What is professional licensing?
Professional licensing is the process individuals undertake to earn a specific credential that indicates a minimum level of competency and expertise in a profession. Examples of this include a PE for engineers, an RA license for architects and a CPA license for accountants. The process of becoming a licensed professional involves rigorous training, exams, and ongoing education to ensure these individuals know about and deliver standards that defend and enhance the health, safety, and welfare of the public they serve.
Why does professional licensing matter?
Professions that require licensing do so because these professions are most often charged with the health, safety, and integrity of systems on which the public relies. The professional license establishes a standard for minimal competency that is critical in professions that impact public safety, trust and welfare—such as the design of buildings, the construction of public and private spaces, and the integrity of financial systems. Professional licensing is rigorous for a reason.
How does licensing protect consumers and the public?
Professional licensing protects consumers and the public by ensuring a baseline level of proven qualification and expertise. It is an important verification of expertise that ensures professionals with high public impact are qualified to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. The public recognizes and values professional licensing. In fact, 74% of total voters surveyed believe professional licensing is important for public safety. There is trust in the rigor of professional licensing.
Professional licensing also protects consumers from unqualified practitioners. This is particularly critical in highly complex, technical professions where consumers do not have the specialized knowledge needed to evaluate qualifications and performance.
How do licensing boards protect the public?
Professional licensing boards are responsible for protecting the public by establishing responsible licensing standards, ensuring compliance with those standards, and sanctioning bad actors. Those who serve on a licensing board are charged with: 1) overseeing and enforcing the laws enacted by the legislature to ensure a profession is adhering to standards that fulfill its public protection mandate, and 2) preserving the credibility, validity, and reliability of the license they represent.
How does licensing help professionals?
Responsible professional licensing creates a defined pathway for professionals based on verified expertise. It helps level the playing field by setting a clear, evenly-applied level of qualification and removing subjectivity. This is particularly important in helping newcomers enter the profession. Moreover, a well-structured licensing system establishes a consistency in qualification upon which reciprocity and mobility rely. Professional licensing typically establishes uniform standards and requirements. This uniformity establishes a baseline of trust in licensing among the states that makes it possible for professionals to move from one state to another and have their license acknowledged. Without this level of confidence states would be less inclined to accept out-of-state licenses.
Is there really a call to eliminate professional licensing?
Yes. Several states have introduced legislation that would repeal or remove some occupations and professions from the state statute; no longer requiring licensure for practice. Furthermore, there is a concerted effort to pass new state laws—frequently marketed as “Consumer Choice Acts” or “Right to Earn A Living Acts”—that would drastically reduce and even eliminate licensing requirements. These proposals call for wholesale weakening of licensing requirements and would prohibit requirements for unlicensed individuals to have relevant education and experience in a profession. These bills make no distinction for highly complex, technical professions. This means someone with no engineering education could practice engineering. The carefully structured systems that are in place to ensure engineers, surveyors, architects, landscape architects, and CPAs are qualified could be dismantled. The licensing standards for professionals who are responsible for the sound design and safety of our public and private spaces and the integrity of our financial systems would be treated the same as the standards for vocational occupations.
Why should professions be treated differently than occupations?
There is an important distinction between highly complex, technical professions and the trade and vocational occupations that lawmakers commonly cite to defend weakening licensing requirements. Professions such as engineers, surveyors, architects, landscape architects, and CPAs are granted a high level of public trust and directly impact public safety. These professions are vested with the responsibility to certify the quality and integrity of their work, and this “seal of approval” is a social contract with the public. Because of this, they must meet rigorous educational requirements, undergo intensive examination, and participate in trainings on complicated codes and laws in order to perform their duties with integrity, quality, and reliability.
What would happen if professional licensing was eliminated?
Simply put, the public would be endangered. Eliminating licensing would severely undermine the ability to establish, verify, and enforce the necessary expertise in professions that impact public safety and trust. Without the rigor and oversight of professional licensing, the public would be exposed to greater risk when it is most vulnerable (driving over a bridge) or most in need of trustworthy information (when starting or investing in a business). Eliminating professional licensing would also shift the burden of ensuring qualifications from experts to consumers and expose the public to greater risk from unqualified practitioners. The authority of regulatory boards to act to protect the public and enforce responsible licensing standards would be diminished and replaced with enforcement through expensive litigation after a bad outcome and the hope that market forces would eventually weed out unqualified practitioners.
Aren’t there some licensing requirements that are excessive?
There are legitimate concerns about over-regulation of some occupations. However, addressing those concerns with a broad-brush call to weaken all licensing is not the right approach—one size does not fit all. Maintaining rigorous standards for highly complex, technical professions with high public impact is critical to protecting the public’s health, safety, and welfare. Our professions’ licensing standards are rigorous for a reason.
Doesn’t licensing limit competition?
Good licensing systems actually encourage competition because they establish the consistent standards and facilitate reciprocity that enables professional mobility. The ability for professionals to move and practice across states increases the number of professionals available in the marketplace and thus encourages competition.
How can licensing be improved?
From our industries’ perspective, it is important that professional licensing recognizes and keeps pace with the needs of increasingly mobile professionals and the modern economy. Responsible professional licensing should also be responsive to the needs of modern professionals by helping to facilitate licensure and reciprocity across states. That is why we have led with responsible licensing models that protect the public while also providing individuals with a clear career path, as well as consistent and evenly applied requirements.