barber cuts hair wearing mask and protective equipment

NCSL’s consortium addressed discrepancies in professional licensing requirements across state lines. Alabama, for example, requires 1,000 training hours to become a barber, whereas Iowa requires 2,100 hours.

NCSL and Partners Reflect on Occupational Licensing Lessons

By Suzanne Hultin | Dec. 9, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

NCSL’s Occupational Licensing Learning Consortium is coming to a close after four years, but the project’s final report highlights lessons all states can use to continue the work. The multistate consortium addressed the barriers and obstacles licensing policies can create for people entering the workforce or moving across state lines. NCSL’s final report on the project, being released this week, describes the legislative, executive and regulatory changes states enacted as well as lessons the consortium learned along the way.

The project brought together teams from 16 states to hear from experts, develop state action plans and learn from each other on ways to ease licensing burdens. It was funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration and was formed in partnership with The Council of State Governments and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices.

The participating states were Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin. Each state sent teams from its legislature, governor’s office, regulatory boards and labor and workforce departments to three annual multistate meetings to learn from experts and each other. Over the course of the project, the consortium states gained knowledge about promising occupational licensing policies and defined and made progress toward their state goals, even achieving many of them. The teams and partners also gained valuable insight on the strategies states used in successfully accomplishing their goals and addressing challenges that arose among the teams.

Lessons Learned

Some of the lessons learned could be applied to any state goal project, including the importance of messaging, stakeholder engagement and using third-party facilitators. Every state struggled with how best to communicate the work of the consortium to its legislature, executive agencies and various other stakeholders. States found success in focusing their messaging on protecting consumer safely while addressing critical workforce needs. The consortium also found that messages about the value of occupational licensing changes often had to be tailored for different stakeholder groups.

Similarly, the states realized early into the project that stakeholder engagement was vital to enacting legislation brought forward from the consortium teams. States that did not have buy-in from the legislature early on, for example, failed to enact many of the policy changes they sought. Finding meaningful ways to engage all stakeholders yielded more successfully enacted changes.

“The consortium has helped us with members of our own legislative body, to expect some of the changes because they know this is a national endeavor,” Arkansas Representative and state team member Bruce Cozart (R) said.

Finding Facilitators

Finally, having nonpartisan third-party facilitators, such as staff from NCSL, NGA or CSG, helped to significantly diminish partisanship and feelings of mistrust among stakeholders and led to greater support for meaningful and thoughtful licensing and regulatory changes. Every consortium state voiced appreciation to the partner organizations for facilitating the discussions and helping to keep the work going when states experienced leadership and administrative changes.

“Having a third-party facilitator enabled us to do a lot more than we likely would have done on our own, even given our current structure,” said Ronne Hines, a member of the Colorado team who works with the state Department of Regulatory Agencies. “We were able to connect with states and leverage some of the work they had already done.”

Many of the legislative and regulatory changes the consortium states adopted addressed barriers facing certain population groups, such as military spouses and people with criminal histories. States also found success in focusing their efforts on a handful of occupations, as determined by their teams, instead of enacting broad policy actions. These tailored efforts helped ensure the right people were engaged and the unique aspects of the occupations were addressed.

Although the project is wrapping up, the topic remains timely. Early in the 2020 pandemic, all 50 states acted to ease licensing requirements, allowing workers to more easily fill immediate workforce needs, particularly in health care and emergency response occupations. As the 2021 legislative sessions approach, we expect occupational licensing to remain a critical workforce issue in many states.

Suzanne Hultin is a program director in NCSL’s Employment, Labor and Retirement Program.

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