It takes nearly a year of training to become a licensed barber in Ohio, but one can become an advanced emergency medical technician — with the ability to administer narcotics — in less than six weeks.
Ohio is the only state in the U.S. to license social work assistants, who are not able to do actual counseling but perform tasks such as intake assessments, screenings, record keeping and case management.
Ohio also licenses several professions that are licensed by fewer than half the states in the nation — including upholsterers, wildlife control operators and opticians.
While very few people would want to get on a plane flown by a unlicensed pilot or have surgery performed by a unlicensed doctor, the necessity of having licenses for upholsterers, auctioneers or makeup artists has been questioned.
“Ohio’s licensing requirements have prevented more than 7,000 people between the ages of 25-45 from pursuing licensed occupations in the state,” says a new study by the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank.
But some of the battles over licensing requirements are not just between Democrats and Republicans, or constituent group against constituent group. There is disagreement in some cases even within the same industry.
Take the battle brewing over proposed changes to cosmetology licenses in Ohio.
Two bills — Senate Bill 129 and House Bill 189 — would reduce the number of education hours needed for various cosmetology-related licenses, including lowering from 1,500 hours to 1,000 hours the training needed for a basic cosmetologist license.
The Ohio Salon Association is in favor of the changes because states like New York are already licensing after 1,000 hours of training. That’s also the number of hours required of students attending career technology schools.
“Currently public school students get 1,000 (cosmetology) hours,” said OSA Executive Director Elizabeth Murch. They make up the remaining 500 hours with other high school subjects, but are passing the licensing tests at the same rate as students who attend private cosmetology schools for 1,500 hours.
“Being in school longer is not the answer,” Murch said. Private cosmetology school for one year can cost as much as $28,000, she said, leaving workers making $12 to $15 an hour with a lot of debt coming out of school.
“We don’t have enough licensees to fill the jobs that are available,” she said. “We don’t want to be deregulated as an industry, we want to be properly regulated.”
But others in the industry have expressed concern that lowering training requirements will lower the standard of service.
Sue Carter Moore, president emeritus of Salon Schools group in Columbus, called the bills “devastating” to small salons, which are usually women-owned, and do not have the resources to train new employees to a level necessary for professional salon services.
“Proponents of these bills are nationally franchised hair-cutting chains that we believe have over-sold franchises and now face a labor shortage,” Moore said in a Change.org petition against the bills.
The group worked with lawmakers to introduce House Bill 289, which would create a standing committee to review each professional licensing board every five years. Each board would have to argue for its continued existence by proving there is a public health or safety need for the professional license it oversees.
In examining each board, the proposed committee would consider whether other states regulate the same occupation and what amount of training other states require. The committee would also consider whether the professional license has inhibited economic growth, reduced efficiency or increased the cost of government.
Ohio requires licenses for fewer occupations than the average state, according to the Buckeye Institute report, but the state’s requirements for many licenses are more burdensome than others, with average fees of $137, average required training of 341 days, and at least one exam.
More than one-quarter of U.S. workers now require a state-issued license to do their jobs, according to a 2015 White House report.
Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta addressed the issue last summer at the annual meeting of the conservative group, the American Legislative Exchange Council.
“The growth of occupational licensing is part of a nationwide trend where we regulate, and regulate, and regulate,” Acosta said. “Excess licensing hinders the American workforce.”
While licensing can help ensure high-quality, professional services, studies have also found it makes it harder for workers to enter a profession and can increase costs for consumers, according to Lawson.
It’s not just the cost of tuition for professional license programs that’s a hindrance, he said. It’s also the time out of the workforce to attend training. To get a shampooer license in Ohio, an individual needs to complete 30 weeks of training.
In contrast, he said, police academies in Ohio typically offer 16-week training programs.
“High fees and training requirements reduce an occupation’s job growth by 20 percent, as prospective workers who cannot afford to enter the occupation remain unemployed or underemployed,” the Buckeye Institute’s report says.
Lawson also argues that the regulations in Ohio don’t take into account the abundance of information available to today’s consumers, who can use social media and other means for seeking out quality businesses.
“The market works,” he said. In the past, a government license for a barber or pest control service was like a stamp of approval that the individual was well trained and could be trusted to do a good job.
“Because you didn’t have the information about who was good and who was bad,” Lawson said. “Today, there’s tons of information. There are tons of reviews. You’ve got Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, Angie’s List.”
Some worry the movement to deregulate occupations will go too far.
“Licenses exist for a reason,” said Holly Ross, legislative agent for the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers, which opposes House Bill 289. “Engineers are the people we depend upon to build our bridges and our roads and our sewer systems… and to call into question the agencies that regulate those licenses calls into question the whole institution.”
Not only are licensed engineers needed on public works projects, Ross said, but the board that oversees professional engineers — the Engineers and Surveyors Board — shouldn’t have to prove its worth every five years.
“They are extremely qualified at what they do,” she said.
Joe Warino, vice president of legislative and government affairs for the OSPE, said the movement to limit requirements shouldn’t be directed at occupations that impact public safety.
“I don’t believe that there’s a need to justify our existence,” he said.