Are you a practising professional engineer?

Whether a licence holder is or is not actually practising professional engineering is an important piece of information that PEO needs to properly carry out its mandate of regulating the profession.

It’s also an important fact for licence holders to know to determine whether they are in compliance with the Professional Engineers Act. For instance, if you are practising—even in a volunteer, advisory, occasional, or part-time capacity—and providing services to the public, you need a Certificate of Authorization. If you intend to practise—even on a volunteer, advisory, occasional, or part-time basis—then you do not qualify for fee remission.

Currently, PEO identifies as non-practising only those licence holders who are on fee remission status; that is, licence holders who are retired, unemployed or on employment leave for medical, educational or parental care reasons. Individuals who are on fee remission undertake not to engage in any practice activities. Every licence holder who is not on fee remission or has not had his or her licence revoked, suspended or cancelled is automatically identified in the practitioner directory as practising.

However, it is clear that many licence holders who are working are not actively practising professional engineering. They could be engaged in another profession, such as law, medicine or finance. They might be real estate agents or high school teachers. In cases like this, identifying a licence holder as non-practising is relatively easy. In some other situations, such as sales or management of operations, the distinction between practising and non-practising can be blurry.

According to the Professional Engineers Act, a person is practising professional engineering if he or she is carrying out any act of designing, composing, evaluating, advising, reporting, directing or supervising, or the managing of any of these acts, and those acts that:

  1. involve the safeguarding of life, health, property, economic interests, the public welfare or the environment, and
  2. require the application of engineering principles.

The definition applies to all situations where this particular combination of intellectual activity, public safeguarding and methodology exists, regardless of whether the position is in industry, government or consulting. It is only these particular criteria that determine whether a person is practising. A person does not have to be employed in a firm holding a Certificate of Authorization in order to be classified as practising, nor does a person have to seal engineering documents to be considered a practising licence holder. 


To clarify how to apply these rules to your situation, let’s look at some actual cases.

Sergio is a licence holder employed by the provincial government who reviews engineering reports and applications for approval. Clearly, he is evaluating the engineering work so the first test is met; he is carrying out an act of evaluation. Also, because the purpose of the review is to determine whether an approval should be granted, his work involves safeguarding of one or all of the public interests listed in (a) above. If Sergio makes judgments about the validity of the presumptions used in the report or whether the correct engineering methodology was used in this particular instance—in other words, if he makes use of skills or knowledge learned through an engineering education—then he is applying engineering principles. If all of these conditions are met, Sergio is, according to the Professional Engineers Act, practising professional engineering.

Now consider Susan, the plant manager for a manufacturing firm. Her primary activities are supervising, directing and reporting to senior management about the state of the manufacturing operations. Obviously, she is also carrying out many of the acts included in the first part of the definition. Since her objective is to make sure the operation is profitable, she is safeguarding the economic interests of the shareholders. As plant manager, she is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, so she is also involved in safeguarding life, health and property. However, if she only employs business and soft skills like budgeting and scheduling, and relies on the procurement of technical and professional services when needed, then she is not practising professional engineering.


Here are some typical questions about the distinction between practising and non-practising status we have received.

Q: Is a licence holder who is retired but works approximately 550 hours per year as an expert in civil and structural engineering for mediation, arbitration and litigation considered to be practising?
A: There is no minimum on hours of employment in the definition. Part-time work can still be classified as practising. In this case, the licence holder is providing expert opinion, which generally involves evaluating, advising and reporting. Since his work involves expertise in civil and structural engineering he is definitely applying engineering principles. And by providing his expertise in a matter where financial considerations are at stake, he is safeguarding someone’s economic interests. This licence holder is definitely practising professional engineering. Also, because he is providing services to the public—that is, to a client—he must have a Certificate of Authorization issued by PEO.

Q: I am currently retired but may go back into practice with the right offer. Should I identify myself as practising?
A: PEO’s PEAK program is interested in your current status, so declare yourself non-practising. Making this declaration does not prevent you from returning to practice and, unlike many other professions, there are no requirements to update your knowledge and skills before resuming practice at this time. Please remember that if you are on fee remission you must notify the registrar immediately, in writing, if you resume the practice of professional engineering.

Q: I am employed but in a position totally unrelated to professional engineering. However, I want to utilize my engineering background so I volunteer with an organization that provides pro bono assistance to small businesses in need of experts. How should I identify my practice status?
A: If you are carrying out professional engineering work for these small businesses, or doing any similar volunteer work, then you are practising professional engineering. Also, in order to provide these services, you must be working under the auspices of a Certificate of Authorization. Carrying out professional work as a volunteer does not excuse you from the requirements of the Professional Engineers Act

Bernard Ennis, P.Eng., is PEO’s director of policy and professional affairs.


  1. Look at your job description or think about what you have done in the course of your work over the last year. Were you involved in any of the activities listed in the definition?
  2. Ask yourself, “What is the purpose of my work?” Can you say that your work is done in order to protect or safeguard something? Is that something one of the values or interests listed in the definition?
  3. If your answer to question #1 is yes, did you rely upon skills and knowledge in technical subjects gained through your engineering education?

If you answered yes to all three questions, then you are practising professional engineering.