"Yet research provides scant evidence that licensing does what it is supposed to do-raise the quality of services and protect consumers. Instead, licensing laws often protect those who already have licenses from competition, keeping newcomers out and prices high."
I wondered about what that research may be and also what research there may be to the contrary. Can anyone offer evidence of research or even a study or investigation of the topic. I have been involved with licensure for many years, including being Chair of the former ASCE Committee on Licensure and Ethics. It seems to me that much of the discussion of licensure is based on anecdote rather than research, study, or at least something more than anecdote.
I suggest that, at the outset, we distinguish between occupational licensure and professional licensure as does the article you cite.
I, too, searched for and did not find an exhaustive study the relationship between professional licensure and service quality/public protection.
As a second best, I searched for engineering failures drawn from a range of disciplines and found disasters that involved chemical, civil, electrical, industrial, mechanical, metallurgical, and petroleum engineering and engineers.
I do not claim that the failures I studied are a sample, in a statistical sense, of the engineering-related failures population. After studying many such disasters, one realizes they are individually and collectively complex. I could not define the population of disasters, let alone select a representative subset.
Having offered this caveat, I believe that we benefit from looking at failures, as unpleasant as most are because of the resulting injuries, deaths, and destruction and the often, failed engineers and engineering. Patterns tend to arise and we can learn from them.
I present my research results in Chapter 3 of my recently published book Engineering's Public-Protection Predicament. (The book, available as paperback or e-book, is introduced here: http://www.helpingyouengineeryourfuture.com/managing-leading-books.htm )
Besides reviewing the literature, I studied engineering disasters produced by Ford, Morton-Thiokol, GM, BP, amusement ride "designers," Columbia Gas, and Boeing. The common factor? Organizations operating under engineering licensure-exemption laws tend to develop bottom-line first cultures. At best, public protection comes in a distant second resulting in unnecessary injuries, deaths, and destruction.
Essentially all states (Arkansas and Oklahoma excepted) and DC have engineering licensure law exemptions. In my view, those laws tend to create, from the top down, powerful, pervasive, and destructive cultures.
Hospitals must have licensed physicians in charge of surgery, law firms must have licensed attorneys in charge of legal services, and veterinary clinics must place licensed vets in charge of neutering and spaying. In striking contrast, and because of massive licensure-exemption laws, the vast majority of engineers who work for industries, manufacturers, utilities, and government entities and produce massive amounts of risky products, facilities, structures, systems do so without the guidance of accountable and competent PEs, whose paramount responsibility is public protection.
According to an article by William C. Bracken, PE ( https://fbpe.org/what-is-the-industrial-exemption/ ), Florida exempts from engineering licensure many engineers. More specifically, these (quoting) :
* In-house" engineers employed by a manufacturing or other business firm not providing a service directly to the public;
* Engineers employed by public utilities;
* Engineers employed by defense, space, or aerospace companies; and
* Engineers employed by the state or federal government.
This topic under similar other threads and contexts came up for discussions again and again – showing the importance of it to an engineer's mind. And rightly so, because it's one's bread-and-butter and career/profession.
While brooding on the evidence of effectiveness, perhaps there is another way of looking at the licensure system. Licensing is like a Gate – and the keeper of that gate, is the licensing authority. As discussed on some other occasions, that gate keeping is mostly populated by regulating bureaucrats. Also, one has to remember that the necessity of licensing was primarily felt – to ensure public safety and protect the interests of client. Other things followed from these starting points.
Who can cross the golden (?) gate to become a professional engineer? Well, the criteria – for who can or cannot cross the gate are mostly transparent, but as with everything else, one should not be surprised to see some discretionary confidentiality in them. There came the necessity of: (1) a minimum Bachelors Degree in Engineering; (2) a technical competence exam (thus effectively overriding the earned degree – some countries follow this, others don't see the necessity of it. Further technical competence is not a one-time affair, it must be sharpened, therefore the necessity of continuous learning came into focus); (3) a certain length of successful experience; and (4) an ethics exam (to make sure that those who cross gate are well-tuned to the societal ethical compass).
Licensure effectiveness? Well, the reality is that most of an average engineer's works are governed by – standards, codes, manuals and experience-led judgments. And in managing things – from project performance and cost-estimates to proposal writing and marketing. Licensed or not (where licensure is not mandatory), these works and the governing conditions dictate what an engineer does, because some are required as part of remaining in business – while others are imposed by clients and regulations. In case of failures to comply with the governing conditions and the associated consequences, a licensed engineer-of-record loses his or her license – but both licensed and non-licensed are subject to trial in jurisdictional courts.
------------------------------Dr. Dilip Barua, Ph.D, P.Eng, M. ASCEVancouver, BC, Canada------------------------------