Occupational Licensing Reciprocity Is Good for Military Spouses, but Why Not for Everyone?

Nathan and Abby Bauer of Fargo stand at attention Sunday during send-off ceremonies for members of the North Dakota National Guard 188th Engineer Company at the North Dakota State College of Science's Blikre Activities Center in Wahpeton. David Samson / The Forum

“North Dakota, meanwhile, has more than 13,000 unfilled jobs, many of which require licensing,” the Grand Forks Herald wrote in an editorial over the weekend. “Often, trailing military spouses are qualified to fill those openings, but because of the existing licensing process they are not able to immediately work. Since many military spouses are in the state only for a few years, it is professionally prohibitive to spend the first several months awaiting licensure.”

That was a lead-in to the paper endorsing SB2306, introduced by Senator Scott Meyer (R-Grand Forks), which would “make it easier for spouses of military personnel to transfer their existing occupational licenses for use in North Dakota, provided they are in good standing and licensed by a reasonable entity,” as the Herald describes it.

It’s good legislation, which is no doubt why it passed in the state Senate unanimously earlier this year. The bill is currently slated for a committee hearing before a House committee this week, but it seems destined to pass in a landslide in that chamber as well.

Because it makes so much sense.

…why not make this sort of license reciprocity good for everyone moving into our state?

My question, though, is why not make this sort of license reciprocity good for everyone moving into our state? As just one example, the oil industry brings a lot of workers to our state too. Those workers also have spouses who might benefit from this sort of policy.

At any given time we have thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of job openings in North Dakota. Labor shortages have been a chronic challenge to economic growth in our state for generations now. While our politicians like to tout the state’s low unemployment rate, the scarcity of labor makes it hard for new businesses to open.

We must attract new workers to our state if we expect to grow, and perhaps even more importantly, diversify our economy.

If clearing some of the red tape around licensing helps tap into the military spouse labor pool, why not other workers too?

I love North Dakota. I think it’s a wonderful place to live. But let’s face it, our small communities and at times brutal weather patterns aren’t for everyone. We’re not exactly San-Diego-on-the-prairie. We can’t expect many people to move here simply for the ambiance.

We have to make it as easy as possible to choose North Dakota as a place to live and work. Part of that equation is keeping taxes low. Another party could be an easier path to licensing for people already licensed in an occupation in another state.

I suspect some industries in our state will resist this – very often occupational licensing is less about safety and standards than a guild-like mentality from those already in the occupation looking to protect themselves from outside competition – but with the right political momentum that’s an obstacle which could be overcome.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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