The Effect of Certifications on the Flooring Inspection Industry

Ralph Godfrey

Introduction of Mr. Godfrey

When we wanted an opinion based upon experience, we asked WHO from flooring professionals with long standing WHO will have respect from other experienced inspectors. As we asked the experienced inspectors, everyone kept telling us to call Ralph.

One clarification that Ralph writes about is some associations or schools saying they are, "The only one". That is misleading.

Not one association or school has the legal authority to issue restrictive work licenses. 

There is not one Federal, State, County, City or Town, that has issued a "legal license" to inspect any type of flooring.
In some states, their licensing agency that handles flooring trade licenses, may require or suggest, an installers license. Others may require a contractor construction license. Truth is, there is no regulation of this trade other than the flooring industry. Many do not have any requirements. 

Retailers, where are your associations in this important issue?

Editorial by Ralph Godfrey

I started in the flooring industry 47 years ago in 1971 as a retail salesman. In 1982 I formed R. Godfrey Consulting, Inc.  RGC performed flooring contracting and consulting on a national basis for major retail chain store operations and large end user clients. My firm evolved and soon I was doing more Consulting than Contracting. In 1985 I began performing inspections and evaluating problematic Carpet and Resilient flooring issues. I truly believe the flooring industry has provided me with a wonderful life, a great sense of accomplishment, a decent income  and a wide variety of quality friends and associates.

In 1987 I began searching for an agency that offered Certifications for flooring inspection. I located IICRC and received my Carpet inspection Certification.  In 1987  there were no certification agencies for Resilient, Wood, concrete moisture, subflooring and applied coatings. In the early days of the professional inspection industry we relied on the industry standard and practice from NWFA, Carpet and Rug Institute, ANSI and the Resilient Flooring Institute for our guidelines regarding installation and material standards . Individual Manufacturer’s Installation Guideline superseded any industry standards at that time. It really was the ”Wild West at that time. At this time Inspectors were judged solely on their experience and reputation for accuracy

I have always been a firm believer in quality Certification and Education in the flooring industry. During my 37 years as a consultant and inspector I was typically a participant in the first certification classes offered by the various industry associations and certification bodies. In many cases I have been certified by more than one certification body at the same time.

It has always my position that Industry or Association Certifications are like High School Diplomas and College Degrees. A person has paid in their time, money and attended schools in order to take and pass a certification test. The certification test is taken and if the student passed the test he/she was awarded a written certification of their qualifications. The person that passed the test had their knowledge certified by a group of their peers.

Certified knowledge is not something that can be rescinded. You either have the knowledge or you don’t.  it is not possible to rescind this acquired knowledge once the knowledge accrued by the student is certified.  A college or High School cannot call you up and tell you that you have to take an update course, or they are going to rescind your diploma.

I consider the significant number of schools available today to be a plus factor and a problem for the inspector. There are so many schools available that the competition for students breeds  competition that is often based on association  affiliated political structures. Just because the education is provided by an association does not mean that information is superior to other sources of education. During my career I have found that some of the best knowledge I have acquired has come from sources not affiliated with any association or other inside industry source. Quality Information and knowledge is quality information and knowledge no matter where it originates.

I have observed that many certification bodies began their programs with the sincere goal to produce a quality certification program. In most cases the original certification program eventually morphed into programs that gave the ultimate control of the inspector’s credentials to the certification body. 

The most common negative transformation taken by many of these organizations regarding their certifications is the growing relaxation of the standards the potential inspectors must meet to pass the certification and, in some cases, the “update” testing required for the renewal of the certification. The testing has become much easier and, in many instances, “the school is just teaching the test”.

Several years ago, I shared a cup of coffee at Surfaces with the Claims Manager of a major carpet manufacturer. The topic of discussion was the quality of inspection reports they were receiving. During that particular period of time there were several Flooring Inspection Report Software programs available to Inspectors in our industry. Most of these reports were well thought out. Many contained a large selection of templates that described, evaluated and offered written statements on how to identify and correct the multitude of the many different flooring failure conditions. The software created a large, dynamic and easy to use cut and paste process to enter this significant library of information into a polished report format.

The claims manger stated, “his company and other claims managers had been receiving numerous inspection reports submitted from inspectors in widely different areas of the country that were reporting identical inspection issues and conditions in exactly the same verbiage”. The manufacturers were beginning to doubt the authenticity of these reports because of the similar language. The claims manager told me “The biggest value in an inspector’s report is that the claims person can be certain the report accurately reflects what the inspector saw at the site is accurately reflected in his report.” The trust in the Inspectors knowledge and skill is what gives the report quality and value to the Claims person or the Client.

Remember the difference between you as a professional inspector and your competition is YOU! Your personal ability to correctly evaluate and accurately report what you see in an effective manner to your client is what will insure your success in the inspection industry. Just because you do not use a boilerplate report required by a certification body will have no overall effect on your success or failure as a professional inspector. The unique quality of your verbal and written reports will quickly separate you from your competition. 

The certification testing process for obtaining and continuing these certifications is an expressive process. In many cases the testing and certification process is a lucrative cash cow for the certification entity. It would be very interesting to audit the pass-fail ratio of all the students that have attended these certification schools over the past 10 years. What is the percentage of the students that have passed and failed these certification tests.

A major problem with the professional flooring inspection industry today is the Certification Bodies and the manufacturers that retain a large number of newly certified inspectors look at the “entire group of Certified Inspectors” as a single group of  people with the same skill set” A newly certified inspector is lumped into the same group as inspectors with more years of experience in the flooring industry and performing flooring inspections.

One thing the certification bodies  and even the newly Certified Inspectors overlook is the fact their graduates are entering a field of endeavor where the new inspectors  are going to be performing evaluations and publishing reports and possibly testifying in court that involve thousands, hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of dollars in damages,  not to mention their opinions may have a significant impact on a person losing their job or a small company going out of business. This does not include material and financial damage incurred by other parties involved in the Claim or subsequent legal action that results from the content of their report.

These serious opinions and decisions are a major part of the profession we have chosen. To believe a new inspector has the same ability to evaluate and report on flooring failures as another inspector with years of experience is fool hardy. I am certain we all agree that most of our inspection skills and knowledge as an inspector have been developed as we spent years learning from the inspections we have evaluated in the past.  

There is only one method of determining the overall quality and experience of a professional inspector. I strongly recommend to all professional inspectors, that your literature includes the number of years you have been in the flooring industry and the number of years you have been performing certified inspections.

This same Certification group has told some of my potential clients and potential clients of other inspectors that if the inspector is not certified by their certification body that the inspector could not legally inspect the problem, write a report or testify in court. I know this occurred, because on 2 occasions my clients called me to clarify the issue. I know for a fact this was a common occurrence because many other professional inspectors called me and shared their  similar experience with me. Stating that because an inspector is not certified by a certain certification body and that the inspector is not qualified  and cannot legally perform an inspection and write a written report is not only inaccurate and unethical, the statement is fraudulent and blatantly illegal.

Most Associations and other Certification Bodies are attempting their best efforts to create and manage quality certification programs. It is unfortunate that because of the significant revenue generated by the certification and renewal process, money will often dictate what will happen to the certification policies of these certification bodies.

I presently and will continue to be a proponent of qualified independent certification and educational programs. I do not endorse programs that leverage their position in the flooring industry to exert political leverage that states “We are the only group that is capable, and our group should be the only group responsible for certification of inspectors”. 

How can the certification process be improved? We all have to pay a price in time and money to research accurate information.  There are numerous Independent sources of information available to today’s inspectors. There are many schools and other on-going educational groups that provide a wealth of information. It is our individual responsibility to seek out the best sources of information and certification groups that will meet our individual requirements as professional Flooring Inspectors. 

One thing is for certain, if you want to be a truly Independent & professional flooring Inspector, the manufacturing industry should not responsible to pay for your education to become a professional Inspector. If we want to control our own destiny we need to pay our own way.

The good news is you have total control regarding how and where you spend your time and money. Let the power of the market place allow schools selected by the students determine the best schools. Attend only the schools that benefit your needs as a professional inspector. It will take some time, but money talks and the certification bodies will need to respond to the needs of the market place or they will be replaced by other parties that do meet the needs of the marketplace. You have the power and you are in charge of your future, if you choose to exercise your authority and ability to obtain what you desire. 

Remember, the most valuable education an inspector can obtain is the education the inspector receives by the continual performance of inspections and producing written reports that validate his findings. The old adage,” the only thing more important than education is experience” was never more truly stated.

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