(The Center Square) — As Georgia officials look to solve the state’s worker shortage, it could have a solution hiding in plain sight: the many new residents who call the state home.
“Today, there are over 40 licensing boards housed under the Secretary of State, and the state licenses over 140 professions, including librarians, pre-needs cemetery salespeople and even auctioneers,” Marc Hyden, director of state government affairs for the R Street Institute, told state lawmakers during a recent state Senate Study Committee on Occupational Licensing. “But these mandates — they come with serious restrictions; they require prospective workers to clear various hurdles in order to get the government’s permission to earn a living.”
According to the Institute for Justice’s License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing, Georgia ranked 12th nationwide for its average burden surrounding occupational licensing requirements.
“Georgia, like much of the rest of the country, is facing some very severe workforce shortages and a possible recession in the coming months,” Hyden added. “And one of the surest ways to ease these issues and let Georgia’s economy continue to thrive is to curtail unnecessary government impediments to employment.”
In recent years, Georgia lawmakers have approved several measures to reduce the red tape Georgians face trying to find a job.
For example, in 2019, Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed Senate Bill 214, prohibiting licensing boards from suspending individuals’ licenses because they fell behind on student loans. This year, Kemp signed House Bill 155, giving the spouses of firefighters, health care providers and law enforcement officers who move to Georgia the opportunity to immediately secure an occupational license if they hold a license in their previous state of residence and are in good standing.
In addition to residents from other states, Georgia is home to a large population of residents from other countries.
“One of the reasons we’re so diverse is because we have a refugee program,” Darlene Lynch, head of external relations for the Center for Victims of Torture, told the committee.
“Unlike other states, Georgia has been welcoming to refugees — so, people who have had their lives upended by war, by conflict. And they are coming from all different backgrounds, they’re doctors, they’re dentists, they’re IT professionals,” Lynch added. “All of a sudden, one day, their country is in turmoil, and Georgia, for more than 40 years, has opened its arms to these folks and given them a chance in our state to start again.”
However, too often, new residents from other countries with advanced degrees — including those escaping from wars in Afghanistan and Ukraine — take whatever jobs they can find to make ends meet. The result is a doctor may end up driving an Uber.
“How do we get them into the workforce,” Lynch said. “They’re not going back into the field where they have the most experience.”
However, witnesses said more work is needed to ease the bureaucratic burden.
“The current licensing process in Georgia has some very strict rules that I think we need to soften up because they are eliminating individuals who are qualified and ready to serve,” Pierluigi Mancini, president and CEO of the Multicultural Development Institute, told the committee.