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As lawmakers in Charleston tackle the economic challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, they should protect responsible licensing, because research shows it is good for professionals and good for consumers.

Hard-working professionals benefit from the higher wages that come with a license. Consumers benefit from the protection and peace of mind that come with a physical and financial infrastructure built and maintained by qualified professionals.

A new report, from the Alliance for Responsible Professional Licensing and the international research firm Oxford Economics, found that licensing is associated with 6.5% higher wages, on average, for all professions and occupations in the United States.

Moreover, the research found that, for women and minorities in technical fields requiring significant education and training, a license narrows the gender-driven wage gap by about one-third and the race-driven wage gap by about half.

Female engineers, surveyors, architects, landscape architects and certified public accountants can expect a 6.1% hourly wage increase, on average, after becoming licensed in their field.

These findings should serve as a red flag to lawmakers who might be considering one-size-fits-all legislation in an attempt to roll back state licensing systems this session.

West Virginians are well served by rigorous licensing for engineers, surveyors, architects, CPAs and landscape architects, because it ensures they are held to the highest standards of professionalism. And West Virginians deserve the same consumer protection, high-quality services and caliber of professionals as other states.

Indeed, responsible licensure is a vital means to protect the public’s health, safety and welfare.

In fact, public opinion research found that more than two-thirds of voters believe consumers are best protected by a system that regulates education, examination and experience standards — all of which are overseen by an independent, professional licensing board.

License holders, and the public they serve, recognize the economic and societal value of a license and want to see it safeguarded. For license holders, it opens doors to choose and forge their own career path and make career decisions based on a level playing field with clear and consistent expectations and qualifications. For the public, it ensures the professionals they entrust to build and design their roads, airports, bridges and financial systems are qualified and accountable to independent regulatory boards.

Nobody denies that unnecessary barriers to entry exist for some occupations in West Virginia, and it is entirely appropriate for lawmakers to review and reform burdensome state occupational licensing requirements. However, it is imperative that any licensing reform be done thoughtfully and carefully.

Broad-brush deregulation of licensing simply does not work, and it can come with a host of unintended negative consequences for professionals and the public. The Legislature wisely rejected such an overly broad approach last session, after outcry from licensed professionals and the public. It should again eschew this approach, if it comes up for consideration during this session.

Instead, reformers would do well to look to existing professional licensing models, such as those described in ARPL’s report on interstate practice, which offers lawmakers clear recommendations and real-world examples on how to pursue reform that will enable people to work in their chosen fields and to move with their careers all while maintaining public protection.

Many professions already have time-tested mobility and reciprocity programs that lawmakers can look to as models for reform. These are useful insights that must be incorporated into upcoming considerations of licensing policy.

Licensing reform calls for a thoughtful approach that recognizes the fundamental truth that licensing drives higher wages and a stronger economy, and it affects professions, occupations and populations differently.

One-size-fits-all proposals simply do not work. Responsible licensing does.

Licensing reform must be discussed with consideration of the unique nature and technical demands of all licensed professions and occupations. If done correctly, it will help attract and retain talented, high-skilled professionals to our state, providing a further boost to the economy.

Choosing the responsible course on licensing gives Mountain State professionals the chance to live, work, grow their careers, raise their families and serve the public with excellence.

David Meadows has more than 47 years of leadership, design, construction and project management experience. He retired from the Huntington District, U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, after 40 years of service.

Gregory A. Williamson is an architect at Williamson Architecture PLLC, a sole-proprietor design firm in Winfield.

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