By Chris Winters
Nationally, nearly 1 in 4 jobs require a government permission slip, often to the detriment of entrepreneurs and job seekers.
Licensing began when the public demanded more accountability from the doctors, lawyers and dentists who provided them with important services. Over time, well-meaning people added similar protections for a wide range of other services, sometimes losing sight of that basic public protection mission.
Fortunately, Vermont is one of the less regulated states when it comes to professional and occupational licensing, and we have used common-sense to further improve professional regulation over the years at the Secretary of State’s Office. We understand that while licensing is a public protection issue, it is also a workforce and economic development driver. Vermont must continue to streamline professional licensure to meet its workforce needs and to make the state an attractive, competitive and rational place to work and live.
Vermont’s Office of Professional Regulation (OPR), which regulates 50 professions and occupations, has taken several big strides recently to reduce barriers to entry for licensed professionals without sacrificing public protection.
Under the leadership of Secretary Jim Condos, with bipartisan cooperation from the Legislature and governor, and with support of a Federal Department of Labor grant, OPR has crafted and implemented policies making Vermont a national leader in licensing reform:
Fast-track licensing: Our office has implemented one of the most sweeping universal endorsement policies anywhere in the United States. A professional who has been licensed in good standing for three years anywhere in the country can obtain a Vermont license from OPR on that basis — no tests, no uncertainty, no waiting.
Credit for military experience: We recognize military training, making Vermont one of the only states in the country to offer a direct path from certain medic classifications to nursing licensure, for example. Our active-duty service members, veterans and their families deserve adequate runways to the civilian workforce.
Apprenticeship pathways: We have promoted alternative paths to licensure, working with funeral directors, cosmetologists, barbers and pharmacy technicians to offer young Vermonters experience-based access to those professions. Vermonters should be able to train into these professions without having to leave the state or incur student debt — a huge cost- and time-saver for young Vermonters just getting into the workforce.
Welcoming new Americans and helping them get to work: We allow professionals trained all over the world to have their credentials verified and recognized right here in Vermont, without wasting hard-won skills or repeating an entire degree.
Second-chance determinations: a criminal conviction is not a permanent or automatic barrier to becoming licensed. We allow someone with a conviction to apply, outlining their circumstance and evidence of rehabilitation. This can be done before they invest time or money in training or education.
Compact licensing: in February, Vermont will become a member of the Nurse Licensure Compact, an agreement among 38 states that allows a registered nurse or practical nurse with a license from any one state to practice in all of the others. As we confront a national nursing workforce crisis, the compact is a critical tool to make our state a more attractive place for nurses to settle and to free our health care employers to recruit talent as broadly as possible. We are already part of the physician’s compact.
Cutting red tape: Every profession OPR regulates is open for application 24/7, from anywhere in the world with internet access, because we have taken the entire licensing process digital. One can apply for a Vermont license without using a single postage stamp or touching a pen.
While we work to reduce barriers, we maintain a focus on public protection, understanding that licensing and enforcement of licensing standards benefits both the profession regulated and the consumers they serve. OPR makes sure licensees in 50 professions and occupations, from accountants to veterinarians, are qualified and safe to practice. We also receive over 800 complaints of unprofessional conduct from the public each year, which we investigate and prosecute if necessary.
Licensing itself doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult to protect the public. Regulation must only go as far as is absolutely necessary to achieve that goal. Sometimes that even means eliminating licensing requirements for certain professions where there is little to no risk of harm to the public, which we do through a sunset process.
We’ve made a lot of progress with these initiatives, but there is always more to be done both at OPR and across state government where other licensing programs exist.
Vermonters deserve a right-sized approach that works for everyone.
Chris Winters is Vermont’s deputy secretary of state and former director of the Office of Professional Regulation.