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Professionalism

May/June Issue of Michigan Builder

Professionalism: a definition is: Professional status, methods, character, or standards. Another is: the standing, practice, or methods of a professional, as distinguished from an amateur. So what do the new "professionalism bills" mean to us as builders? What is a "building professional?" First, a bit of history. A few years ago, late 2005, there was a call for legislative action to "clean up" the building industry, due to some high-profile reporting from the east side of our state. The MAHB responded by helping to draft bills that would hopefully increase the professionalism of our industry through pre-licensing and continuing education, and increase fines and give prosecutors more power to enforce against unlicensed activity. Through a long legislative process, and much internal discussion among MAHB members and local associations to modify the legislation, in December 2007 Governor Granholm signed the bipartisan Professionalism package (also known as "the bad builders bills) into law. Senate bills 450, 451, 452, and 453 (now Public Acts 155, 156, 157 and 158 of 2007). Among other parts of the acts, prospective builders will be required to attain 60 hours of pre-licensing education, and license holders in good standing will be required to attain 3 hours of "continuing competency" every 3 year license cycle. An additional requirement is that all licensee's holding a "qualifying officer" license are now required to also hold a personal builders license. (For more information on these public acts, please go to our website: www.buildingmichigan.org, log in, and look up increasing professionalism under the government relations tab).

Why did our association support this package of bills? Primarily, it was apparent that if we didn't support efforts to improve our industry, others would do it for us. And who better to help influence building legislation, than MAHB members and our excellent legislative staff? Who is going to provide the 60 hours and 3 hour requirements? We expect that a number of private providers will see this as a business opportunity, and probably other building related groups will also provide education to meet these requirements. MAHB is also poised to help provide this component, in conjunction with our local associations. Do we see this as a money maker? Not really, although it may help increase attendance at local sponsored educational events, and MAHB will help facilitate this. MAHB has set up a nonprofit subsidiary (a "proprietary school") to allow this to happen, and while we would hope to have a positive cash flow, if we can provide a service and break even, that is OK. We feel that it is important to partner with the locals to provide education, so we can provide meaningful educational content, while at the same time articulate the value of HBA membership to new builders and non-members. And finally, what about having to get a second building license, for those of us that operate under a corporation or LLC? Unfortunately, the previous law was unclear on this, and of about 25,000 qualifying officers licenses, about 2/3 have their personal license, meaning 1/3 or 8,000 or so will have to pay for a second license. On one hand, this is an extra expense for these individuals, on the other hand, the other 2/3 have been paying this fee all along. This may be an area that might need to be modified in the future. No law is perfect, and no law should be written for any one group. We are working diligently to enable our members to understand and comply with the changes these bills require in the way we run our business.

Now, what about those definitions of professionalism I started with? Words like Status. Methods. Character. Standards. Distinguished from an amateur. Do these bills address that? I don't feel that they really do, but are a start in the right direction. If those of us in the building business want to be perceived as professionals, we need to act like professionals. We need to have professional standards, not only for ourselves, but for our business, our employees, and our trade contractors. Written policies that reflect our professional attitude. Whether they are non-smoking, dress, language, parking, or other policies, requiring a higher standard elevates us to a higher level. Learning current and advanced methods of construction, communication, or estimating provides a higher level of professional service. Serving on local boards or government, involvement in the community as a volunteer, serving on committees or leadership in our Local, State, or National HBA raises our status, and also gives us an opportunity to learn from other involved professionals. And character, which is probably the highest form of professionalism. Do we always do what we say we will do? Do our customers know we are good for our word? Are we honest in our dealings with our customers, suppliers, trade contractors, and employees? You can't fake character, you have to live it every day. And do we run our business as a professional? We wouldn't expect our doctor to meet with us on a weekend (absent an emergency, and we too have an after-hours service procedure, right?) . We wouldn't expect our attorney to meet with us in the evening, nor would we expect our CPA to run out to our house to quote our tax return, would we? Until we run our business like a professional business (I'm sorry, Mr. or Mrs. prospective client, I spend my weekend with my family, please call my office on Monday to schedule an appointment for you and your spouse to talk about your project. And by the way, we are open late on Tuesday if you both can't get off work at the same time), we will not be treated like professionals.

At the end of the day, while we can and should support any legislation to rid our industry of those amateurs without licenses, insurance, contracts, warranties, or current industry knowledge, it is really up to us to raise our own bar, to become professionals in the industry that we have chosen as our career. It is up to us, on a daily basis, to "distinguish ourselves from amateurs". Please read the rest of Michigan Builder for more detailed information on the new Professionalism Laws.

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