April 1, 2017
Engineering technology is constantly changing. Five years ago “the cloud” was more relevant to operations than engineering, and only specialists used simulation and analysis software. Fast forward to today: Many engineering software products are available as cloud-based services, and computer-aided engineering (CAE) tools are being sold for use in concept design. Regardless of the new technologies available, engineers must stay current with the skills and tools of their profession, and be able to prove it.
Licensing and certification are the two formal processes by which engineers prove their skill and competency. A license is permission granted by a government entity for a person to practice within its jurisdiction. Lawyers, doctors, accountants and engineers must all complete licensing requirements before being allowed to practice their profession within the boundaries of the law. Licensing in the United States is handled by state governments; the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) offers advice and training for those who need to prepare for a professional licensing exam.
Certification is when an agency or commercial entity confirms a person’s competency in a specified profession or skill set (such as using a specific software product). Gaining certification from a professional organization such as INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering), or NAFEMS (International Association for Engineering Modeling, Analysis, and Simulation Community) proves you have achieved a specific level of mastery for a given skill set.
Another way to prove professional skill is to complete classes offered by software vendors, their dealer network and other private training companies. Although the certification that comes with passing a class on using Autodesk Inventor (for example) is not required by law to be an engineer, most companies like to be able to tell potential clients how many trained engineers are on staff. Vendor certification is also valuable for those just finishing university studies or who are currently unemployed and need a resume boost. Many engineering schools provide opportunities for students to earn vendor certification as part of their curriculum.
Another benefit of taking skills-based classes is how it “forces the user to review parts of the software not normally used,” says Paul Burden, director of product development at ASCENT, a division of RAND Worldwide that provides curriculum and classes for engineering. “People who go through preparing for certification realize they have forgotten stuff or they discover new features in the software. It can be a real eye-opener for them on what the software can do.”
Professional Certification Prep
There is no one right answer to the question: “Which certification should I get?” Generally, certification on a specific software product or type of product would come before seeking a more rigorous level of mastery that transcends any one product. Becoming a SOLIDWORKS CSWP (Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional) is about demonstrating mastery using SOLIDWORKS for mechanical design and design validation; becoming certified by NAFEMS is about proving competency in the safe, reliable use of analysis and simulation technology. The process of preparing for professional certification depends on the certification being sought.
NAFEMS offers professional simulation engineer (PSE) certification, which independently assesses, verifies and records skills and competencies of an analysis and simulation engineer. To advance professionalism in simulation and analysis, NAFEMS offers various training materials, a PSE Competency Tracker for measuring progress toward certification and PSE certification. NAFEMS says its standards and methods are constantly peer reviewed by technical working groups within the organization’s membership and also by external experts.
PSE certification requires candidates to have three specific sets of experience or knowledge:
1. accumulation of competency in the specification, planning, execution and interpretation of numerical analysis applied to design, simulation or product verification;
2. proof of experience in the use of numerical analysis as previously explained; and
3. competency in foundational theoretical knowledge and product knowledge, to understand the context, purpose and value of the analysis work.
INCOSE operates a systems engineering professional (SEP) certification program, which offers the following levels of endorsement.
ASEP: Associate SEP is an entry-level certification program for junior engineers or new graduates of engineering school.
CSEP: Certified SEP requires at least five years of systems engineering experience confirmed by references. CSEP certification is valid for three years and may be renewed with continuing education and other approved methods of professional development.
ESEP: Expert SEP certification is available to senior engineers with at least 25 years of recognized systems engineering experience (or 20 years if one has already earned CSEP certification), and who has demonstrated accomplishments in systems engineering.
NAFEMS and INCOSE see their roles as more than granting certification to qualified engineers. As INCOSE puts it, they “champion the art, science, discipline and practice” of engineering. Both organizations provide members with a wealth of materials on the subject, and they sponsor annual symposiums and conferences.
Preparing to be a Licensed Engineer
NSPE exists to serve those who seek to become a professional engineer. Specifics of licensing vary state by state in the United States, but in general there is a four-step process:
1. achieve a four-year engineering degree approved by the state engineering licensing board;
2. complete four years of qualifying engineering experience;
3. pass the eight-hour Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam; and
4. pass the eight-hour Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam.
Preparing for the licensing process begins in engineering school; in many states the FE exam can be taken before graduation. To prepare for the PE exam, larger engineering firms have in-house assistance. There are also review courses offered by regional NSPE chapters. Many of the companies offering training on software products also provide PE exam prep classes.
Possibly the most familiar program for product-specific certification is the Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional (CSWP) program, heavily promoted by Dassault Systemès and offered with assistance of most SOLIDWORKS resellers. The actual tests are now completely online. Many who prepare for the CSWP exam choose to take it at the annual SOLIDWORKS World convention, held every winter. SOLIDWORKS publishes a set of training courses recommended for CSWP candidates: SOLIDWORKS Essentials, SOLIDWORKS Drawings, Advanced Part Modeling and Advanced Assembly Modeling.
The CSWP exam is taken in three segments, which can be attempted in any order. Failing one exam on the first try does not invalidate having passed one or both of the other segments, and all exams are repeatable. Each segment in the CSWP exam is $33; there is no discount for buying entrance to all three exams at once.
SOLIDWORKS also offers certification on a variety of specific skills, such as sheet metal design, using SOLIDWORKS Electrical or use of model-based engineering. Cost for each of these discipline-specific exams vary from $19.95 to $49.95.
Autodesk operates its training program through authorized training centers (ATC), which usually are operated as a separate division of Autodesk resellers. ATCs offer dedicated classrooms and instructors certified by Autodesk. Certifications offered by Autodesk of interest to DE readers are the Inventor Certified Professional and the AutoCAD Certified Professional programs. There are a wide variety of exam prep courses as well as the exams, varying in price from $45 to $195. ATCs do not administer the tests, but they do offer classes to help engineers prepare.
About the Author
Randall S. Newton is principal analyst at Consilia Vektor, covering engineering technology. He has been part of the computer graphics industry in a variety of roles since 1985.Follow DE