In the USA and Canada (the term registration is used elsewhere), usually to work in a particular profession or to obtain a privilege such as to drive a car or truck or own a gun. Many privileges and professions require a license, generally from the state or provincial government, in order to ensure that the public will not be harmed by the incompetence of the practitioners. Engineers, medical practitioners, nurses, lawyers, psychologists, and public accountants are some examples of professions that require licensure. Licensure is similar to professional certification, and sometimes synonymous; however, certification is an employment qualification and not a legal requirement for practicing a profession.
In many cases, an individual must complete certain steps, such as training, acquiring an academic degree in a particular area of study, and/or passing an exam, before becoming eligible to receive their license. Individuals append an acronym to their name, such as CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or PE (Professional Engineer). In the United Kingdom, licensing as a form of professional regulation predominated in the centuries before 1900. It has largely given way to memberships of professional bodies. This usually involves registration with a professional body and the granting of grades of 'associateship,' 'membership' or 'fellowship' of such a body. Gaining membership of such bodies is usually restricted solely to those who pass additional examinations after university graduation. United Kingdom examples of professional bodies include: MRIBA (member of the Royal Institute of British Architects), LRCP (licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians), MRCP (member of the Royal College of Physicians) and FRCP (fellow of the Royal College of Physicians).
Historically, in the professionalization process by which trades have transformed themselves into true professions, licensing fast became the method of choice in obtaining the occupational closure required by barring the unqualified from entry to the rites and privileges of a professional group. This was initially the preferred route of regulation whether for physicians, lawyers, the clergy, accountants, bankers, scientists or architects. However, licensing has given way to membership of professional bodies, as a means of excluding the unqualified.
Restrictions to employment without licensure can also prevent people with criminal records or severe mental health issues from working in occupations that require public trust. Occupations of or affected by the gambling industry, may be restricted by licensure, such as a racing secretary in horseracing, or people in the boxing industry. People whose occupations put them in physical contact with the public might also be restricted by licensure, including a barber, cosmetologist, or massage therapist. Occupations that bring a person into the home might also be screened through licensure, including a chauffeur, landscape architect, or arborist.
Restricting entry by licensing is arguably a convenient and effective method of maintaining the high standards, high status and elite privileges of a profession as well as acting to eliminate competition from unqualified amateurs who provide a cheaper but (allegedly) sub-standard service. It means that only the most highly qualified persons are allowed entry into the profession and to enjoy its privileges, high salary and high status in society. However, liberals like Milton Friedman have argued that this process is counterproductive as it seriously restricts the number of active professionals working in society and thus unnecessarily inhibits the working of a free enterprise economy.