Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lower Barriers to Entry

One simple thing we can do for unemployment I haven't heard much about. That is lower barriers to entry into careers. Many have pointed out this problem in the Greek economy but few in the American Economy.

If barriers to entry are too high, when one industry dies workers in that industry are blocked from switching careers. That seems to be happening right now. Still, barriers to entry often have some good reasons. No one is saying that you should be willing to go to a doctor who three weeks ago was a construction worker. Still, members of any profession have a strong incentive to increase barriers to entry above what are needed. By doing this they almost certainly increase their income. So many barriers exist just for the sake of limiting entry to the profession.

I am not familiar with many professions but I will give two examples: Teaching and engineering. In both cases the barriers to entry could be reduced with no reduction in quality.

For teachers in most states a Masters degree, or other post Bachelors degree classroom education, is required. There is one problem. Masters degrees don't teach any skills that teachers actually need to know. It has been well established that teachers who go through these programs are no better than those who only have a bachelors degree. So the answer is simple. Eliminate the requirement. Make teachers have a Bachelors degree then send them straight off to student teaching. If anything this will up the quality of teacher as schools will be able to choose from a much larger pool of qualified individuals.

Engineering licensing usually goes through four milestones. ABET approved engineering school, EIT test, several years of work experience, PE exam. The EIT test essentially tests all the information you should have learned in the first two years of engineering school. The PE exam tests the more specific information you should know to practice in your particular branch of engineering. After passing that you are a licensed engineer. All states allow that track. Some states however allow a back door into the field though.

In the state of California if you can get a job as an engineer and work for three years you can take the EIT and PE test without a bachelors degree from an ABET approved program. In a few other states, anyone can take the EIT. Then if they can get three years of work experience they can come back to take the PE exam and be a licensed engineer. Why is this useful? Because there are a great many people who know a whole heck of a lot about engineering but don't have an ABET accredited engineering degree. This includes physics and chemistry majors who take very similar coursework to engineers, people from engineering programs such as engineering physics or biomedical engineering which ofter don't bother to get accredited (this licensing is only really required in engineering work which does not cross state boundaries so in many branches of engineering the programs don't bother to get accredited even though they teach the same engineering fundamentals. This won't hurt you unless you try to switch branches of engineering, which is quite common.) and people who have many years of experience working as technicians.

Several of the best engineers at my company took one of these nontraditional routes so I feel safe in saying anyone should be able to take the EIT. It won't hurt the quality of work done. The advantage to letting them take the EIT before job experience is that if someone knows the information they have a way to prove it to employers. Then it becomes much easier to get the three years of engineering experience required to get the final engineering license.

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