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Contractor licensing in the U.S. is indeed frustrating. In an age where HVAC, electrician, and plumber contractors like everyone else need to be able to move to where there are jobs, they usually hit a brick wall.
Even newcomers within a state are usually hit with all kinds of obstacles to getting licensed. It is clear that the various state contractor boards try to limit those who can get a license. They do not want more competition. Other licensed professionals such as airplane pilots, doctors, nurses, lawyers, CPA’s, architects, physical therapists, veterinarians, and so on can readily transfer their licenses most anywhere in the country.
Most professions simply get licensed in another state by reciprocal agreements, but others can get licensed by simply sitting for an exam. This is not so with the contractors. There is an elaborate system out there restraining trade. Contractors in one state simply try to keep other contractors from other states and within their own from coming into their industry.
• Indiana has no state HVAC license. To get licensed in Marion County (Indianapolis) one must go before a board comprised mostly in not entirely of local heating and air conditioning contractors to decide if the applicant can sit for the exam. Then the exam is over the content of about a dozen books. These books cost hundreds of dollars to purchase.
• Georgia requires an applicant to get the approval of up to three state licensed contractors before being allowed to sit for an exam. That means if an individual is new to the game he must find three prospective competitors to sign his application. The state requires that any person doing plumbing on any job must have at least a journeyman license and be directly supervised by a master plumber also on the job. Yet to sit for the journeyman license an individual must have several years experience. And, you can be the best master plumber ever from any other state, but if you want a master license in Georgia then you have to first hold a GA Journeyman Plumbing license for a minimum of two years before even being eligible to sit for a Master Plumber license.
• Wisconsin insists that a master electrician hook up the two 115V wires with a furnace replacement. The HVAC contractor in Milwaukee cannot legally connect these wires. To get a master plumber or master electrician license is virtually impossible unless you have been working in that trade in Wisconsin for years. I have a commercial airplane license. Anyone can get one if they pass the tests. You cannot have any disqualifying medical or criminal conditions.
Lives are at stake every time the pilot takes an aircraft into the air. What this country needs is for all states to treat HVAC, plumber, and electrician contractors like they treat other licensed professionals. If a person is licensed by passing an approved exam in one state, then grant him a license in other states. If the exam passed was questionable, let the person immediately sit for an exam in other states. If the person can pass the other state’s exam grant the license just like a lawyer passing a bar exam in another state. Most CPA’s can go from state to state without taking a new CPA exam.
Can the restriction to licensing be changed in the trade industries? For starters, it would be an interesting project for one of the AHR News staff to research and then publish the requirements for licensing in HVAC, electrical, and plumbing in the 50 states.
Frank Mutz is with Unique Indoor Comfort Inc. in Atlanta.