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Bill would raise bar for engineers

Paul Snyder
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Wisconsin’s procedure for licensing professional engineers is, at least according to one state lawmaker, “suspect.”

“Right now, there’s confusion and conflicting language,” said state Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., D-Stevens Point.

“We need to clarify exactly what Wisconsin requires to put ‘professional engineer’ behind a name.”

Molepske is leading that charge with a bill that would change the state’s licensing procedure to require four years of study at approved engineering schools plus four years of engineering experience in preparation for managing projects before candidates could take a nationally administered exam. In lieu of four years of study, applicants could have two years of education from technical colleges followed by six years of experience before taking the test.

Wisconsin, like nearly every other state, requires an examination for licensure as a professional engineer, but it does not mandate that applicants have an educational component before taking the exam.

That puts the state at a competitive disadvantage with other states that require educational backgrounds, said Stanley Sugden, head of civil and municipal department work with Waukesha-based Ruekert & Mielke Inc.

“This is something we want to see corrected,” Sugden said. “It levels the playing field and provides the state with an opportunity to do a better job of protecting public health and safety.”

A similar bill was introduced in the last legislative session by state Rep. Mark Gottlieb, R-Port Washington, and although it passed the Assembly and a state Senate committee, the bill failed to reach the Senate floor for a vote before the session ended.

Martin Hanson, vice president in the Eau Claire office of Ayres Associates Inc., said many lawmakers were confused by the bill and thought it would limit engineering opportunities at all levels, not just the professional engineer credentials. He said bipartisan support and clearer language could help the bill this time. But the bill was referred to the Assembly Committee on Labor in June and still awaits a hearing.

Molepske said he expects one in September.

Gottlieb is the chief co-sponsor of Molepske’s bill, and Molepske said the bill has the support of groups including Wisconsin technical colleges and the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association Inc.

Widespread support is important when companies are expanding the territories in which they look for work, said Hanson, who also is chairman of the state’s Joint Board of Architects, Landscape Architects, Professional Engineers, Designers and Land Surveyors. Many other states require examinations based on educational and field experience, so he said Wisconsin engineers can find themselves hard-pressed to find work outside the state.

“It’s comity or reciprocity,” Hanson said. “You can get work here, but you’re at a disadvantage when you try to do work in another state.”

Sugden said he does not think the state’s attempts to tighten the reins on professional engineer licensing will deter applicants from seeking registration.

“We want to make sure there’s the combination of education and real-world experience there,” he said.

If anything, Molepske said engineers he talked to debated whether his bill went far enough.

“It’s the platinum standard,” he said. “There are some people that would like to make the credentialing process as hard as possible. I’m deferring to engineers on that question, but as a lawmaker, I want to know where we are compared to our neighbors.

“I’d like us to be near the top.”


  1. I am a little confused with the article. I am in the process of registering for the PE exam and in the process you have to get approval from the State of WI, department of licensing to sit for the exam. That approval includes review and proof of 4 years of education at an ABET accredited engineering school, plus four years of education. I am not sure how anybody would be able to sit for the exam unless they met all of those requirements.

  2. JT you qualify under 1a. There are 3 additional ways to qualify. 1b and 1c do not require any formal ABET accredited education. The steps to qualify under 1b and 1c are difficult but not impossible. I am a Designer and could most likely qualify to take the exam under either 1b or 1c if I chose.

    1. Complete the education and/or experience required to sit for the examinations.

    An applicant may satisfy the education and experience requirements for registration by any one of the following 4 ways:

    a. graduation from an ABET accredited program in engineering approved by the examining board as of satisfactory standing in an engineering course of not less than 4 years, together with an additional 4 years of experience in engineering work of a character satisfactory to the examining board and indicating that the applicant is competent to be placed in responsible charge of such work; OR

    b. a specific record of 8 or more years of experience in engineering work of a character satisfactory to the examining board and indicating that the applicant is competent to be placed in responsible charge of such work; OR

    c. a specific record by an applicant of 12 years or more of experience in engineering work of a character satisfactory to the examining board and indicating that the applicant is competent to practice engineering; OR

    d. have an EAC/ ABET approved degree from an engineering school or college of not less than 4 years; together with an additional 8 years of professional engineering experience in engineering work of a character satisfactory to the examining board and indicating that the applicant is competent to practice engineering with at least 6 months of professional engineering experience in Wisconsin or has had sufficient contacts in this state to make applicant familiar with Wisconsin law and practice.

  3. I think it would also help if you explained the difference between 1(b) and 1 (c) above. It appears on the surface that one requires 8 yrs., and the other requires 12 yrs. although the shorter period is to document \…responsible charge for such work;\ while the 12 yrs. is to document \…practice of engineering;\ Explain the difference of the two when they are almost identical?

  4. Glen Schwalbach, P.E.

    To JT,TS, and Rick Smith:
    I’m on the Legislative Committee of the Wis Society of Professional Engineers but my following have not been passed by them. WSPE supports the Dept of Regulation and Licensing’s (DRL) efforts to simplify and strengthen Wisconsin’s P.E. licensure law to better protect the public and improve the Wisconsin’s credibility with the majority of other states.

    JT is following the proper process. But, as TS points out, current law allows applicants other options. In regard to Rick’s question, 1(b) does not require a 4-yr degree but requires both 8-hr exams. 1(c) also does not require a 4-yr degree and does not require the first 8-hr exam, the fundamentals exam. 1(d) requires the proper education but allows the applicant to skip the exams with 8 yrs of appropriate experience. These options were put in place decades ago to phase in changes in the law at that time but now are very outdated.

    The DRL’s proposed law change likely would have passed last year but the technical colleges stepped in and asked for an amendment to allow their 2-yr graduates to sit for the exams. This year’s draft bill incorporates that amendment, so far. The technical colleges were represented by the Wisconsin District Boards ***’n and the Wisconsin Technical College System group. I believe they were just shooting from the hip. The tech colleges did not ask the Professional Engineers what education they require of the engineers who they hire for P.E. positions. The tech colleges appeared to think this law would affect the technicians or 2-yr technologists who they graduate. Some of their graduates may even get a title of boiler engineer or maintenance engineer. But these jobs usually are not true engineering positions. They did not realize that, even for 4-yr B.S. degreed engineers, only 10% or so of them have positions which require a P.E. license.

    The tech college associations also seemed to not understand the long-standing model for the National Council of Examiners for Eng’g and Surveying and the Acceditation Board for Eng’g and Technology is that a true engineer has as 4-yr, ABET-accredited B.S. degree, has passed, at least, two NCEES exams and has, at least, 4 years of relevant eng’g experience.

    ABET evaluates 4-yr eng’g programs with very different criteria than they do 2-yr eng’g technology programs. They have stated that a 2-yr degree is not acceptable education for an applicant for a P.E. license. In fact, the new NCEES model law for the future states a P.E. applicant shall have a 4-yr ABET-accredited B.S. eng’g degree plus a Masters degree or equivalent.

    So far, the tech colleges have said they will not change their position. This means that Wisconsin will improve their licensure law by requiring that all applicants take the exams but will mislead many students who will get the idea that a 2-yr degree will prepare them to take the P.E. exams. Some of these students should be in a 4-yr program but will be wasting time and money on the wrong track.

    Time is running out for the technical colleges to do the right thing for Wisconsin and withdraw their bill language.

  5. I figure it would likewise help in the event that you clarified the distinction somewhere in the range of 1(b) and 1 (c) above. It shows up on a superficial level that one requires 8 yrs, and the other requires 12 yrs. albeit the more limited time frame is to archive dependable charge for such work while the 12 yrs. is to record practice of designing Explain the distinction of the two when they are practically indistinguishable?

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