Occupational Licensing

Expand apprenticeships to reduce student debt, build Maine’s workforce

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To become a hairdresser in the State of Maine, you must be at least 17 years old, complete a 1,500-hour course of instruction at a registered institution or undertake 2,500 apprenticeship hours, pass a licensing exam, and pay the State of Maine a $20 fee each year.

I believe the Maine Legislature should take another look at these requirements, especially since it only takes 133 hours to become a Basic EMT. That’s why I recently presented LD 890, a bill to expand access to licensure in certain occupations.

First, I would like to acknowledge that Maine has made progress in removing unnecessary barriers to employment for entrepreneurs and those improvements have helped countless individuals reach their goals.

But we still have a long way to go to ensure that our occupational licensing requirements are equitable and appropriate. Parameters to determine how high to set the bar for entry into any licensed profession should be set taking into consideration worst-case scenarios.

Regarding quality, in today’s age of online reviews and connectedness through social media, word-of-mouth provides consumers with adequate information to make informed decisions.

There’s no doubt that a bad haircut can be upsetting, but the risk to public health is relatively low. The fundamental reason for licensing is to ensure safety for the public. The quality of a haircut given by someone who went to a licensed institution vs. the apprentice route may or may not differ greatly, but that consideration is outside the interests of the state to ensure.

For licensure, the same state exam is required either way.

It has been decades since the hourly stipulation for cosmetology licensure has been considered. I would like to see Maine become a leader in restructuring overly-burdensome requirements by reducing the hours required of a student apprentice.

This consideration is in step with the Maine Legislature’s focus on addressing the issue of student debt. The cost of cosmetology schools is out of line with other degrees when considering the rate of pay expected upon completion. By setting such a high hourly requirement for the apprenticeship pathway, 2,500 hours, we make costly institutions the only viable choice to complete the pathway in a timely manner.

Here in Maine, the cost of cosmetology school is more than half of the median annual income for hairdressers. Consequently cosmetology is one of the top ten professions to default on student loans. I think it’s time to revise the pathway to careers in hairdressing and cosmetology.

Maine communities benefit from expanded apprenticeship programs, as these increase engagement with the business community, encourage our workers to stay here in Maine by increasing their local ties, and provide affordable pathways to an education that leads directly to a good-paying job.

Maine’s up-and-coming workers also benefit greatly from expanded apprenticeship opportunities because they can ‘earn while they learn.’ Most importantly, it allows people to begin their career saddled with little or no student loan debt.

For many, apprenticing can be the most viable way to enter the workforce, and in Maine, we have an opportunity to make this more available for them. I am hopeful that through LD 890, we can make meaningful reforms.

About Lisa Keim

Senator Lisa Keim represents Senate District 18 and currently serves as a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Government Oversight Committee.

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