POINT COUNTER POINT
Why Licensing Isn't the Answer ... by
The promotion of state-mandated licensing for auto glass technicians has become an increasingly important topic. Had licensing been promoted ten or 15 years ago in an effort to improve safety and quality within the industry, I probably would have been a staunch advocate. But the arguments for licensing essentially ignore the monumental efforts made by the auto glass community over the last ten-plus years to improve and police our own practices—all without government prompting or intervention.
Our drive for installation quality and safety has yielded tremendous progress to make an industry with an already solid safety record even better. Collectively we have:
• Collaborated to create the AGRSS standard for auto glass replacement safety;
• Developed seminars, classes, presentations and articles that promoted correct procedures and installation materials;
• Created a number of certification programs designed to enhance technician compliance with established safety standards; and
• Pushed adhesive manufacturers to create simpler and faster adhesive systems to ensure customer safety and satisfaction.
The fact that all of this progress was accomplished without state or federal mandate and supervision is a huge testament to the fact that most in our industry truly want to do what is right. However, it is naive to believe that the few who resist best practices would now comply simply because licensing is in place. Licensing will not instantly raise the barrier for entry or automatically increase professionalism. You only need to look at other licensing programs to see this is true. Licensed barbers give bad haircuts, licensed drivers still run red lights and licensed contractors perform remodels that don’t meet code. Simply put: licensing is not a guarantee of compliance. In fact, it is more likely to create burdens for those committed to quality than barriers to those who disregard industry standards.
By necessity, state-licensing exams define a minimum standard; they must be generic enough to cover the wide spectrum of products and can only cover the most basic knowledge of the industry. They cannot address some of the most important aspects of installation safety, such as using quality materials and knowing how to use specific systems correctly to ensure windshield retention. Companies driven to promote excellence will find precious resources diverted to meet these minimum requirements, robbing training dollars that could be invested in programs that maintain a higher standard.
If the goal of licensing advocates is to deter unqualified providers from entering the industry—to attract only new, highly qualified people—then a study of Connecticut would indicate that the very opposite may be true. My own observation is that licensing has had a chilling effect on the recruitment of new installation talent. Businesses find it easier to “steal” licensed technicians in order to meet the state mandate than to train new installers. Increased recruiting pressures and costs are the inevitable result in an industry already staggering under the efforts to enlist new blood.
Our industry is facing significant pricing pressures and state licensing will add costs on multiple levels—application fees, renewal fees, administrative costs and incremental training costs for companies that are already investing in extensive technician education. Contrary to current thinking, without a tangible benefit to consumers it will be extremely difficult to recoup these additional costs through higher customer payments. As a result, state licensing would become a revenue-generator for states, while auto glass participants watch further erosion of their bottom line.
On the surface, state licensing of auto glass technicians would appear to be another step in the right direction; however I gained first-hand knowledge of the real impact when I joined Connecticut’s program in 2002. My experience demonstrated that licensing does not automatically translate into installation quality. Furthermore, licensing:
• Did not increase revenue;
• Did not eliminate the less professional operators; and
• Did little to raise consumer knowledge or the knowledge of the installers.
It did, however, raise operating costs to industry participants, without providing clear benefits to consumers.
On the other hand, I believe the industry is already heading in the right direction by promoting compliance with the AGRSS standard and implementing product-specific training and certification. Invest-ment in quality installation materials, combined with specialized technician training to ensure a safe installation according to approved safety standards, is the best way for auto glass providers to invest in their customers and their business. Shouldn’t the value and safety of consumers be our industry’s primary goal? So choose wisely how you want to proceed before advocating a state licensing program that will ultimately further burden your business.
Glen Moses is the director of technical training for Safelite AutoGlass. This article, however, represents his personal views.
And Why It Is ... by Leo Cyr
In September 2003, I returned to work for the National Glass Association (NGA). At that time, I was not convinced that the licensure of auto glass technicians was a good idea. I saw more reasons to oppose licensure than to support it. Frankly, I did not see a compelling need for licensure.
Like many in our industry, I was skeptical when “experts” for ABC’s 20/20 (February, 2000) concluded that 70 percent of all windshields replaced in the United States were installed improperly and unsafely. But it was more difficult for me to dismiss the myriad of eyewitness reports of substandard, potentially unsafe windshield installations received by the association.
From the Field
These reports, by and large, came from well-trained, NGA-certified auto glass technicians and master technicians. They came from all parts of the country. These technicians’ most common feelings: shock and disgust over the lack of responsible craftsmanship existing in our industry. If the technicians we trained say the industry has an unsafe installation problem, one of “epidemic” proportions, then we need to listen. They see the evidence daily.
I feel comfortable saying that the auto glass replacement industry has never ignored its responsibility to work toward improving the professional competency of our technicians. A host of training programs exist. We have a certification program that has certified more than 10,000 technicians; and, of course, our industry created Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standard (AGRSS)—a state-of-the-art replacement safety standard.
But all of these resources have one thing in common: they are voluntary. Since the reports of potentially dangerous installations have not abated, “voluntary” is not enough. A problem exists. People are still installing windshields either without proper knowledge or without concern that their work fails to meet industry standards for safety and quality.
The Ignorant Consumer
What makes it worse is that our customers know nothing about auto glass. They rely totally on our honesty, expertise and professionalism. I know because I just surveyed consumers about their understanding of auto glass. More than four-fifths of those surveyed (82.5 percent) stated that safety was their top priority.
Protecting the People
Licensure is the best tool society has developed to ensure that people providing a service to the public demonstrate a mastery of the knowledge needed to do their jobs properly and safely. If they do not have that knowledge, or, if they fail to apply that knowledge properly, the state can prohibit them from providing that service.
Licensure is not foolproof but it is fair. It does not say an unqualified person can never install windshields; it says unqualified persons cannot install windshields until they prove they have the knowledge to do so properly. That is an assurance our customers deserve.
Licensure is also fair to the professional AGR technician. The skilled professional is licensed; those who pretend to be their equals are not. Because they are not proficient craftspeople, they are prohibited from placing our industry’s customers at risk.
Speaking of fair, is it fair for the responsible and totally professional AGR business to compete against businesses that cut every corner in training, materials and “best practices?”
Why should such a company be rewarded for placing the unsuspecting customer at risk?
The Licensing Limit
We should not expect licensure to eradicate all abuse. Licensure, like training, certification and standards, is one piece of the mosaic that leads to professionalizing AGR. Licensure levels the playing field. It says you must educate yourself in your chosen craft and pass the licensure examination. If you don’t pass, you will not be licensed to work. That’s fair … especially to the customer.
Licensure also addresses one of the most perplexing anomalies I can imagine. Why does my home state, Florida, license barbers and beauticians while ignoring AGR technicians? Are we so at risk from dangerous hair cutters?
It is easy to think of innumerable excuses to oppose licensure. I did it myself. I thought licensure might lead to more government interference but I can find no such evidence among other licensed crafts. I cynically speculated that licensure served only to raise money for the states. Upon reflection, that’s really not the case. We’re asking the state to enforce the professional standards that we have proven incapable of delivering through voluntary programs, and such enforcement costs money.
The Cost of Licensing
I also had to discard the cost argument. The fact is, responsible AGR businesses are already underwriting the cost of technician training. Certification and licensure are the responsibility of the technician. There is absolutely no justification for an AGR business to pay for technician certification or licensing. Both are occupational recognitions that the technician takes with him wherever he goes. Real estate and insurance agents have done the same thing for generations.
Finally, it has been suggested that the AGR business, not the technician, should be licensed. That serves no purpose. Whether “following company policy” or not, technicians need to understand they, too, are responsible for the work they perform. When the technician places his license number on the customer’s invoice, he establishes a paper trail that leads directly back to him.
In summary, licensure represents a vision for AGR that embodies an industry acting to protect customer safety, to raise universal professionalism and to bring recognition and respect to a craft in rapid technological advancement. While all of these are important, nothing is more important than our compelling need to protect our customers.
Leo Cyr is the vice president of the National Glass Association’s auto
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