Every now and then you hear about someone getting in trouble for operating without a license. Just the other day on my local news, they did a huge investigative piece on unlicensed plumbers. I didn’t watch it on TV, but I kept seeing the ads for it. The idea behind professional regulation is that you know the person you are hiring has minimal qualifications to do the things they claim to be able to do. Over the last few years, I’ve come to question this more and more.
Jumping through government hoops doesn’t make you better at your job. Let’s take hair stylists as an example. Some people have the ability and natural talent to cut and style hair. While I’m sure this could always be improved with schooling and experience, it shouldn’t require schooling. Probably the only people who will disagree with me here are people who are licensed cosmetologists. My oldest son got his first hair cut from a friend. I trusted her. She did a good job. But, she didn’t have a license. What we did was, technically, illegal. The state probably won’t do anything about it because tons of money wasn’t exchanged. But, this occurred in Kansas, and you do have to have a license to cut someone’s hair (link no longer available) in that state (and many other states as well).
Licensing for most professions should be voluntary. Let’s face it, no matter how good someone is at their job, a lot of consumers will prefer that they are licensed. So, if it were voluntary, they could continue to hire those individuals while other people could choose differently. If it were voluntary, I could probably save some money going to a non-licensed individual for certain services. Earlier this year, we had our sump pump fixed by a “handyman.” He did a great job, but he told us that he wasn’t a licensed plumber. But, he sure knew more about sump pumps than we did, and saved us a lot of money. Of course, the recommendation to use him came by word of mouth, which is just smart practice.
If licensing were voluntary, people would not have to hide the fact that they are not licensed since they wouldn’t be breaking the law by failing to obtain a license. The piece I linked to above about unlicensed plumbers made a big deal about people acting like they have licenses when they don’t. They never found out whether these people could perform the necessary repair or not. They just wanted to bust them for doing a job without a license. In my opinion, government caused this problem by requiring a license for everything.
If licensing were voluntary, Company A could advertise that they did X, Y, and Z to obtain the license, which makes them more qualified. Company B could advertise that they have such-and-such experience and satisfied customers, etc. Then, the customers could decide what is important to them.
Even if professional regulation were optional, I don’t think it should be a matter for the government. Instead, we should have private agencies or clubs that have certain admission standards. For instance, I currently have a credential as a CRC (Certified Rehabilitation Counselor). This certification is issued by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification and is not affiliated with any government entity. However, most jobs in counseling require a state license (or the ability to obtain one within a certain amount of time). When I lived in Illinois, I held a counseling license. Guess what. Now that I live in Indiana, I cannot get licensed here. According to Indiana, I don’t have enough education (even though I have a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from one of the best programs in the nation) or experience (even though I was previously a licensed counselor in another state for three years and did two lengthy internships before that). I do agree that states should have the prerogative to have different requirements. What I don’t agree with and what always muddies the waters is government intervention at all. Why does Indiana assume I can’t be a good counselor until I jump through their hoops while Illinois thought I did a fine job? Why don’t we leave the whole thing to the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification or similar agencies? After all, I had to do quite a bit to qualify for their certification.
One argument in favor of professional regulation is the whole idea of continuing education. Most governments assume that, without their licensing requirements, people would stagnate in their professions and become severely out of date, which would, in turn, harm consumers. Of course, this is a bunch of malarkey. First of all, the continuing education that is required isn’t always beneficial. As a counselor, some of the conferences I went to were outstanding and motivated me to try new things and refresh my mindset. However, others were just…terrible. Some of them wasted my time, but were mandated either by my company or the government. If I didn’t have their requirements, I would have simply chosen workshops that I felt would be beneficial to me and my career. Stagnation is not an option in a competitive field. Government regulation and requirements are not what motivations a person to improve themselves in their field of choice. Competition amongst peers for jobs or promotions generally fulfills that role much better than government requirements.
I leave you with another thought/example. My husband is a college professor. He teaches microbiology. He attended over 10 years of full-time college in order to get his degree. This is his fourth year teaching at the college level. In his third year, he was promoted to associate professor. This doesn’t happen for most people until they’ve been teaching at that level for at least five years. Every semester he gets great evaluations from his students. If he wanted to change venues and teach at the high-school level, the school that receives his services would benefit greatly from such experience and education. Unfortunately, this won’t happen because he isn’t qualified to teach high-school classes. Why? Because he doesn’t have an education degree. (Of course, here I am talking about government schools. He could naturally teach at a private school).
We often think of unlicensed professions as people running around in uniforms who have no idea what they’re doing that are trying to get away with something. We think that government involvement is necessary to make sure that we aren’t getting taken advantage of. However, the government regulations that dictate who can do which jobs have become so overbearing that they are keeping some talented professionals away from the workplace. And also, it’s still your job to do your homework to make sure you’re not getting taken advantage of. No amount of government regulation can ensure you won’t be ripped off.
For a follow-up story on this post, click here.