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Sheets, Robert G.
Existing Public and Private Occupational Regulation Systems: Implications for a U.S. Skill Standards System
Washington, DC: National Governors' Association, 1994

This document was prepared for the National Governors' Association.


Editor's Note: The following was extracted directly from the document's Executive Summary. Significant efforts are underway to establish a national skill standards and certification system in United States. This system would certify the skill acquisition of students and workers based on their mastery of a nationally recognized set of core knowledge and skills. It also would promote lifelong learning and improve the portability of credentials among public and private education and training providers and the quality of information between the buyers and suppliers of skilled labor. The idea of certification based on knowledge and skill is not new. It currently is used in a wide array of state government occupational licensing and certification systems and privately operated certification systems. Since the 1960s there has been a rapid growth of public and private occupational regulation systems, which has sparked major debates over the costs and benefits of these systems and the role of private interest groups. This debate has raised major questions about when government should intervene and about the role of government in ensuring that the public interest is promoted by private and quasi-public organizations operating certification systems. It is clear that any future national system should be built from a clear understanding of how these existing systems are designed and administered and how they are integrated with quality assurance systems, including institutional and program accreditation, to achieve many of the same public benefits expected from a national system. This report reviews and illustrates a wide array of existing public and private systems that vary in the degree of governmental control and restriction on occupational practice. These illustrations range from state occupational licensing systems in the nursing professions to private occupation certification systems for automotive technicians and quality engineers. Government regulation is used primarily to ensure that the supply and quality of a valued product or service by controlling or restricting private practice. It is usually justified when the cost of information searches are prohibitive for most consumers because of infrequent use of the complexity of the service, and when the consequences for using an unqualified service provider are very high. Government action to protest consumers by improving available information or restricting the scope of practice of service providers could involve licensure, certification, or registration. Licensure is the most restrictive form of occupational regulation because it restricts the scope of practice to licensed individuals, while certification only protects the use of an occupational title. Certification requirements are similar to those of licensing but are less stringent. Registration is the least stringent form of regulation, which may involve a state requirement to register with a government agency in order to practice. The role of states in occupational regulation is illustrated by Illinois' regulation of the nursing profession. The state of Illinois regulates 318 separate occupations through 19 different state agencies. The Illinois Department of Professional Regulation is the leading state regulatory agency, covering seventy-two occupations. These occupations are concentrated in the most widely known licensed occupations -- the health and social services professions. The Illinois Nursing Act of 1987 provides the statutes and administrative rules for regulating the nursing professions, including registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). The statutes define the scope and limitations of practice, qualifications and certification requirements, licensing and registration fees, and the renewal and revoking of professional licenses, as well as the duties and responsibilities of the Department of Professional Regulation. The administrative rules specify the curriculum and instructional requirements and the application process for program approval, and they recognize a specific examination for certification purposes. In Illinois RNs and LPNs can be certified by either examination or endorsement. Endorsement is the recognition of licenses awarded in other states. State-recognized examinations are held by the department twice a year for those individuals who have completed all other certification requirements. There are separate examinations recognized by Illinois and other states for certifying registered nurses and for certifying licensed practical nurses. Each examination is developed separately by a different national organization. In addition, Illinois has separate legislation providing regulatory authority for registering basic nursing assistants who work in long-term care facilities. It is evident that the occupational licensing and certification requirements are different for each health profession, which has resulted in a highly specialized system with limited mobility between certified health occupations. Private occupational regulation and certification systems exist outside federal and state occupational licensing and regulation systems but have a similar structure of certification guidelines and procedures. These systems were established for a variety of reasons, such as to promote public trust and consumer confidence, sometimes under threat of government intervention, or to promote quality standards and recognition in a new or existing profession or occupation. The Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) program and the American Society of Quality Control (ASQC) certification program for quality practitioners are good illustrations of private regulatory systems established for different reasons. The Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) program, established in 1972, was created as an industry response to the threat of government intervention in the automotive service industry during the late 1960s and early 1970s when growing consumer concerns about the automotive repair industry led to a Senate investigation of the industry. In response to this threat, the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association and the National Automotive Dealers Association formed the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (NIASE), which administers the Automotive Service Excellence program. NIASE functions as a board to consider and approve industry proposals to establish or expand ASE certification programs. NIASE has established nineteen certification programs. Each certification program has an industry advisory group of major stakeholder representatives who conduct a job analysis and identify core job duties and tasks for each certification specialty. Then they construct examination questions that address the skills required for minimum competency in a particular field. This process results in a large test item bank that is used to rotate questions in multiple-choice test that are given twice a year at approximately 450 sites throughout the United States. In addition, NIASE, in cooperation with the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, sponsors a program accreditation system for publicly funded automotive service education and training programs. As of 1992, the ASE had certified 650 automotive programs across the country. The American Society of Quality Control (ASQC) is an international professional association for quality practitioners with approximately 110,000 members in more than 300 sections or chapters in every state. There are also chapters and affiliate associations in Canada, Japan, Mexico, and more than nineteen other foreign countries. In 1966 ASQC established its first certification program for quality engineers to promote professional recognition for this occupation, and it subsequently has launched certification programs for five other recognized quality professions. The ASQC certification programs are based on a recognized set of core knowledge and skills for each quality profession, which are summarized in a published topic outline known as the "body of knowledge." The body of knowledge for each recognized quality profession is defined by the ASQC industry committees made up of appointed ASQC members who are certified practitioners. These committees are responsible for establishing and updating the body of knowledge and developing multiple-choice questions for certification examinations. These certification examinations are administered by the ASQC Certification Department and are held twice a year at specific sites throughout the United States. Approximately 45 percent of the professionals taking the examinations pass them and receive ASQC certification. Based on the review of existing public and private occupational regulation systems, the interrelatedness and acceptance of these systems, and their rapid growth since the 1960s, there is a strong indication that the implementation of a comprehensive national skill standards and certification system in the United States would require a comprehensive public-private strategy to coordinate and integrate the existing systems. This comprehensive strategy should address five major policy issues: -- Stronger industry and employer involvement in the governance structure of a skill standards system; -- The promotion of broad-based occupations, career development systems, and interoccupational mobility; -- The replacement of prior education and work experience requirements with the establishment of portfolio certification processes; -- The integration of individual certification and program accreditation into comprehensive quality assurance systems; and -- The establishment of common certification frameworks and terminology to ensure the portability of certified skills across industries, occupations, and geographic areas within the United States.