Nearly 19 years ago, I stumbled into this industry barely knowing what a water softener was. I was originally hired as a sales trainer tasked with hiring and training water treatment sales professionals. In reality, I soon realized, I was hired to be used as a pawn against the existing sales manager. I really had no business even attempting to train the sales team. Our company employed four of the top 10 sales professionals for the manufacturer we represented. I had never owned or used any type of residential water treatment system and I certainly had never opened a test kit or done an in-home sales presentation.
Still, I wanted to be able to offer something of value to the team I was supposed to be serving, so in an effort to become at least somewhat knowledgeable, I discovered the Water Quality Assn.’s (WQA) Certified Water Specialist (CWS) certification program. I bought the CWS kit, studied the books, scheduled my exam in Indianapolis and fortunately passed one of the most difficult tests I have ever taken.
A few months later, I gave up my somewhat-fake management position and became one of the sales professionals I was supposed to be training (a position in which I enjoyed a much more substantial income and freedom to actually participate in raising my kids because of the improved time flexibility).
The information I learned from studying the WQA books helped me in my experience in the field and I took a lot of pride in the title of CWS, but I received the certification before I actually did anything practical in the industry. I had the same letters after my name as certified water professionals who had been in the water treatment industry for decades.
When I became regional sales manager of a dealership with a dozen sales professionals, I made CWS certification mandatory because of my belief in the head start the academic knowledge provided.
Adding Value to the Industry
Still, it was not until I got more actively involved with WQA that I began to see the importance of certification as something much bigger and more important to our industry.
While I strongly believe in the value of the education the old certification program offered, I recognized the need to make the program more credible and the certification more difficult to achieve. Our industry is becoming increasingly critical to the discussion and has the ability to offer solutions to deteriorating infrastructure and other potable water supply issues. If we want to be taken seriously by lawmakers and regulators, then the letters after our names need to mean something more than that we were able to read a book and pass a test.
Those individuals who are committed enough to the industry and certification process to complete the Modular Education Program (MEP) and receive their certification have completed at least a minimum amount of practical and academic activities that create a foundation for their continued experience.
I do not want to demean anyone who earned certification the “old way.” After all, that is the way I did it. But I do believe the new program will only add much-needed strength, integrity and credibility to our globally critical industry.
Becoming a Mentor
One final comment on this topic: For those of you reading this who already have the practical and academic knowledge, I encourage you to consider becoming a mentor to those seeking to embrace this new process. You will find the rewards far outweigh the challenges, and our industry will be stronger because of your guidance.