NSPE Today: Policy Perspectives
The Power of Strategic Partnerships
BY STEPHANIE HAMILTON
Recently, NSPE joined with several other organizations representing licensed professions to form the Alliance for Responsible Professional Licensing. The alliance’s goals are to aggressively promote the benefits of professional licensing, create a distinction between professions and occupations (and, thus, between professional and occupational licensing), and oppose the prevailing and deeply flawed message that licensing serves no beneficial purpose.
Why call it the Alliance for Responsible Professional Licensing? And why join such an alliance in the first place? Both the name and NSPE’s participation reflect core NSPE values. As a member of the alliance’s steering committee, NSPE has a unique and powerful opportunity to continue shaping public perception around professional licensure.
NSPE weighed several factors when considering joining the alliance. Ultimately, we believe it presents a valuable opportunity to work with like-minded organizations and fight efforts to undermine or eliminate professional licensing. By working together, and speaking with a unified voice, our organizations elevate the conversation, making it about more than just “protecting our own,” but instead offering responsible solutions that make licensure more accessible, efficient, and effective.
Each organization that joined the alliance has been working on the same licensing issues for years or even decades. As an alliance, we are able to pool our resources and reach a wider audience. Additionally, our position is stronger when we present a united front against the many threats to licensure. And because our various organizations are working together and sharing information, we are more likely to be aware of impending threats before they become serious.
The word “responsible” speaks to NSPE core values on two fronts: first, responsible licensing processes and second, responsible execution of professional duties.
In order for professional licensing to be valuable, the licensing process must be responsible. That means it must be efficient, which includes limited waiting periods between application for and approval of a license, simplified and streamlined processes, and reasonable fees that aren’t overly burdensome. It also means licensing standards must be uniform, which is why NSPE supports the work of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying, including use of the NCEES Records Program and its Model Law Engineer distinction as well as adherence to its Model Law. As an alliance member, NSPE continues promoting and working toward responsible licensing practices that meet these criteria.
As licensed engineers, PEs have ethical and professional responsibilities to uphold, of which protecting public health, safety, and welfare is at the center. The alliance is crafting a public narrative that highlights the many ways in which licensed professionals responsibly carry out their duties.
The distinction between professions and occupations is an important one. Often, organizations like the Institute for Justice or the American Legislative Exchange Council, which are working to relax or eliminate licensing requirements, lump all licenses together in one big, indistinct group. They imply, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that there is no real difference between occupations like makeup artist and professions like engineering or architecture.
But there are differences. Licensed professions require a high level of technical proficiency. The education and experience requirements are rigorous, as they should be. The high bar is not meant to limit competition or prevent well-qualified individuals from practicing. It is meant to ensure that those who practice are able to do so in ways that protect public health, safety, and welfare.
Additionally, one important distinction that few outside of the professional licensing community consider is that most occupations offer one-on-one services, while the engineering profession provides service to the masses, few of whom they will ever meet—for example, the engineer who designed the bridge they drive across every day. If a manicurist makes a mistake, she only affects the one customer to whom she was providing her service. If an engineer makes a mistake, it can affect dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people.
As part of its public messaging project, the alliance is developing material that makes clear the many differences between occupations and professions, as part of its broader goal of promoting professional licensure.
Licensing has always been NSPE’s primary focus. It is the alliance’s primary focus too.
The public narrative being developed by the alliance uses the same points I’ve described under the “Responsible” and “Professional” headings to make a positive argument for why licensing of engineers, architects, and other professions benefits the public.
In recent months, NSPE has used the analogy of a seat belt when describing the importance of professional licensure. Like a seat belt, a license doesn’t guarantee safety. It doesn’t guarantee that nothing will go wrong, or that accidents won’t happen. However, like a seat belt, a license provides a layer of protection against possible accidents and injuries.
Currently, the Alliance for Responsible Professional Licensing is developing a positive, aggressive public relations campaign aimed at highlighting the ways that the general public benefits from licensed professionals. In the coming weeks and months, we will launch a website; branded material, including the Alliance’s overall mission and goals; and messaging that frames professional licensing as a public good.
Stephanie Hamilton is NSPE’s manager of government relations and advocacy.