Occupational licensing laws require workers to submit verification of training, testing and education—and often pay associated fees—before beginning a job in their chosen field. When implemented appropriately, the state-mandated testing, training and educational requirements of occupational licensure can mitigate potentially harmful health and safety risks for the public.
In some professions, improper practice can result in serious harm to the public. Occupational licensing can reduce the number of unqualified individuals working in that profession, increasing overall public safety and welfare. However, because licensing laws are established independently by each state government, significant differences and disparities in licensing requirements often exist across states.
In some cases, occupational licensing requirements are established directly by state legislatures in the statute authorizing the creation of the license. Other states delegate the power to determine licensure requirements to state agencies or state-sponsored independent boards. Often, licensing requirements are set by a combination of statute and regulation, the latter being written by a state government agency or an independent licensing board usually comprised of industry representatives appointed by the governor.
Over the last 60 years, the number of jobs requiring an occupational license, or government approval to practice a profession, has grown from about 1-in-20 to almost 1-in-4. Licensing laws are implemented with the intention of protecting the health and safety of consumers by creating barriers to employment—through testing, training, and fees—in professions determined to be sufficiently dangerous. Excessively onerous requirements, however, can create barriers to employment for individuals who may not actually pose a serious risk. Because of this, some states have recently moved to remove licensure requirements determined to be overly burdensome.
Among certain populations—like immigrants with work authorization and people with criminal records—individuals who are otherwise well-equipped to safely practice a chosen profession can be limited by licensing requirements that prohibit these individuals from practicing based on their nontraditional education or language proficiency, and do not accurately reflect the actual risks of practicing that profession. Furthermore, the wide variation in occupational licensing laws across states can impede the ability of workers to relocate across state lines. This variation disproportionately impacts employment opportunities for individuals that move from the job market in one state to another—like long-term unemployed and otherwise dislocated workers seeking new opportunities, or members of the military and their families who are regularly moved to new places in their service to the country.
The National Occupational Licensing Database was produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and The Council of State Governments (CSG), with grant support from the United States Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, to contribute to the understanding of the variation in occupational licensing burdens across the country and particularly among professions for which these laws may pose unnecessary barriers to employment.
The scope of the database was narrowed from all licensed occupations in the United States to 48 identified by analysts at NCSL, the NGA Center, and CSG. These 48 were chosen based on the following criteria:
- License required in 30 or more states.
- Licensure does not require more than a four-year degree education, per U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) education designation.
- Above zero projected growth in employment over the next 10 years, as determined by BLS.
Limiting the scope of the database to only those professions that do not require more than a four-year college degree focuses this research on employment opportunities available to individuals without higher education, who face the highest unemployment rate in the nation. These workers are more likely to encounter the undue barriers to work that policymakers may wish to address.
Lastly, not only does basing the selection of occupations on projected growth potential extend the relevancy of this data in the constantly changing labor market, it also is meant to ensure that data is provided for sectors of the economy in which discussions of workforce development may already be a focus for policymakers.
Two occupations teachers and Prekindergarten teachers had licensure systems that could not be easily categorized by our database.
Data on teachers can be found in a report by our partners in the project the Council of State Governments.
The database provides data on the occupations listed below:
- Athletic Trainer
- Building Inspector
- Certified Nursing Assistant
- Child, Family, and School Social Worker (Bachelors level)
- Commercial Fisherman
- Dental Hygienist
- Drinking Water Treatment Plant Operator
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
- Funeral Service Director
- General Contractor
- Heavy Tractor Trailer Truck Drivers
- Home Inspectors
- HVAC Contractor
- Insurance Sales Agent
- Land Surveyor
- Landscape Architect
- Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN)
- Massage Therapist
- Milk Sampler
- Mobile Home Installer
- Nursing Home Administrator
- Occupational Therapy Assistant
- Pesticide Handlers and Applicators
- Pharmacy Technician
- Physical Therapy Assistant
- Pipe Fitter
- Plumber (Journeyman)
- Preschool Teacher*
- Private Detective
- Radiologic Technologist
- Real Estate Agent
- Real Estate Appraiser
- Real Estate Broker
- Registered Nurse
- Respiratory Therapist
- School Bus Driver
- Security Alarm Technician (Low Voltage System Installer)
- Security Guard (Unarmed)
- Skin Care Specialist (Esthetician)
- Teachers Assistant
- Transit City Bus Driver
- Veterinary Technician
* data collection ongoing
For all 48 occupations, available data relating to occupational licensing laws and requirements were collected at the state level. The resulting dataset provides details on the prevalence and levels of initial and continuing education requirements, the number and frequency of examinations, amount of occupational or professional experience or other required job training, and the monetary fees associated with receiving an occupational license across all states. Data are sorted by occupation and can be viewed to compare the requirements for a selected occupation across states.
For each occupation and across all states, where available, the dataset includes the following numerical variables:
- Level of educational attainment needed to fulfill the licensure requirement.
- Number of hours/units of training needed to fulfill the licensure requirement.
- Number of weeks of experience required to fulfill the licensure requirement.
- Number of examinations taken to fulfill licensure requirement.
- Number of years before renewal is required for an occupational license.
- Number of hours/units of continuing education required to maintain or renew licensure.
- Maximum dollar amount charged for initial licensure.
- Maximum dollar amount charged for renewal of licensure.
- Minimum age needed to fulfill licensure requirement.
Categorical variables are created to describe varying state licensing policies such as:
- Requirement for maintenance of “good moral character.” (Determination of moral turpitude made by licensing authority, often with broad statutory discretion)
- Restrictions imposed on individuals with criminal records.
- For example: blanket bans, consideration of rehabilitation, or probationary licensure.
- Reciprocity agreements allowing interstate license recognition.
- Degree of independence of board, measured by funding mechanisms.
The Dataset also covers the legal structure for licensing boards and agencies. The variables tracked include:
- Whether a board or agency provides oversight
- Number of board members
- Including the number of market participants, public participants, and other participants
- Method of Appointment
- Term of Office
Data was collected by staff at NCSL, the NGA Center, and CSG though a review of state code and statute from July-September 2017. The data then underwent a comprehensive cleaning process to ensure accuracy and reliability across each of the 34 occupations and all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data was last updated in the Summer of 2022.