“The higher the level of consumer awareness, the more valuable the certification,” says Mackenzie. “We’re trying to help certified members promote themselves. We can’t take out a Super Bowl ad, but we provide a tool kit to help certified members promote on a grassroots level and strengthen their brand that way.
“We provide certified members with logos which are different from the typical member logo,” he continues. “They can use that on their print material, website, LinkedIn page, Facebook page, business cards, etc. We also provide press release templates, newspaper and magazine templates, and promotional brochures they can use in their showrooms to explain why a client should hire a certified designer.”
Another service to members is NKBA’s ProSearch tool that allows a homeowner to visit the association’s website, enter a ZIP code and get a list of members in that area. Searches also can be made for fabricators, designers or only certified members. Other associations offer similar online search capabilities.
In an effort to give certification a broader reach, NKBA recently introduced a business-to-business nondesign designation — Certified Kitchen and Bath Professional. The curriculum includes residential construction, business knowledge, materials and products, and project management. “The idea is you have someone like a fabricator, cabinet manufacturer or sales rep who has been in the industry for at least five years. He or she has all this knowledge and expertise, and would like to validate that,” says Mackenzie.
NKBA is heavily involved in online education to make classes accessible to more students. “In the past, much of our education has been in person,” Mackenzie says. That, of course, was an expensive proposition, considering the cost of airfare, hotels and meals for the instructor and students.
“We still offer in-person classes,” he says, “but because of the economy we’ve made many of our classes on-demand, where there is a recording of the class and some interactive quizzes. You can take the course at your own pace.”
NKBA also offers virtual instructor-led training in which students and instructor log on at the same time for more of a traditional classroom feel but the convenience of taking the course from a home or work computer without the expense and time involved in traveling. Classes may be one-time or span six to eight weeks.
The association also is embarking on new learning paths. “Previously, everything had been design oriented,” Mackenzie says, adding NKBA also feels members need business skills to succeed. “We’re creating learning tasks centered on business management, sales, HR, marketing and all those areas, and offering 20 to 25 classes in each area. That will provide them with the skills necessary to survive in this economy, and really, in any economy,” Mackenzie says.
Not So Easy
Despite criticisms that certification (also called designations) is easy to obtain by anyone who sits down to take a multiple choice test, the reality seems to be otherwise. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) has about 1,900 people who have earned the certified graduate remodeler (CGR) designation, according to Jeffrey Jenkins, director, candidate and instructor services, NAHB education.
The graduate master remodeler (GMR) is an even more select group. “We don’t have a lot of those because it requires a candidate to have been a CGR for nine years along with comparable industry experience. We’ve had 30 people earn the GMR since its inception,” he says.
“I find the people who have earned our NAHB designations really put a premium on learning. They’re always looking for opportunities to expand their knowledge and to put that knowledge to use to better serve their customers,” he says.
Remodelers are hungry for information so they can distinguish themselves from their competitors, and they’re doing it through education, Jenkins feels. “It’s showing your customer you really know what you’re doing, that you’re always trying to better yourself, and you want to know the latest cutting-edge trends and products that consumers want,” he says. “I think the last couple years have been a challenging because remodelers have to make a decision [about spending money on education and certification.] I think they will find professional designations are something that will pay off for them in increased credibility and send a message to their customers that they are continually learning and trying to be etter at what they do.”