That unfortunate experience happened to Walter Nashert, founder of Nashert Constructors Inc., Oklahoma City. How did he respond? By laying the groundwork for the courts to recognize constructors as members of a profession. Nashert recruited the support of colleagues on the construction education committee of the Associated General Contractors of America.

STANDARDS. Together they formed the American Institute of Constructors in 1971. Like the American Bar Association or American Medical Association, AIC exists to establish and maintain standards for a profession. Today, as constructors decide for themselves whether to become professionals in the formal sense of the word, they might consider this history.

In 1974, AIC joined forces with AGC and other groups to form the American Council for Construction Education. ACCE now accredits more than 60 two- and four-year construction programs. These C-schools have been instrumental in defining the profession's body of knowledge.

The term "constructor" may be confusing to some people, since the term "contractor" is used more widely in the industry. A contractor is the person or entity that enters into a contract. In our industry, we have prime contractors, general contractors, subcontractors, specialty subs and others. But a constructor, who's always an individual, is a designated professional with the skills to carry out a construction contract.

And a professional constructor is one who passed a key test. Attorneys passed the bar exam. Professional engineers passed the P.E. exam. Certified public accountants passed the CPA exam. Certified constructors passed the Certified Professional Constructor exam.

But in our male-dominated industry, so filled with bravado and egos, the response that I often hear to this concept of CPC examination is something like, "I've been doing this for so many years that I don't have to prove myself to anyone!"

Wrong! We as professional constructors must prove ourselves. Taking a national exam is the final step to proving our commitment to one of the basic tenets of any profession: serving clients and the public trust.

Since 1996, AIC's Constructor Certification Commission has been administering national professional exams for constructors. For the 434 certified professional constructors so far, the rigorous process began with independent verification of education and experience, followed by an eight-hour exam. I was one of the first people to sit for it. I came away so impressed that I encouraged three colleagues to take it as well. The preparation improved their skills.

The exam process isn't just for seasoned constructors, though. Graduating C-school seniors may sit for a separate eight-hour Associate Constructor exam. After they obtain seven years of experience in construction project management, they may sit for the CPC exam. Already, more than 22 C-schools require graduating seniors to sit for the AC exam. Since 1996, 1,839 students have passed it. This year, another 1,000 will sit for it and an estimated 55% will pass. Thanks to a special clause, an experienced constructor who meets the requirements to sit for the CPC exam is exempted from taking the AC exam–but that exemption will expire at the end of next year.

Constructor certification is a quiet movement, but many industry leaders are using it to prove their commitment to the profession. Soon, both AGC and the American Subcontractors Association will install new leaders who are CPCs: Jack Kelley, who becomes AGC president in 2003, and Anne Wilson, who becomes ASA president this July. Both are licensed P.E.s as well. They recognize the importance of the CPC designation and are especially impressed by the CPC requirement for continuing professional development. The irony is that many states do not require P.E.s to take continuing education courses in order to remain licensed.

COMMITMENT. In an industry changing more rapidly than ever before, constructor certification fosters the kind of lifelong learning and conduct that leads to success in construction. Eventually, society will come to recognize our commitment to our profession, as C-schools, students and industry leaders continue along a professional path charted so many years ago.

In 1973, a University of Colorado professor told the American Society of Civil Engineers what constructors must achieve to be considered professionals. Walter L. Meyer, a professor of architecture and engineering, identified these needs for ASCE's Journal of Professional Activities: A basic body of knowledge; colleague control; commitment to client service and the public trust; membership in a technical society with a code of ethics; and procedures to establish qualification standards by examination.

Constructor certification meets these criteria. But to achieve greater legitimacy, it needs more industry support.

T. J. Ferrantella is the chairman of the
American Institute of Constructors' Constructor
Certification Commission, and the president
of the Engineered Companies Inc., based
in Hammond, Ind. He may be e-mailed at

ot willing to sit for a professional-level exam? Then imagine yourself as an accomplished professional who's successfully completed hundreds of construction projects and who's now being called as an expert witness. Imagine, too, that the judge discounts your testimony because he recognizes the architect and the engineer as the only "professionals" who testified.