Trade Certification Proves You Know Your Stuff

January 8, 2021

Certification is good for you, your employer, the customer, and the industry because it ensures that you know what you're doing

"When you have a person who is certified or licensed in a variety of things, it carries a certain marketing weight to it. It gives the customer a certain degree of confidence.

And I think that when you're in those types of conversations with a potential employer or even with your current employer, you can say to them, "I'm not bringing just my expertise to the table, but there's actually an inherent value in having these titles around my name." And I think it's a way that you could approach it that would be healthy."

—CJ Stunkard, G. Fedale Roofing and Siding

0:00:29.5 Fernando Pages: Hola amigos. This is Fernando, your host and career advisor on the ProTradeCraft's Career Toolbox. And I'm here to help you turn your day job into a career so let's get to work.

Today, we're going to talk about certification and how certification can act as a kind of higher education that does not require you to go to college. Many certifications exist, and each will provide you trade secrets and best practices that you may not and likely will not learn in the field.

Unlike a university degree, certification does not require you to put your life and learning potential on hold until you finish. In fact, it makes sense to obtain certification in a job you're doing right now. Earn and learn at the same time.

0:01:22.0 FP: Today, I invited three guests. Robert Balfanz is currently running the installer certification of the Vinyl Siding Institute and with a broad background in certification, training and other trades, and two employers, Adam Fedale, also known as A-man, CEO of G. Fedale Roofing and Siding, a highly successful replacement company in Wilmington, Delaware, and CJ Stunkard, in charge of employee development among other things at G. Fedale.

Thank you, Robert, Adam, and CJ for joining me today on the ProTradeCraft's Career Toolbox with what we're gonna talk about today, which is how to guide young guys and young gals that are in the trades right now, maybe just doing a summer job, to turn it into something more, to turn it into a career, to turn it into something with a future, with an evolution, something cool that they can develop their lives to or at least a portion of their lives to, and kind of climb an economic and a career ladder.

So with that, Robert, do help me set up the call, so I'm gonna give you the first question. Your work in the industry has covered a pretty broad plot from job site to corporate headquarters. One role you've played for various industry groups has involved the creation and management of specialty certification programs currently at the Vinyl Siding Institute. Would you describe VSI's installers program the stages from white belt to black belt, how long it takes to reach the top, kinda what the process is in a typical certification program? 

0:02:57.5 Robert Balfanz: Certainly, I can do that, Fernando, and I just wanna thank you for putting this opportunity to gather for us. So to sum it up very quickly in a short response, I believe that the VSI Certified Installer Program is what I like to call a player's certification or a contractor's certification. What I mean by that is, we really have to be the voice of the installer, what we're looking at, what our offerings are, when are they offered, and how long are they offered for.

So, as a coach, in life, I believe that some of the best coaches are typically the ones that what I would refer to as a player's coach, somebody that players can relate to when coaching. And we at the VSI I like to say are the same way. We're working with that mantra. We are the voice of the installer. We wanna be the way that the installer engages in the industry and is educated and trained throughout their career.

So to talk a little bit about each level and how long it takes, we have a fairly new process that we have implemented in 2019, and that is a certified installer trainee. That is an entry-level from high school, trade school, technical school, can be somebody that comes up from a four-year university, or even an MBA, or even have been working 20 years in the education in this room and just wanted to give them to the remodeling or the new construction industry and specific to vinyl siding.

So we have the trainee program now, and that program can last up to two years and it's really dependent on the time and what that trainee puts into the program.

If they wanna get into the program, get dirty, roll up their sleeves and go out there quickly, work hard, hustle, be passionate about it and learn everything they can, they can be done much sooner than two years as long as they have an active business coach and/or owner that will sponsor their certification and their next step.

So we have the trainee piece, then we have what's called bronze, and then we had bronze, silver, gold, platinum, platinum plus. We also have a trainer certification program and a master trainer certification program as well.

It really only takes about two years to gain the industry knowledge and experience that's needed in the field to become prepared and eligible to become a certified installer. So we're looking at roughly about a two-year runway. Does that make sense? 

0:05:25.3 FP: Yes, it does. But to become a master, to reach the top levels, is that a two-year track? 

0:05:32.1 RB: To become a master installer or a master trainer, it's gonna take a little bit longer than that. We'd like to have somewhere around three years for that. We wanna make sure that we've touched all the touchpoints of the industry code, so on and so forth.

So we're looking at about two years to become a certified installer and then about three years or so to become a master installer, master trainer as well.

0:05:54.6 FP: How many people are enrolled in the program? 

0:05:57.2 RB: As of August of this year, we have almost 5100 active certifications in our program.

0:06:03.7 FP: Wow. But that's not three years like college where you're like at the VSI dorms, [chuckle] waking up every morning and studying Vinyl Siding? It's courses and experience, and you can be working, earning money while you get this certification.

0:06:23.1 RB: That's correct. Our goal is to take somebody that is passionate in our industry in a specific vinyl siding or any of the exterior cladding products and wants to go to work and learn as they earn and that is the perks that we're taking.

We want you to learn and earn at the same time as you become educated and as you touch the end of the ladder rungs of the pathway to success within our certification program.

0:06:44.8 FP: It makes a lot of sense. Adam, now, as CEO of an extraordinary successful replacement company, I think I read you had a volume of about 22 million a year.

How do you decide the ideal let's say installer profile since we're talking about installers versus employee profiles and how does that installer move up the company career ladder?

Does certification play a role or simply experience? 

0:07:10.5 Adam Fedale: That's a great question and thanks for having us on the show. So to your question about installers climbing the ladder, I really love that idea. I love that question because I feel like that is somewhat of the American dream, being able to start in a company and work your way to the top and not have to be worried about the politics, not have to worry about the bureaucracy but instead rely on effort and skill and passion and drive and let those things kind of take you the distance. That's really what we've made kind of our slogan here at G. Fedale.

The company is what you make of it so we certainly have some that come to the company and don't make an effort and aren't team players and they eventually will work their way out but then we have others that do the opposite and knock it out of the park and they work their way up.

And as I'm responding to your question, I'm thinking of several different stories like that within our company now that have just been awesome and one specifically comes to mind.

0:08:23.7 AF: His name is Jesse, and he is a project manager with us. And he first came on board in a marketing position where he was out in the neighborhood, knocking on doors or attending different conventions and home show events. Whatever different efforts he could make to drive marketing at the company and bring more opportunities and leads, he will do. And that was a fairly entry-level position at the company at the time and through his hard work and dedication and interest in other positions in the company, he worked himself up to an assistant project manager.

As an assistant project manager, he was out on site and already familiar with construction, having some experience there but no formal training. He really got the school of hard knocks training. So there was a lead project manager that just kind of kept him under his wing and told him the ways of not only some things about construction that he didn't know about before but also just more about how to manage a project.

There are different project management theories out there, and he was able to have some onsite learning, also how to work with customers. It's a different approach going from marketing to a project management role. And you're working on the customers' largest investment that they'll ever have, their home. That's precious, they live there, that's where they raise their children so there's a lot of care and sensitivity that needs to be taken.

Eventually, Jesse was able to move out of that assistant project management role into a full project manager and he is just... Oh, man. He's doing awesome. He's a shining example of someone at the company that was willing to put in the hard work, the effort, cared about not only what he was making and things like that but also what he was doing to contribute to the company, cared for the customer, and that I think is a large part of his success here.

Along the way, to answer your question about different certifications, we offer required training for a lot of our employees but then there's also voluntary training. And Jesse was always the one, if we're going to an expo or if there is an optional training, he be one of the first to sign up.

Construction can be one of those industries where you call one company and they're fully certified and they're going to do a great job, and another company may look very similar but they don't have the certifications. And two to three years down, your siding on your house may be buckling. So we have a high value on certification and Jesse is one of our shining stars.

0:11:12.5 FP: What does certification provide for an employee, like what... What's this... Like, give me an example of some of the knowledge that a certified installer may have that a non-certified installer, with all good intentions and the same amount of experience, may have.

0:11:29.7 AF: You really are gonna see it on the sales-end. So we're serving roughly 2000 homeowners a year, and we see firsthand what other companies are providing and their proposals that they'll do on the home.

The VSI certification is a perfect example and here's why. When we're proposing a vinyl siding project to a homeowner that may be considering us and then let's say ABC siding company, we talk to customers upfront. We're not going to be the cheapest but we're far from the most expensive. And we attribute that to the value of what we're going to do during the install.

Many times the product may be similar but when it comes to the install, that is the distinction and that's where VSI is so critical. You may have something like where the siding intersects with a chimney on the side of a house. A lot of companies will do a very standard abutment flashing which may hold up for a while but in the event that many years go by or in the event that you're hit with a serious storm with winds and rains, to properly flash that according to the VSI certification involves three maybe even four additional steps than a standard install would look like.

And that's the difference between keeping water out of the house or having a leak.

0:13:06.9 FP: Always makes sense to have the knowledge at the point of the nail and hammer. You have it at the office but the guys installing it don't know, it doesn't do you much good.

CJ, you're the technical... You're the training... Director of training or vice president of training or something in charge of training at your company, but you have a background in technology and finance. In other words, you should be at a bank.

Can you quantify with your banker's hat on, with your mossy banker's shirt on, a value to an employee that either applies when he applies for a job or if he undergoes certification process to become a certified installer, roofing, windows, siding, whatever, versus simply a very experienced installer?

In other words, what's the value, if any, to the formal education and if you could in dollars like, "Hey, as soon as a guy is certified, we up his wages two bucks an hour." Is there a way that you can kind of give people that are listening a sense of what the value of that certification is? 

0:14:09.6 CS: I actually don't wanna quantify it. I'm sure that at some national companies that have entire divisions invested in that data, they would be able to build up the metrics in order to provide our certified installers, our producing X versus our non-certified which are producing Y and be able to create a more concrete dollar value attached to that, but we're not quite at that point yet.

And I think even if we were, I think the value... And a lot of these things comes down to more than just the dollars and cents. I think anytime that you're talking about an employee, the real value comes from two things, and that's their character and their teachability. So in terms of character, you need someone who's trustworthy, who's honest, and who's gonna put in 100% value and make sure that the company is spending their money well on that employee.

And then with teachability, they're gonna be able to learn the skill set that you need them to have. And oftentimes, the individuals who do come to the table with character also have the humility to recognize that they need to constantly improve themselves and learn new skills.

0:15:24.3 CS: So I think when you talk about the value of the formal education or maybe comparing a certified installer versus an experienced installer, my thoughts revolve more around just kind of comparing the two columns and experience is wonderful. And we value that immensely in our organization, and we have a lot of people who have been with us since the beginning. But there is something to be said for the fact that there are individuals in a variety of industries who have a wealth of experience in doing things the wrong way. Maybe they never were educated properly on whatever it is that they are doing, maybe they never received any type of certification, or the individual who under whom they apprenticed did not do things the way that they were supposed to. Maybe they haven't kept up on code.

0:16:14.5 CS: There's something to be said about experience is excellent, but with that, you wanna have had good experience or at least someone who's learning from the experiences that they've had. Whereas when you have somebody who has a formal education or a certification in a given field, typically, what you're gonna find is that that individual recognizes that there is a set standard of excellence. And that standard is set by individuals or organizations that have a vested interest in maintaining high quality in whatever that field of study may be, whether that's in selling exterior products or maintaining standards for teaching and training. And then typically, those individuals also not only recognize that the standard exists, but they understand why the standard exists and its importance.

0:17:02.9 CS: When you talk about... And just going back to the conversation we're having now and the VSI, the institute's very good at making sure that individuals who go through the program understand that the reason that you do things a certain way is for a certain purpose, and it impacts the rest of the system that you're actually installing. And I think along with those two things is that an individual who has gone through that certification process not only recognizes that the standard exists and understands why and how it operates, but also they've shown that they have put forth the effort to strive and gain that certification and to maintain the level of excellence that they need and to hit the standard that's put before them. So I think when you're comparing those two things, those are all things to take into account, is both that a lot of experience does not necessarily mean doing things the right way, but with certification oftentimes comes a certain number of assumptions that one can reasonably make when thinking about a new employee.

0:18:09.6 FP: So it does make some difference then, CJ, with a new employee, like if I show up at your company and I've got a resume that talks about all the experience that I have or have a resume plus I'm a master installer of VSI. I presume that not knowing very much else that certification may have some weight in your hiring decision.

0:18:31.7 CS: I'm not involved in a lot of the hiring and the compensation conversation, but obviously, if you come to us with your resume and it's padded with certifications, that's going to mean more to us than an individual who shows up with none. But as far as that expectation of getting a higher offer out the gate, I think the way that I would approach that is that there are really two types of organizations that individuals will often find themselves encountering. In the first is the type that's going to look at a person who's highly qualified, who has a lot of education, and they're going to balk because they're gonna think that, "Well, we can never afford this person or they're going to... " There gonna be a person who comes in and tries to change the culture based on all of these things that they have behind them. And then there's another type of organization, and I would say that we fall into the latter category, which sees a person's expertise and which sees all of the hard work that they've done in order to get their licensing and certifications and really values that and thinks, "Okay, how can we make this person a partner in the business that we're building and what it is that we're trying to create?" And what I would say in regards to an expectation of salary is that rather than expect a higher offer because of your certifications, what a person should really recognize is how they can leverage that knowledge when having discussions surrounding their hiring.

0:19:57.1 CS: When you have a person who is certified or licensed in a variety of things and they have a personality profile that is on your website or if you send the customer an introductory email and it says, "John Smith, who's going to be your project manager is VSI certified" and a number of other things, it carries a certain marketing weight to it. It gives the customer a certain degree of confidence. And I think that when you're in those types of conversations with a potential employer or even with your current employer, you can say to them, "I'm not bringing just my expertise to the table but there's actually an inherent value in having these titles around my name." And I think it's a way that you could approach it that would be healthy.

0:20:38.4 FP: Now you answered my question in a really cool way. You basically said, "Look, with a certification, you've got a point of leverage. Use it." [chuckle] So I like that. Robert, you've been a trainer for both roofing and siding, maybe windows, too, I'm not sure. Which is more difficult certification to obtain? I know the roofing industry, the National Roofing Contractors Association, NRCA, has a pretty intense certification process. I've taken some of it for my adjuster's licenses, so I know a little bit about what they teach you and how... It's a good program that you've been a trainer in both roofing and siding, and what would you say is a more difficult certification to go through? 

0:21:18.9 RB: That's a pretty sticky question, Fernando, but I appreciate it, so I'm gonna answer it to the best of my ability. I've been an installer and done training in roofing with the NRCA and through Owens Corning through their Total Protection Roofing System, as well as AAMA, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association through the installation master's course with regard to windows and doors. I also hold the VSI Certified Installers certification through the Vinyl Siding Institute, so I've done a little bit in all of them. And I think that the vinyl siding through the VSI Certified Installers Program and the NRCA, which is the National Roofing Contractors Association, certification programs are probably equally as difficult and challenging.

0:22:04.2 RB: I do think that they're probably a little bit more difficult than many of the other exterior building products, and I'll tell you why. And Adam and CJ both touched on this in some of their earlier questions and answers, and it's really about the prevention of water and air, and then you have some other scenarios with regard to wind load and then ventilation. And vinyl siding and roofing, soffit, fascia and the gutter systems kinda all go hand-in-hand. And having the opportunity of doing work and providing service in new construction and remodeling and renovations with all of those products that we're talking about, I would have to say that siding and roofing are equally as challenging and difficult. And from a customer's perspective as well as I also live in a home, I would have to say that when you're looking at windows and doors as compared to roofing and vinyl siding, there's a little bit different of a perspective, and that is when you're in replacement, you look at a window, and the goal of a replacement window for a homeowner is to look through it. When you buy a new home, and then when you replace it, you're looking at it.

0:23:16.3 RB: So what I mean is when you buy a new home, there's an existing window, you're looking through the window, you're happy, you're looking out at your backyard, and you're looking through that window. But when you replace that window, you're looking at it. And that goes even further with regards to vinyl siding and roofing. The only thing that you're doing with those products once you replace them is the customers are looking at them. So everything has to be correct from the product choice to the color, all the way through the installation and the code and the science behind that installation. So to sum it up, the Vinyl Siding Institute and the NRCA, the National Roofing Contractors Association, have done a really good job with making sure that the standards are just that. They're specific to the code, and they're standard across the board. And I hope that answered your question.

0:24:07.7 FP: Yes, it does, although I should tell you that at one point, when I ran my company and had my own framing crew, they would install the windows and the doors, of course, as framers typically do, and I'd always have leaks. And I sent them to classes and everything and then if some guy had shown a window certification, I would have given him a hug, hired him, made him my partner. [chuckle] He would just stop the problems that I had with windows. So I understand the need to have real knowledge about stuff because it isn't just nail it up. It really, really does. The simplest building materials are today to install that you cannot just close your eyes. So Adam, in your view, what are the most valuable certifications a young installer can obtain? 

0:24:56.5 AF: So partly in jest, I would say all of the above. So it is not easy to find certified installers and certified employees in general, and you may or may not have found that with your framing crew. But I would say, especially over the past four to five years, it's been a challenge in our culture. You have a lot of people that wanna go to school and learn graphic design or maybe their passion is somewhere else, but a lot of the trades have seen a decrease in the people that are interested and willing and ready to get out there and work. So I would say all of the above would be valued but to probably give you the answer you're looking for, all of the certifications and the experience that we would value very highly from the trades, it would be custom roof application installations. And certain roof installations like cedar or slate or soldered copper or leaded copper or standing seam steel, those are some of those custom applications. Some guys refer to them as the "old tin knockers." And it's really an art form and it is not easy to find people that are experienced or certified with that type of work.

0:26:26.4 FP: Sure. I could see that. I know, as an adjuster, the difference in price between hiring somebody to install a copper roof and somebody to install an asphalt roof.

The differences are astronomical so I can see that. That makes a lot of sense and I think is good... But also, who's ever listening should know, it takes a lot more to become a cedar roofer, a slate roofer or a copper roofer than being able to install asphalt shingles so take that into consideration.

But it is a beautiful art and a real trade in the sense of something which really has... It's more than a job. You're not nailing the stuff up. You really have developed an artisanship in some of those trades.

Well, thank you all very much. You've been really, really educational and helpful, and I love the way you've answered some my questions by really going to the deeper level than where I was aiming at.

So I really appreciate it. I know that our listeners are going to really appreciate it too. So thank you so much for being with me today.

0:27:29.9 AF: Thank you, Fernando.

0:27:31.1 RB: Thanks for having us.

0:27:34.8 FP: A certification shows you care. You have the mindset to get better at what you do and don't know what you know off the seat of your pants.

You learned it. You studied. You passed the test. Like CJ told us, it's good leverage to get a raise. He may have regretted saying so on the air if his employees are listening.

But just Google, roofer certifications, gutter installer certifications, drywall finisher certification, and you will discover such a program exists. We used to have apprenticeships. We used to have trade schools. In a very real way, the certification programs developed to fill those gaps.

Whatever trade you're in, whether there's licensing required for it or not, it pays to get certified. Get your bona fides so you can help your company provide consumers a higher level of professionalism. You can do a better job and maybe get a better job.

 

—Career Toolbox is a production of SGC Horizon Media Network. I'm your host, Fernando Pages, and the show is produced by Dan Morrison.

 


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