How Will the Development of a New PE Exam Specification Impact the CPD Program?

May 2022 Professional Engineer's Perspective by David DexterA recent discussion on the ASPE Connect Open Forum regarded professional registration and the potential development of a PE exam within the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) Mechanical Engineering Principles and Practice exam. ASPE, through its Professional Engineer Working Group (PEWG), is supporting the development of a plumbing and piping exam module to be incorporated within the NCEES Mechanical Engineering suite of exams. The PEWG is working through NCEES’ Professional Activities and Knowledge Study (PAKS) committee to develop an examination specification followed by the development of exams to be used in the evaluation of candidates who seek to obtain registration as a Professional Engineer (PE).

As with anything that implies the potential for change, concerns are always raised. In this case, some wondered if this proposed exam would be plumbing and piping specific, similar to the CPD (Certified in Plumbing Design) exam, or a subset of the Mechanical Engineering exam. Also, if this comes to be, would it stop the CPD program?

The Difference Between Certification and Registration

The CPD program is intended for those who wish to demonstrate broad knowledge of the technical/practical side of the plumbing design profession. It is, as the first word implies, a certification and not a registration. Certifications generally are only a measure of competency and are not recognized in law.

On the other hand, professional registration is contained within law, granting privilege to those who meet the requirements contained within the law: a four-year degree in engineering or a similar area of study, successful passing of an exam, and four years of experience under the responsible charge of a PE. That same law also places legal, ethical, and moral obligations on the person who holds such privilege.

What About the Proposed PE Exam?

When one discusses exams by NCEES, one is discussing the Principles and Practice level of exam. The Principles portion covers exactly what the name implies: engineering principles and the underlying physics, science, and mathematics that support the engineering profession. The Practices portion applies to the actual practice within the discipline.

As mentioned previously, the proposed examination under development will be a subset of NCEES’ Mechanical Engineering Principles and Practice suite of exams. It will be on the same level as the HVAC and Refrigeration, Machine Design and Materials, and Thermal and Fluid Systems exam specifications. It would be different than the CPD exam, but similar in practical application.

This examination will provide another path for those engineers who are dedicated to the plumbing and piping discipline. It takes nothing away from anyone who currently holds or will hold registration in the future. As with anyone who passes an NCEES Principles and Practice exam, they will earn the designation of Professional Engineer. This is just another step in advancing ASPE’s recognition as an engineering society.

The NCEES exam development will have no impact on the CPD or any other certifications offered by ASPE. One must remember that there is a difference between professional registration and certification as described above. Professional registration grants privilege and holds the registered person to certain legal, ethical, and moral obligations. Certifications are generally developed by various societies or organizations and allow professionals to show their elevated knowledge and experience.

Plumbing designers and engineers will still have the same opportunities they currently have to show their knowledge and experience. However, once the proposed plumbing and piping exam becomes part of the Mechanical Engineering exam, it will give those qualified engineers another path to pursue professional registration that is closer to their daily area of practice. It will also allow for expanded recognition of the American Society of Plumbing Engineers as an engineering society by offering an exam based on the practice of plumbing engineering.

How You Can Help

If you are a registered Professional Engineer who supports ASPE’s goal of creating a path for professional registration and advancing the Society’s image as a professional engineering society, please consider joining the PAKS process.

This can be accomplished by contacting me at [email protected] or Ronald K. Bartley, PE, FASPE, CPD, CPI/CPE, at [email protected]. We are the Co-Chairs of the PEWG and will gladly put you in contact with Mr. Don Colman, PE, the Exam Development Engineer with the PAKS committee of NCEES.

About the Author

David D. Dexter, FNSPE, FASPE, CPD, CPI, LEED BD+C, PE, is a registered Professional Engineer, Certified Plumbing Inspector, and Certified Plans Examiner with more than 40 years of experience in the installation and design of plumbing systems. He specializes in plumbing, fire protection, and HVAC design as well as forensics related to mechanical system failures. Dave serves as Chair of ASPE’s Main Design Standards Committee, Chair of the Bylaws Committee, Co-Chair of the College of Fellows Selection Committee, and Co-Chair of the Professional Engineer Working Group. He also was the 2008–2009 President of the Engineering Foundation of Ohio, 2010–2011 President of the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers, and 2012–2014 Central Region Director for the National Society of Professional Engineers.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not the American Society of Plumbing Engineers.

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