By Doug Fisher, PE, FSFPE, SFPE Committee on Professional Qualifications Chair
While celebrating engineers’ week often focuses on the next generation and piquing the interest of those who have not yet found their way to the field, it can also be a time to reflect on how to maintain the quality level of engineering. Depending on where in the world you practice fire protection/fire safety engineering, there are varying professional credentials to indicate an engineer is competent. The United States has a system in place to be licensed as a professional engineer (PE), which includes the discipline of fire protection. In 2020, however, regulation is not always viewed as positive. Parts of the world are vying to have some type of credential to improve the quality of fire protection engineering, and yet others must stay vigilant to changes that could interfere with licensure and monitoring who is practicing engineering.
Threats to Licensure
In the era of deregulation and “eliminating red tape” for businesses, there is a push nationwide in the US to eliminate the requirement for professional licensure. The National Society of Professional Engineering (NSPE) recently noted that legislation to lessen licensure requirements have been proposed in 40 states since 2015. In last years legislative session alone there were more than 38 measures introduced. Keep in mind, however, that not all of these proposals specifically target engineering licensure. Typically, engineering licensure is rolled up into a broader discussion of occupational licensure in general which can include hair stylists, taxi drivers, dental hygienists, architects and engineers. NSPE is currently monitoring proposed legislation in 15 states that constitute an “active threat” to engineering licensure.
There are many different ways that engineering licensure can be threatened. “Consumer Choice” is a very common argument made by legislative bodies. Consumer choice implies that the consumer is knowledgeable enough to select a provider, whether licensed or unlicensed. The provider simply needs to inform the consumer if they are licensed or unlicensed. “Right to Engage in a Lawful Occupation” is another approach often taken by proposed legislation. Arizona SB 1142, introduced on 1/15/2020, for example, requires existing occupational licensing regulations to be revised to use the least restrictive model that assumes market competition is sufficient to protection public health and safety. This is often through elimination of licensure for certain professions. While SB 1142 does not specifically target engineers, we are included in the overarching term of “occupational licensure”. Fortunately, similar legislation failed in Arizona in previous years.
What is SFPE Doing?
In short, working with our allies as this issue crosses all disciplines of engineering. The Alliance for Responsible Professional Licensing (ARPL) was formed to promote a responsible, balanced approach to professional licensing related to engineers, architects, CPAs and landscape architects. Its members include NSPE, NCEES and other architecture and engineering societies. ARPL recently released survey results that indicate 75% of respondents “believe that it is important to ensure qualifications for professionals in certain industries. A majority of voters believe that current professional licensing requirements protect the public and should not be reformed.” Over 70% of respondents believe that “regulating professionals in accounting, engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, and related fields with high impact on public safety and welfare is important.” ARPL and its members will be using these survey results as part of lobbying efforts against proposed legislation.
SFPE is working with NSPE, ARPL, NCEES and other ally organizations to monitor threats to licensure in the US and its territories.
What Can You Do?
You, as SFPE’s membership, play an important role in the identification, recognition and fight against threats to professional licensure. How can you help?
- Stay Involved
- Join one or more of the SFPE Standing Committees. Having a strong engineering society will help state representatives and the general public understand the importance of professional licensure, specifically in fire protection engineering.
- Get your local SFPE Chapter involved in this process. Local support within that jurisdiction is always helpful. Consider adding review of local threats to professional licensure to the role of your Chapter Executive Committee.
- Stay Informed
- Review the SFPE and NSPE websites related to threats to licensure. If you hear of proposed legislation, civil suits or state Board action that may negatively affect processional licensure or fire protection engineering licensure, let SFPE know.
- Talk to your local state representatives and Board members to show your support of professional licensure and concern for proposed regulation.
While “consumer choice” may work well for some occupational licenses, should we really apply it to those that are responsible for public safety and health?
Addtional information related to threats to professional licensure can be found:
As noted above, SFPE is in the process of adding a page to their website specifically devoted to threats to professional licensure.