Want more money and a better job?

These are some of the positives triggered by earning your professional engineering license

“Yes, it does make a difference,” licensed professional engineer Joe Michels wrote recently on a discussion in Connect, IISE’s online community platform for members. Want more money and a better job?

Michels, in answering a question from Sean Pinkerton, a senior at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who just passed the FE (fundamentals of engineering) exam, described the benefits of spending four years documenting your career accomplishments after graduation, getting involved with engineering organizations, and studying, preparing and passing the PE exam. (See connect.iise.org for more discussions.)

The engaging online conversation dovetails perfectly with a project we have been working on for a while with Caitlin Kenney of The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES): Let’s find people who earned their professional engineer license in industrial engineering and let them tell us if, and why, it is important.

The results are below and the Member Forum by Brent Fraser. PE designations can lead to higher salaries and more career opportunities. Non-ISE people won’t know that the factory manager (or operations analyst, program manager, quality specialist or chief operating officer, etc.) is an actual industrial engineer. But the human resources gatekeepers who see “professional engineer” on your resume will likely perk their eyes up, giving you a better chance.

And in a world where ISEs are called anything but engineers, professional licensure can help promote the profession’s stature in the world.

The PE license exam for industrial engineers is given every April and October. Visit the NCEES website at https://link.iise.org/ISE_PEexam for more. IISE also offers a PE exam review course. This year’s is Feb. 25-28 in at IISE headquarters in Norcross, Georgia (metro Atlanta). For more details on the review course, visit https://link.iise.org/PE_ExamReview.

Why in the world would I want to take another test?

By Ken McClymonds, PE

Ken McClymondsI asked myself several times why I would want to take another test three years after graduation. I did well in college, completed the FE (fundamentals of engineering) exam during my senior year and completed the requirements for the B.S. in industrial and systems engineering. Eventually, I decided to take the professional engineers exam in industrial engineering a few years after graduation and earned my professional engineers (PE) license.

I could never have imagined how taking that test would have impacted my career. The first 20 years of my career were focused on industrial engineering and industrial engineering management. I am convinced today that the PE set me apart from my peers and gave me opportunities for advancement that other equally qualified engineers did not get. Fewer than 5 percent of degreed industrial and system engineers become registered professional engineers. It was rare to have another IE in the same company with a PE, which made me a little more visible than other people.

Over 20 years, I advanced through IE, quality and operations management positions. I believe having the PE helped to accelerate my progression horizontally through different functions and vertically into management.

The second 20 years of my career in industry occurred in the product development and design engineering functional areas. The PE provided me a level of respect among electrical, mechanical, chemical, petroleum and other engineering disciplines that may not have been there if I was just a guy with a B.S. in industrial and systems engineering.

As my span of control grew over the years in product development, I managed departments in a number of other countries. There are some parts of the world were engineers must have their PE (or equivalent designation) to have the title of “engineer” instead of “technician.” Plus, in some Canadian provinces, the manager of the engineering department must be a PE to manage the department. Over the 20 years in design engineering leadership, I saw a marked increase in international customers that demanded PE signoff on product designs previously assumed to have an industrial exemption from needing a PE signoff. That is, the government did not legally require a PE signoff, but the customer did.

While leading the product development function, I applied my IE training to change the typical process to remove the waste and time due to many scope changes after the design was completed, which reduced the cost and time to market dramatically. This also greatly improved engineer morale and profitability.

As a manager of engineers for nearly 38 years, I have discovered a very clear correlation between engineers who have their PE and engineers who do a good job with little need for coaching. When I have a need to hire any type of engineer, a PE will always be given preference, as they have proven with a national examination that they are qualified.

Over my 40 years in industry I have seen significant benefits from having my PE as a degreed industrial and systems engineer. I can also say that the trend in the discrete part manufacturing industries that I have worked in suggests that professional engineers will continue to stand out for some time into the future. I also have an MBA, which I seldom tell people about, as my PE sets me apart from others.

The PE exam questions are designed and statistically proven to separate the competent engineer with a B.S. in engineering from a nonengineer. This test is easier to take the sooner you take it after you graduate from college, as it requires less preparation when the material is fresh in your mind. Close to 78 percent of first time PE test-takers pass. If you have not taken the FE and PE tests, you should strongly consider them.

Ken McClymonds, PE, is a 45-year member of IISE who has contributed to the development of the industrial and systems engineering professional engineer exam development over the past six years at NCEES. He is currently a principal consultant for OpEx Solutions Inc. He previously was vice president of global product development for two companies in the oil and gas industry, led the product engineering function of the largest golf cart manufacturer and was director of quality and productivity for 16 plants in eight countries. He became one of the first Six Sigma master trainers and co-authored the first lean manufacturing training materials used by Honeywell, along with a wide range of international IE experiences over 10 years at Deere & Co.

Why don’t we still call ourselves IEs?

By George Gardner, PE

George GardnerHave you ever wondered as an “industrial engineer” (IE), why other disciplines and professions don’t always know what “we” do professionally, and often are puzzled by our answers when they ask us? Well, you are not alone.

I think by now you already know what I’m talking about. We as IEs struggle with a professional title “identity crisis” as we work our way through our often diverse and varied careers, taking on more leadership roles or specialty areas, subsequently never being called IEs ever again. And all of this often happens just a few years after graduating from college.

After talking with several IEs over the years and serving on volunteer committees related to our field, I suddenly realized why this phenomenon is occurring. It’s simply the fact that our own “strengths” in our profession turn out to be our “worst title identity enemy.” The fact that we are trained in college to be great communicators with an understanding of people, an emphasis on improving things in life for companies, government and people in general, plus other leadership qualities, all lead us to branch out and move on from our initial titles of “industrial engineer.” We become hospital administrators, plant managers, professors, college deans, program and project managers, marketing managers, CEOs of major organizations and the list goes on and on.

But deep down, in our hearts and minds, we know that we are still IEs.


Caitlin Kenney, a licensed professional engineer, will be host of a webcast, “Accelerate Your Career: Professional Licensure,” from 2-3 p.m. Jan. 24. The webinar will present features and benefits of becoming a licensed professional engineer (PE) in the industrial and systems discipline. It will provide an introduction to licensure, the differences from a certificate, explain why you should become a professional engineer and the benefits that accrue from it. For more information, contact her at ckenney7@gmail.com. To see a video of engineers discussing the benefits of licensure, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_Pi1wWxeYU.

This phenomenon is contrasted by the fact that many other engineering professionals often stay focused in their field of studies. More often than not, for example, “civil engineers” stay identified as civil engineers all their working careers. The same holds true for electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and the other discipline-specific engineering professions. They take great pride in maintaining that title, even while moving into leadership roles and other areas.

Another key component that factors heavily on this phenomenon is professional registration. The number of IEs who attain professional engineer (PE) status has dropped off over the years, partly because they have moved on to other areas that need the diverse business skills and abilities that we possess. So again, I say that our own strengths have become our own worst identity enemy. Not that this is wrong, or that we are career vagabonds, but we should never stop calling ourselves IEs.

So, you are wondering by now, what do we do to fix it? When asked what I do, I often simply answer that I am an industrial engineer by trade but currently working in transportation as a program manager. A professor may say something similar, and the same holds true for hospital administrators and plant managers, etc., who started as industrial engineers.

Also, our university undergrad IE programs could encourage more interest in the fundamentals of engineering (FE) exam during senior year, the first step in attaining professional registration. Additionally, we should all consider becoming registered professional engineers. This helps close the gap with other engineering disciplines that don’t always know what we do.

Lastly, we also should take more pride in our chosen profession by perhaps volunteering more to help make things better as we often do, in a church, a school, a charity organization that needs help with its operations, a local IISE chapter, etc., and using those skills that we have been trained for and gained with experience over the years.

George Gardner, PE, is a program manager/senior engineer at the Virginia Department of Transportation’s central office, construction division. Previous VDOT leadership roles include strategic planning manager, staff planning manager and senior policy and planning analyst. Overall, Gardner has close to 30 years of experience in the private and public sector. He holds an M.S. in systems engineering from Virginia Tech, a Six Sigma black belt, and has served in a number of volunteer posts for IISE, ABET and NCEES.

Why become a licensed engineer?

By Ron Johnson, PE

Ron JohnsonBecoming a licensed industrial engineer is valuable asset to have in your career. It will help you when you apply for jobs, in your career development with a company or if you are going to do engineering consulting on your own. The professional engineering (PE) license is a discriminator when you compete with other industrial engineers for contracts or career advancement.

Having an industrial engineering PE license gives you credibility and recognition when working on projects with PEs from engineering disciplines such as mechanical, civil and electrical. Having worked in industry, specifically in electronics and semiconductor manufacturing, my PE industrial engineering license has provided the respect and integrity from other colleagues (mechanical) with PE licenses. Nonlicensed industrial engineers that I have worked with have told me they wished they had earned a license early in their careers.

Many industrial engineers in industry will get certifications, but they are not licensed. Certifications are generally voluntary through different societies and organizations, whereas licensure is a privilege granted by the state and territorial legislatures. This is a critical point that many industrial engineers in industry need to better understand to realize the benefits of licensure. For one thing, industrial PEs usually have more career advancement due to extra effort of being a licensed industrial engineer.

When you work on getting new contracts (commercial or government), the inquiring enterprises may request resumes or other information on engineering personnel. Being an industrial PE is excellent recognition to include on resumes, as the term “licensed professional engineer” is recognized as a standard and could help when managers are deciding which contracts to award to which organization. When you supply such data in an effort to win a contract, you should know that many decision-makers recognize that licensed industrial engineers have the education, training and background to produce accurate information and results.

This gives industrial PEs an advantage over nonlicensed industrial engineers when pursing engineering consulting contracts or jobs. Being an industrial PE means you are licensed to protect health, safety and welfare when working on a contract. Industrial PEs are the only discipline to explicitly include humans in systems design. Consulting areas for industrial PEs include human factors/ergonomics, healthcare, financial systems, warehousing/logistics and manufacturing/service sectors.

Being an industrial PE will help you in your career development in the technical or the management ranks. The licensure process shows management and others that you value the importance of professional development. Earning your industrial engineering PE often results in increased opportunities and assignments with more responsibilities. These projects can include stints overseas.

Typically, industrial PEs can command more salary. The NSPE 2013 salary survey showed that industrial engineers with a professional engineer’s license make more than math majors doing basically the same job.

Industrial PEs also have the chance of being recognized with PEs from other engineering disciplines during annual engineer of year programs. Industrial engineers without licenses do not get this opportunity to be nominated and be recognized by all licensed professional engineers across all the engineering disciplines (e.g., mechanical, civil, chemical, nuclear, electrical, industrial and petroleum).

For example, the Texas Society of Professional Engineers offers both an engineer of the year and a young engineer of the year award. I had the opportunity to go through this, and it is quite an honor and great recognition. Being an industrial PE also generates a sense of pride since the licensure is recognized by the state and by professional licensed engineers in other disciplines.

Ron Johnson, PE, is the senior process integration engineer for L3 Technologies and a senior IISE member. Johnson has more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing and industrial engineering and operations engineering management with semiconductor infrared detectors, applied optical coatings, night vision products, missile guidance and submunition integration, defense and commercial electronic assemblies and consulting. He has implemented numerous process and producibility improvements on different programs. Johnson has B.S. and M.S. degrees in industrial engineering from Texas A&M University.

Tips can help you navigate PE licensure

By Brent Fraser, PE

Brent FraserThinking of becoming a professional engineer? No? Why not? If one of your reasons is uncertainty in navigating the process, hopefully this article will help bring the roadmap into focus.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: The process is not easy. It is as much an exam as the actual licensing exam. It takes planning, attention to detail and some time to complete this journey successfully. Every state does things a little differently on slightly different timelines. Here are some overall tips:

  • Pass the fundamentals of engineering (FE) exam. Most states require license candidates to pass this exam, which is designed for recent grads. If you have been out of school for some time, you may want to refresh your knowledge a bit. The exam is discipline-specific now, which should help if it has been a while since you sat in a classroom.
  • Find your state board. Licensure is governed at the state level. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) is the national organization that administers the licensing exams. Their website https://link.iise.org/ISE_PEexam contains helpful information, including contact information for the licensing board in each state. Be aware that in most cases you must be licensed in the state in which you practice engineering.
  • Make a checklist with deadlines. The rules governing this process are often lengthy. The good news is that it isn’t that difficult to translate them into concrete, discrete actions. Licensing boards are not known to be forgiving when it comes to missing deadlines, so adding this information to the tasks in your checklist is really important. Since procedures vary by state, your checklist may not look like your out-of-state colleague’s checklist. Make sure you include NCEES exam requirements in your list.
  • Don’t wait until the last minute. There is no extra credit for turning your work in early, but there is a severe penalty for being late. Most likely, being late will result in you needing to wait another year to take the exam.
  • Seek out more references than required and do so as early as possible. The experience documentation and references were the most difficult part of the process for me. People move around a lot these days. Everyone is busy. Even if you find the person you are looking for, you can’t control where your needs fall in that person’s list of priorities or how much they care about your deadlines. If you plan an extra reference or two, the chances of getting all that you need by the deadline is much higher.
  • Keep copies of everything. This isn’t just a smart thing to do for this first application, because things can be lost. A lot of this information will be useful in the future if you need to become licensed in another state or if you find yourself needing to reinstate your license after a lapse.
  • Ask for help. We want you to make it through this process, and we can help you if you are unsure about something. IISE, NCEES and individual professional engineers are all resources you can tap that are interested in you becoming a licensed engineer.
Brent Fraser, PE, is an engineer with 14 years of federal civil service, 10 as a licensed professional engineer. He holds a B.S. in industrial engineering from the University of Arkansas and an M.S. in industrial and systems engineering from Virginia Tech.