Not long after Wally Lewis joined the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI), he noticed the capital letters following the names of some other members. Once he discovered the letters represented professional designations, Lewis opted to pursue one in the best interest of his company and his career.
“It really shows a degree of professionalism—a desire to do things correctly and be a step above other contractors,” says Lewis, president of Neighbors Home Remodeling, located in greater Atlanta, Georgia. “It tells the homeowner that you are more likely to be current on all of the codes and requirements [as well as] newer technology.”
Industry designations not only indicate advanced knowledge and understanding, but they also give customers additional confidence in the ability and character of a contractor, who must commit to intensive study and ongoing education to become certified.
Gaining an edge
Customers perceive certified contractors as better-trained professionals who take more pride in their work and stay up to date on the latest industry trends and techniques. Designations, therefore, act as a powerful marketing tool that help assure clients they have chosen an expert dedicated to skill development and ethical conduct.
“When you talk to a client, how do you [prove] that you know what you know? You can say, ‘I know all of this stuff,’ but a certification is a third-party validation of what you’re able to demonstrate you know,” says Dan Taddei, director of education and certifications for NARI. “It really builds the company and builds [its] ability.”
Trade associations such as NARI offer professional designations to members interested in becoming certified, but first contractors must outline their hands-on experience, training, technical skills, practices in business management, involvement in continuing education and their association and community service.
A certification board reviews these materials and determines whether a contractor moves forward with the designation process. Eligible candidates must undertake the examination of critical industry issues, and most of them participate in a formal study group that spends at least 12 weeks preparing for a comprehensive written test.
“Most people working in this industry are small business people, and to pull yourself out of your day-to-day responsibilities for eight hours at a [time] can be difficult,” says Dave Brady, president of Oak Design & Construction in Oak Park, Illinois. “[But] everybody that I’ve been in these classes with was very committed to being there and doing well.”
Keeping an edge
Once they earn a certification, contractors must meet annual requirements of continuing education and participation in industry-related programs. Most NARI designations, for example, demand at least 10 hours of continuing education each year for a contractor to remain certified in a specific subject area.
“When [people get] these designations, it’s not like [they] just dropped in the door and took the test. They’ve been in the industry, and they’ve shown us that they’re committed to working in the industry—they’re not just here today and gone tomorrow,” Taddei says. “All of our designations require continuing education.”
Certified contractors typically earn continuing education units (CEUs) through webinars and attending seminars at industry tradeshows and local association chapters. Groups that award professional designations also tend to permit contractors to receive CEUs from outside sources as long as the organizations meet certain criteria.
“If you’re going to require [CEUs], you have to provide avenues for people to get them,” says Taddei, who explains that approved CEU programs must relate to the industry (for example, how to calculate a proper markup) and cannot be a sales pitch for a particular product or service.
NARI includes a list of credible third-party education resources on its website, including the National Kitchen and Bath Association, the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA), the Green Home Institute and Seventhwave, formerly the Energy Center of Wisconsin.
“[Trade associations] make the availability easy, and they hire good teachers and trainers, but you still have to [put in] the time,” Brady says.
Using the edge
Brady and Lewis both earned Certified Remodeler (CR) designations through NARI after hearing about certifications from peers within the industry. The two of them also received Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) designations at a later date from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
“[CAPS] is a program for modifying houses for people who want to stay in their homes as they age,” says Lewis, who mentions that he might seek a Universal Design Certified Professional (UDCP) designation from NARI too. “[UDCP] gets involved more with the kitchen layout, the bathroom layout and how to more effectively use the space.”
The Certified Green Professional (CGP) designation, which Brady obtained from NAHB, recognizes contractors who integrate green and sustainable building principles into homes without driving up the cost of construction. Brady says the Certified Graduate Remodeler (CGR) designation, however, proved to be the toughest because the coursework covers facets other than construction such as business, design and production.
“Challenging yourself to get focused—to study and learn and test—is good for you; it’s good for your mental agility,” Brady says. “It’s [also] good as a reminder that we’ve got to keep up with this industry—it’s not just a static industry.”
Designations improve the reputation of a company, so employers often will pay the fees associated with employees who want to pursue and retain them. But certifications remain personal accomplishments and, therefore, become an asset for contractors if they decide to leave a company—especially if they want to start their own business.
“It really does show the skill level of that individual, and what that individual has done to better themselves,” Taddei says.
Be sure to join the Lowe’s ProServices LinkedIn Group to read additional content and interact with other Construction/Trade and MRO professionals.