This article by Nader Qaimari originally appeared on Training Industry.
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Learning doesn’t stop after you land your first job — and this is especially true in tightly-regulated industries where environmental, health, safety and other consumer protection rules require professionals to constantly upskill and reskill to meet new requirements.
For instance, California is working to become carbon neutral by 2045, if not sooner. Architects in the state wanted to get on board with this effort, so they asked California lawmakers to require a specific type of additional training to keep their licenses. Thanks to a new state law, all California architects must complete five hours of continuing education every two years in zero net carbon design to ensure that they’re able to understand expected future changes to building codes and standards that will require more resilient and carbon-neutral approaches.
This is just one example of how state professional licensure requirements can have significant workforce and employment impacts that are sometimes overlooked and hard to appreciate.
Requiring people to obtain licenses and other credentials to hold certain occupations is a tradition that originated with medieval medical licenses and trade guilds in Germany, France and Spain. Today in the United States, the number of jobs that require licensure has only continued to grow. Roughly 60 years ago, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, only about one in 20 American jobs required a government approved occupational license. And today, nearly one in four full-time workers in the United States need a professional license to do their jobs.
Because of ongoing changes in a regulatory landscape, the market for professional and occupational licensure has evolved into a surprisingly dynamic and fluid industry. Much of the demand for professional licensure has been driven by the growth of the health industry. Registered nurses, pharmacy technicians, dental hygienists, physical therapists and related health care positions typically require heightened regulation to ensure that these professionals can be entrusted with public health and safety while adhering to certain guidelines. Building trades and K-12 education are other sectors with numerous occupations with required licensure.
To maintain and renew their licenses, those who want to work in licensed fields must meet continuing education requirements, typically fulfilled through a mandatory number of professional development hours to be completed in a specified timeline.
Historically, this training is a check-the-box exercise simply to ensure compliance with state regulations that require some measure of continuing education. In some cases, professionals can earn enough continuing education credits by taking a refresher course at a conference. Sometimes, the questions come directly from booklets handed out at the event. While continuing education providers are required to have state regulatory approval to offer state-approved licensure classes, there is limited data on the impact of these continuing education courses.
A New Focus for Continuing Education
Today, skilled professionals increasingly want to be able to access the tools and services they need in one place. Many professional associations are already doing this, but fees can sometimes be a barrier to entry — and professionals might not want to pay for services they never use.
Licensed professionals also have told us they want more convenient delivery methods. Regulatory requirements are often very specific and prescribed based on how professional development hours can be delivered. This typically results in busy professionals having to spend their weekends or step away from their busy work week to attend in-person classes.
Licensed learners looking for continuing education want training that focuses not just on the profession but also on the professional. Social, communication, leadership and networking skills are just as important as the regular refreshers they get on the skills necessary to do their jobs. None of the compliance skills matter if professionals don’t have the other skills they need to be successful.
Increasingly, the continuing education and licensure market is shifting from a legacy focus on compliance to a new emphasis on outcomes. In other words, professionals who rely on occupational licensure for their livelihoods want something more than just “checking the box.” Compliance is critical for keeping their licenses and earning a steady income. By improving outcomes — and teaching contractors, chiropractors, home inspectors and veterinary technicians how to do their jobs even better — continuing education for licensed professionals can improve their employability and their chances for career success.
The future of professional continuing education and licensure is more about the life of the career. It’s about better serving the people who depend on licensed professionals for good health, safe homes and a healthy planet.