Why do geologists need a license to practice in the state, but not, say, writers?

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Did you know that in Washington, you need a license to be a professional sports announcer? An auctioneer? A camping-resort salesman?

Hundreds of jobs are regulated by the state, many of them through the same agency that hands out driver’s licenses, the Department of Licensing (DOL). Other agencies, such as the Department of Health, the Department of Labor and Industries and various professional boards, are also charged with overseeing the qualifications of doctors, lawyers, accountants and plumbers.

Why do geologists need a license to practice in the state, but not, say, writers? According to the DOL’s Christine Anthony, several factors determine when an occupation should be regulated.

“The most important is when unregulated practice within an industry can clearly harm or endanger the health, safety or welfare of the public,” Anthony says.

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It’s up to the state Legislature to decide whether a profession should be regulated, and Anthony says that sometimes happens through a request from an industry itself — such as home inspectors, which became a regulated job in 2008. Other times, it originates with a legislator, as was the case with tattoo artists and body piercers last year.

Chuck Elliott, a body piercer and co-owner of Pierced Hearts Tattoo Parlor in Seattle’s University District, says she didn’t need to make any changes as a result of the licensing requirements. They mandate that a tattoo artist be at least 18 and have a current training certificate in blood-borne pathogens (HIV and hepatitis B, for example).

“We take great pride in what we do and go to great lengths to make sure every member of our staff is fully trained in every avenue of sterility, cross-contamination awareness and procedures,” Elliott says.

When Elliott educates clients on assessing a tattoo parlor, she tells them to look for current licensing. As far as whether a license allays customers’ concerns, Elliott says that her clients are set at ease by the professionalism, passion and skill of the Pierced Hearts artists.

So just how hard is it to get a license in your chosen profession? That depends on the gig. Some appear to be little more than formalities — a professional athletics announcer license can be yours for an approved application and a $65 fee. On top of the health training and application, tattoo artists must pay a $250 fee to obtain a license that’s good for a year; renewals are also $250.

Architects face a few more hurdles. They need a combination of education and qualifying experience that takes at least eight years to achieve, Anthony says. They must then pass a seven-part examination that can be completed in as little as two years, but Anthony says the typical applicant takes between 12 and 15 years to fulfill all of the requirements and pass the exam.

Once licensed, all professionals have to keep their licenses current or they could hear from the appropriate state agency.

“When we find out a professional is operating without the proper license, our first priority is to provide information and technical assistance to help bring them into compliance,” Anthony says. “If they continue to operate without a license, we can take administrative action.”

How job regulation works

The Washington State Department of Licensing is one of several state agencies charged with regulating jobs as diverse as professional wrestling and embalming. The DOL alone regulates 34 professions and 264,000 active licensees. As part of that, the division must:

  • Review and substantiate education and experience
  • Administer examinations
  • Conduct criminal-history background checks
  • Ensure continuing education requirements are met
  • Conduct audits, inspections and investigations
  • Resolve complaints
  • When warranted, take appropriate administrative actions that include fines, license denials, suspensions and revocations
  • Provide information and conduct outreach to help strengthen consumer protection and public safety

Source: Washington State Department of Licensing

What jobs are regulated in Washington?

Check the Washington State Department of Licensing website for a list of professions that require licenses.