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A False Solution for Our Workforce Challenges

Weakening licensing requirements for high-impact technical professions doesn’t help businesses. They value it in their hiring to maintain service quality and avoid liability and reputational damage.

Architect at work
An architect at work. Strong professional licensing requirements are particularly important for technical professions with high public impact, such as architecture, certified public accountancy, engineering, landscape architecture and land surveying. (Shutterstock)
Workforce shortages, talent pipelines at a trickle and expensive labor are all-too-familiar challenges facing businesses and the public sector. In an attempt to tackle these problems, there is a growing trend of exploring the weakening or elimination of certain key job requirements. These proposals include getting rid of college degree requirements without equivalency alternatives, doing away with requisite testing, and downgrading credentials and licensure for professionals.

To be sure, there are some elements of the occupational licensure process that require continuous improvement and elimination of impediments disparately impacting underrepresented groups. However, in the rush to address workforce challenges, legislators and other policymakers must be cautious not to create new problems that leave employers and the public at risk.

Weakening professional licensing requirements is a false solution to various workforce ills. Minimum qualifications ensured by licensing exist to protect employers and the public they serve. This is particularly important for technical professions with high public impact, such as architecture, certified public accountancy, engineering, landscape architecture and land surveying. Care must be taken to ensure that critical licensing systems for such professions, designed to ensure public and economic protection, are not compromised and swept up in broad-brush calls for occupational licensing reform.

It is not just the public that depends on the qualifications assured by licensing; businesses do too, both as employers and recipients of services. Arguments to eliminate or weaken licensing often assume that it is a solution that benefits businesses. However, the reality is much more complicated. Proposals to weaken or do away with professional licensing can create new problems by eliminating critical systems and safeguards that help businesses succeed, with ramifications for financial support, insurance costs and consumer confidence.

A recent study conducted on behalf of the Alliance for Responsible Professional Licensing found that businesses unequivocally value licensing and the trust in qualifications that it conveys, even in today's challenging labor environment. A significant percentage of businesses rely on licensing to make informed hiring choices, and absent licensing they would have less confidence in the competence of professionals. Fully 92 percent of businesses agreed that licensing plays a crucial role in accurately assessing qualifications and making confident hiring decisions; 85 percent said they would have less confidence in the competence of professionals if licensing were downgraded.

The importance of licensing goes beyond helping employers hire with confidence; it is intertwined with the overall success of businesses. Eliminating or weakening licensing for high-impact, high-consequence professions can have far-reaching unintended consequences. Employers understand and are rightly concerned about the risks associated with such a move. These risks include a potential decline in the quality of services, increased liability and reputational damage.

In the rush to address workforce challenges and assess the role of government and regulation in today’s society, it is crucial that lawmakers carefully consider the potential impact of anti-licensing proposals. While it may be tempting to eliminate or weaken licensing requirements, it is important to recognize the value they bring to both the public and businesses. Instead of creating new problems, we challenge policymakers to endorse innovative solutions that better address workforce shortages while maintaining the necessary safeguards provided by professional licensing. This is the art of governing.

Michael Armstrong is the chief executive officer of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. Marta Zaniewski is executive director of the Alliance for Responsible Professional Licensing and vice president for state regulatory and legislative affairs at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Governing’s opinion columns reflect the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Governing’s editors or management.
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