To a client, it means you’ve got the credentials to earn their trust. To an employer, it signals your ability to take on a higher level of responsibility. Among your colleagues, it demands respect. To yourself, it’s a symbol of pride and a measure of your hard-won achievement”.

Any project, document, or any piece of advice involving public safety, requires authorization (by signing and sealing the document) by a Professional Engineer involved in the design, construction, or maintenance. This ensures that that the Professional Engineer is accountable for the safety of the project and the public.

Requirements to acquire an initial license
Education: A 4-year degree course from an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredited university. Subsequent maintenance of the license and engineering practice are governed by the State Professional Engineering Board in each state. With some variations, each state’s rules and regulations are the same and similar in various respects.

The process of PE license acquiring, maintaining and overall management is the sole responsibility of the PE Board of each state in which an engineer decides to practice. The process shall be followed mandatorily by every practicing engineer who will sign and seal any technical document as required.

The information in this article is taken from and based on the Texas and Florida PE Boards literature (Websites, Laws, and Rules, etc.).

Examinations: Two examinations must be taken and cleared successfully to licensure as a Professional Engineer. These two examinations are developed and administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The first examination is called Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and the second is Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE Exam). NICET is a non-profit division of the National Society of Professional Engineers.

All applicants for licensure must take and pass the Texas (or other states) Ethics of Engineering Exam, which is an open book examination concerning the Texas Engineering Practice Act and the Board Rules, which should be completed and submitted with a license application

The Council’s members are the 69 engineering and surveying licensing boards from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These boards are divided into four geographic zones: Central, Northeast, Southern, Western.

The FE Examination is generally taken during the final year of a 4-year degree course from the FE examination; it covers courses taught in the 4-year engineering course. PE examination is offered in the main engineering fields and some specialized fields. This exam is also developed and administered by NCEES. The PE exam is based on any field of engineering, like Civil Engineering. Some State PE Boards provide the PE exam in specialized fields like Structural Engineering.
NSPE, USA, on the importance of a licensed Professional Engineer: “To a client, it means you’ve got the credentials to earn their trust. To an employer, it signals your ability to take on a higher level of responsibility. Among your colleagues, it demands respect. To yourself, it’s a symbol of pride and a measure of your hard-won achievement”.

Experience: Four years of engineering experience is required before the PE examination and its clearance. The acceptable experience is detailed in the States PE Board website and their updated Laws and Rules.

License Renewal: A one-time acquiring of the PE License does not mean a lifetime license for any PE. The maintenance of a PE license is a lifelong process. As part of this process, license renewal once every year is required in some states, as in Texas. Renewal for every two years is required in Florida. The idea behind this requirement is the Licensed Professional Engineer will be keeping abreast of the technical developments in the licensed field. This process is called Continuing Education requirements.

The number of hours required for license renewal varies from state to state. Typically, 15 hours of Continuing Education in the field of engineering practice, and additionally, one hour of Laws and Rules and one hour of professional ethics hours are required.

Search for License: Anyone can check if the license number of a holder is licensed or not. This transparency is required not only for the potential employer but also for professional reasons.

Ethics: PE Boards require the Professional Engineer to be aware of the knowledge and absolute necessity and importance of implementing ethical practices like the technical aspects. Unless an engineer practices ethics in day-to-day life, he/she can’t practice ethics in their engineering profession.

Professional Liability Insurance Policy
When an engineer negligently performs services on behalf of his firm or employer, the individual allegedly suffering damage from the engineer’s negligent performance may sue the company and/or the individual engineer.

Assuming the firm or company maintains a manageable professional liability insurance policy with deductible and reasonably high limits of coverage, the firm’s professional liability insurance policy should provide adequate professional liability protection for the firm, principals, employees, etc.

In the event the firm anticipates a potentially greater professional liability exposure due to the nature of its work and other risk management considerations, the firm should consider increasing its maximum limits of coverage. As pointed out earlier, individual engineers employed by a firm or company in private practice are generally covered under standard professional liability insurance policy language.

Regulation of Practice of Engineering
Every state in the US wants to regulate the practice of engineering in the interest of public life, health, and property. The philosophy is that no project is too small to fail. Big or small, engineering practice can afford to be lax. The vehicle that provides the mechanism for such control is the state Professional Engineering Board that lays the groundwork for the sound engineering practices some of which are mentioned above.

Another effective tool is the Board’s legal wing. Each state has its Statutes, Laws, Rules, and Codes with the latest updates and which every Professional Engineer should be familiar with. Any violation of these requirements and any complaints reported on the PEs are handled promptly by the legal department of the PE Boards. These cases are transparent and are published in the newsletters of the PE Boards or other sources.

The penalties for any Professional Engineer for non-compliance with (or for violating) any of the Statutes, Laws, Rules, and Codes, will depend on the type of violation - varying from criminal negligence to signing a document prepared by another engineer, which the Professional Engineer did not supervise and verify. The penalties can be as severe as a criminal conviction, revocation of license, or fines prohibiting engineering practice for a certain period.
Though attempts are being made by AICTE and the HRD Ministry to have a council for engineers to register and follow the code of ethics, but professional and government bodies must also be engaged to put in place the required organizational structure and mechanism to enhance professional engineering practices at par with global standards.

By now, it should be clear to the engineer that the ability to maintain a license is as important as obtaining the Professional Engineering license in the first place. All these checks and balances constitute the guaranteed integrity of every structure and public safety in the USA. The public demands no less from a Professional Engineer.

In case of the USA, the whole process of implementing professional engineer practices is well integrated. There is a common body (NSPE & NCEES) that lays guidelines, conducts exams for issuing, renewing professional engineer certification/license. Subsequent maintenance of the license and engineering practice are all governed by the Professional Engineering Board of respective states. There is representation in NCEES from all state boards and such mechanism enables all the parties to work collaboratively and with a commitment to achieve the common good.
The ability to maintain a Professional Engineering License is as important as obtaining it. All the checks and balances constitute the guaranteed integrity of every structure and public safety: the public demands no less from a Professional Engineer.

Legal repercussions are well-taken care of in case a qualified PE fails in fulfilling the defined responsibilities, and in case his acts endanger public safety. It is very much a mandatory requirement to obtain and maintain a PE certification/license for engineers to work in the public domain.

In India, there are two institutes independently implementing PE certification programs. Written tests are not needed, there is no mandatory requirement to become PE, no compulsion to have a professional liability insurance, no mechanism at the level of respective states is available to enforce PE practices and to provide legal statutes to the same.

In case of issuing building plan approvals by municipal corporations, municipal offices, town planning authorities of cities and towns, and panchayats follow their procedures for issuing licenses to architects, structural engineers, site engineers, surveyors, and others. The required experience and educational qualification are stipulated for issuing a license which varies from state to state and there is no requirement of Continual Professional Development for renewal of the license. In a nutshell, there is no full-proof mechanism available to enforce public safety and to avoid loss of life when major mishaps like the collapse of a 11-storey building happened in Chennai in 2014.

The other major infrastructure projects including construction projects related to the manufacturing industry and utilities, both private and public, and the deployment of engineers/professionals are done as per the criteria set in the tenders. And this mostly goes by satisfying educational qualifications and the number of years of previous experience in related projects or positions.

Some attempts are being made jointly by AICTE and the Ministry of HRD to have a council for engineers to register and follow the code of ethics. But such initiatives will not serve the purpose fully unless the above referred professional and government bodies are also involved and the required organization structure and mechanism is built to enhance professional engineer practices on par with global standards.

India is the third-largest economy in terms of GDP on a PPP basis with phenomenal growth prospects for the construction industry and there is an urgent need to address this and achieve high levels of design, quality, safety, and construction standards.
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