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    Credit: DENISE BAKER

The question of regulation for the pool and spa industry comes up again and again, and I think it will continue to do so until we get it right.

Here in the Northeast, licensing is very much on people’s minds. The state of Connecticut recently passed a law requiring pool builders to have licenses, similar to what’s been mandated for service technicians there since 2000. In New York, Nassau County recently passed a builder’s licensing code; and the Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that would make licensing a requirement for builders and service technicians as well.

The pool and spa industry didn’t merely cooperate in developing and passing these laws — our organizations actually initiated them.

Now some don’t agree with this approach, maintaining that government should stay out of our business as much as possible.

I understand the overall theory, and would prefer that government not be involved in anything. But the fact is that they are involved. Government oversight is increasing in many areas, and budgetary constraints have meant more development of stealth taxation, such as increased fees on building permits and registrations.

The way I look at it, why not have the government on our side? In fact, I believe a proactive approach to licensing addresses many concerns and constituents.

From an industry standpoint, it is a way to help raise the bar of professionalism beyond voluntary compliance to standards and codes. A properly designed licensing program will establish a minimum standard, thus creating a level playing field. With licensing in place, at least you know your competitors have a certain degree of knowledge, instead of getting by with just a pickup truck and a pole or, in the case of builders, simply providing what an inspector wants to see.

I recently ran into a veteran pool installer who complained about the new licensing requirements. He said, “I’ve been in this business more than 30 years. Why should I need to get a license or take a test?” 

But why shouldn’t we veterans have to get continual training? Lots of things have changed in 30 years. Besides, if we have that much experience and knowledge, it should be simple to pass the test.

Regulatory oversight is coming eventually, so let’s get ahead of it and help deliver the program to the government. We certainly know that government officials have no clue what they are regulating, and often believe whatever someone brings them under the safety banner, as seen with the VGB Act and safety vacuum release regulations. Both were reactionary laws that we were imposed on us, rather than done with the advice and consent of industry experts.

Indeed, nobody is better equipped than our own industry to decide what kind of requirements should be enacted. Our volunteer members have worked tirelessly to help the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals develop programs that meet the needs of the industry and lay a framework for delivering the necessary training.

Instead of government dictating to us how the program is designed, we help them design it. We can proactively deliver these programs and administer the education and training through our local and regional trade associations. The fees from this training could then provide much-needed financial support to these associations.

Finally, consumers will benefit by knowing that it takes an established level of expertise and knowledge to legally and properly install and service pools. When a homeowner looks for a plumber or electrician, they assume the professionals are licensed because it is required of those professions. Why shouldn’t the public have that same level of confidence in our trade?

Consumer confidence, industry protection and growth, and government oversight that is collegial rather than adversarial are all clear and direct benefits of licensing. Being proactive in your local area is the best way to deliver all of those benefits — on our terms.