Utah’s beehive symbol of hard work and motto of “Industry” suggest that the state should be a leader in creating simple paths to work and employment.
But the state may be losing out to Arizona, its neighbor to the south, in attracting workers in the licensing industries — those must-have hairdressers, cosmetologists, nurses and electricians, among others
Here’s why: Arizona accepts the licenses of newcomers from other states, like California. Utah does not.
From its founders Utah inherited a belief that work is noble, that it’s a blessing to individuals and the community of which they are a part. Which is why “let qualified people work here” ought to be the guiding principle for creating state workforce policy.
Occupational licenses, sometimes described as state permission slips to work in a particular profession, are intended for quality control or public safety. Instead, the real effect can be a hindrance to work for those who are otherwise qualified to practice their craft.
According to research from the Brookings Institution, the vulnerable groups hardest hit by the negative effects of occupational licensing include immigrants, low-skilled workers, entrepreneurs and those with criminal records. This means the growing trend toward licensure (5 percent of workers were licensed in 1950 as compared to 25 percent in 2017) has serious implications for issues like income disparity, criminal recidivism and lost innovation.
To avoid these problems, Arizona lawmakers recently introduced legislation to recognize other states’ occupational licenses. Reciprocity from other states is not a prerequisite for Arizona’s acceptance. They simply hope to attract and immediately put to work qualified workers who can contribute to their state’s economy. A few limitations exist in the proposal in order to balance increased opportunity with public safety — for example, licensees must be free from pending complaints or investigations. Arizona’s thoughtful “open arms” approach is both prudent and compassionate policy. And it’s something that Utah should consider.
Out of the 50 states, Utah ranked 13th highest for average burden of licensing requirements in a recent Institute of Justice study. Research from the Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University reveals that Utah loses more than 19,000 jobs and $80 million annually from occupational licensing. These are incredible losses. And more is at stake than jobs and money — it’s the opportunity for individuals to access the ennobling experience of work.
Utah has taken some steps in the right direction with regard to occupational licensing. For instance, educators and spouses of active military personnel receive leniency in Utah for outside licenses. And two years ago the state Legislature eased requirements for certain contractors and plumbing and electricity apprentices. Currently, the Legislature is considering competency-based occupational licensing, which opens up the possibility of receiving a license upon the demonstration of skills rather than through a traditional time-based path. But even more progress could be made.
Utah should carefully consider how its laws can better protect this sacred practice for everyone in the state — and fortunately the state has the culture, compassion and work ethic necessary to do it.