Specialized Certification for Structural Engineers: a necessity?

States with Certification RequirementsIn North Carolina, as in 39 other states, there is no special certification for structural engineers.  As structural engineering becomes more complex, is specialized certification an idea whose time has come?

“Increasingly, structural engineers, architects and construction firms work together at the earliest stages of a project,” says Jon Schmidt, Associate Structural Engineer and Director of Antiterrorism Services at Burns & McDonnell and Chair of the Editorial Board of STRUCTURE Magazine. “In today’s world of complex structures and 3D modeling, structural engineering is a partnership among architects, contractors and engineering firms. The structural engineer must be able to offer insightful and pragmatic suggestions, and doing that requires strong technical knowledge, depth of experience and problem-solving abilities that have been well-honed over time.

“To this day, only ten states actually license structural engineering as a unique discipline; among these ten states, the requirements vary substantially. This has made it very challenging for contractors to determine what skills and experience structural engineers bring to the table,” says Schmidt.  “In the 40 states that do not specifically license structural engineers, they are typically licensed as Professional Engineers. This is a generalist license that does not distinguish between structural engineering and related disciplines such as civil engineering. As such, engineers in these states are allowed to perform structural engineering tasks, yet there is no formalized way to know if they possess the in-depth skills and experience that can make all the difference in a major project.”  (For a state-by-state look at the 10 states which do license structural engineering, click on the map above to enlarge the image).

SECB certification is the structural engineering profession’s self-imposed benchmarking process that was initiated in 2003, when the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations (NCSEA) voted to establish an independent entity to develop a process of certification. One of the biggest challenges the structural engineering profession faced, until SECB was formed, was that there were no clear benchmarks by which to evaluate the skill levels of professionals in the discipline.

Eight years after its formation, and over 1,752 certifications later, the goals of SECB remain, since there is still no national licensing process for evaluating the discipline-specific skills and expertise of structural engineering professionals. SECB hopes to transform its certification process into the basis for national licensure.


What do you think?  Should a national licensure program be established?  What about other disciplines within the engineering umbrella– should there be separate certifications for those disciplines too?  From a legal standpoint, if an engineer has the SECB designation, he may be seen as holding himself out to a higher standard of care.  With a higher standard of care may come increased liability.  Is this fair for an engineer who voluntarily studies for additional certification?

Share your thoughts on certification and specialization in the comments section, below.

2 thoughts on “Specialized Certification for Structural Engineers: a necessity?

  1. R.J. Sollman PE says:

    Received my initial license almost (50 ) years ago, but at that time there was no SE designation offered.
    A few years ago, a movement was advanced ( I recall reading about it in the trade journals ) that in order to even qualify to sit for the exam, one would need , at minimum, a Masters degree.
    Apparently, this idea never took hold.
    Specialized certification may make sense so long as all states can adopt a standard licensing exam.,but I can’t see that ever happening …seems each state wants to out do the others in minimum acceptable requirements
    I was no smarter the day after I was licensed than the day before.
    Structural Engineering is an ongoing,enjoyable way of life, and if one has to push themselves to keep learning, they are in the wrong profession.

    • Melissa Dewey Brumback says:

      Thanks for the comment, R.J. Yes, our federal system makes uniformity of rules impossible most of the time. It’s actually much worse for lawyers than engineers, as it is usually extremely hard for a lawyer to get comity in another state. (SC, for example, requires you sit for the bar no matter how long you’ve practiced).

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