Unleash opportunities in the construction trades

For generations, the construction trades have been the path to the American Dream for millions of Americans.  With diligence and hard work, tradesmen can work their way from apprentice, to journeyman, to master, and go on to employ the next generation of young workers following in their footsteps.

Jimmie Williams started with just a truck and a snowplow and built a small snow-removal service into a successful landscaping business. Jimmie now offers everything from parking lot maintenance to landscape design services like mulching and hydroseeding. Thankfully, his home state of Illinois has so far rejected attempts to create a license for landscape design, which would demand Jimmie earn at least a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture and would have put growing his business out of reach. Because of Illinois’ good policy, Jimmie offers a wide variety of services and gives back to his community with things like Earth Day clean-ups and creating mentorship programs for citizens returning from incarceration—so that they too can earn an honest living.

Unfortunately, some entry-level, accessible trades that involve basic home-improvement tasks are regulated in the same way massive residential or commercial projects are, through expensive and burdensome licensure requirements.  This denies accessible opportunity to the many unemployed today who could be using their skillsets honed at home to provide for their families and serve their neighbors through small-scale services, like painting, landscaping, installing drywall, and handyman work.  These are tasks that millions of Americans do on their own property every day, and they are skills that can be learned relatively quickly, and then developed through experience.

For example, if a California resident wanted to paint his or her neighbor’s house and the cost of materials and labor exceeds $500, he or she must get a contractor’s license, which first requires four years of experience and three exams.

There are practical reforms you can pursue that will ensure this type of work is accessible in your state to displaced workers looking for opportunity.  The Institute for Justice has in-depth state-by-state research on barriers to entry, and we stand ready to help you identify what will work for your state.  For example:

  • Exempt small-scale projects from licensure. If a project doesn’t require a building permit and it is under a certain dollar threshold (Utah sets a $3,000 limit, and Alabama sets a $50,000 limit, for example), it does not make sense to require full-scale (and often unobtainable) licensure.
  • Exempt basic landscaping from licensure. Landscaping that is limited to lawn maintenance and decorative planting should not be subject to licensure.  More substantial work involving building permits or connection to public utilities could have additional requirements, but we can examine your state’s existing code.
  • Exempt painting from licensure. Painting and the application of other materials to internal and external walls is a basic service that is performed every day at home and does not warrant licensure.
  • Exempt dry wall installation from licensure. The integrity of a building does not depend on dry wall, which is demonstrated by how easily it is to rip out. There is no reason to prevent people who know how to install dry wall from earning a living doing so.
  • Create a “handyman exemption” to ensure a large space for the unemployed to find work without running up against unforeseen licensure requirements.
  • Exempt from licensure work conducted under a licensed contractor, as general contractors are already supervising subcontractors.

States can also:

  • Opt for insurance or bonding minimums instead of costly experience, education, and exam requirements.
  • Recognize contractor licenses across state lines, which is particularly helpful for workers who have had to move closer to family during the pandemic and employers working near borders.
  • Enact a “consumer protection act” to make it even easier for consumers to file lawsuits against service providers, including those exempt from licensure.

Get Started Today.

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