Industry Designations: Are they worth it?

By Guillermo Cordero, B. Arch., MRAIC, CTR, BSSO, CSP

Not too long ago, I handed my business card to a friend. Looking at the list of letters at the end of my name, he laughed—“Are you kidding me? Why do you collect so many designations? Maybe you have a self-esteem problem!”

As a CSC member who holds a Certified Technical Representative (CTR) and Certified Specification Practitioner (CSP), in addition to other designations, several questions came to my mind (other than whether to keep this friend): Are those letters really important to my clients, and would they be more likely to trust someone with designations? What do designations mean to them? How many are too many?

To find the answers, I decided to ask the ‘targets’ of my business cards: architects and consultants.

What to include and why
There seemed to be consensus about the importance of designations, but they were not as crucial for those at the head of firms and manufacturers. According to those I spoke with, owners, CEOs, presidents, and principals of companies do not need to worry about having their letters listed—their job titles require no backup.

Designations are usually the next step in education and training. They show the person is educated in the field. Some of them are more ‘important’ (or, more accurately, ‘relevant’) than others, but they should always be complementary to experience. In other words, a ‘P.Eng.’ is an asset when accompanied by years in the field. Several consultants place more value on a non-P. Eng. person with 20 years of experience than a new graduate with a “Professional Engineer” designation.

PhDs and P.Engs. aside, almost everybody with whom I spoke agreed ‘membership designations’ should not be listed because they only mean you pay annual fees. However, I would like to clarify that certain memberships require the person to hold a professional degree.

Membership acronyms such as MRAIC (Member, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada) or OAA (Ontario Association of Architects) are exclusive to people with architectural degrees, and MAATO (Member, Association of Architectural Technologists of Ontario) is for architectural and building technologists and technicians. CSLA (Canadian Society of Landscape Architects), ARIDO (Association of Registered Interior Designers of Ontario), and other groups like them are for their namesake professions. In my opinion, those memberships—with or without designations—are relevant to the industry.

For those who do not have an ‘earned’ designation, listing affiliations like CSC or CSI (Construction Specifications Institute) will also show they support the associations and are more likely to be aware of what happens in the industry. At the same time, many people I spoke with suggested that if someone earns a designation issued by the organization (for example, CSC’s Registered Specifications Writer [RSW] certification), then listing the association is not necessary.

Designations mean a great deal of responsibility for both the issuing entity and the holders. However, some of these certifications seem to have lost credibility in the industry, either because it is too easy to obtain them or because of the actions of some of the holders. Several professionals reported recurring signs of inefficiency or lack of expertise and knowledge led them to consider certain designations a liability rather than an asset.

It is also possible to find professionals who obtained their degree, but with barely passing grades and no track record of increasing their knowledge after graduating. To compensate for this, entities issuing certifications should make the process of certification (and re-certification) much more demanding, while those of us with designations must remain mindful of the extra effort they imply. Associations, of course, have the responsibility of balancing designations as a source of income and as means of credibility.

Why be certified?
Through first-hand experience, I know holding a designation relevant to the field increases the chances a professional will contact me; at the same time, it ultimately promotes the company I work for. I am also aware of the responsibility it carries. The designation may open the door, but only helpful advice and professionalism will continue to create the rapport I need.

In my particular position as a manufacturer’s architectural representative, obtaining my CTR designation (along with taking the necessary education, of course) strengthened my credibility and, most importantly, increased my knowledge about what my clients need and how to accurately provide it. This also applies to my CSP education courses and designation—preparing, editing, and interpreting specifications are a critical part of my work.

Pursuing these certifications involved a lot of dedication, time, and effort, but this work is greatly compensated with the gained benefits. Including them on my business cards just makes sense.

Based on our own beliefs, we may decide which designations should be listed in our business tools. In other words, it is at your own discretion how many letters to place on your card, providing they are relevant and professionally recognized. This means if you’re selling roofing membranes, you may not want to mention your AASACA (Associate of Applied Science Degree in Advanced Culinary Arts). Your clients may appreciate that you bake your own pastries for the lunch-and-learn sessions, but this would not have much of an impact on the specifications.

Someone once told me if your designations stretch longer than your first and last names together, then you are trying to prove something. My response is yes—you are trying to prove you have taken the time to study various subjects related to the industry, given the multidisciplinary character of our jobs. As for my friend who kidded me about my designations, I probably won’t dump him, after all. In fact, if he apologizes and throws in a couple of building sciences courses, I will forgive him.

1 An earlier version of this article appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of CSC’s Toronto Chapter newsletter, The Specifier.

Guillermo Cordero, B. Arch., MRAIC, CTR, BSSO, CSP, is Soprema’s architectural representative for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Before joining the company in 2006, he held a similar position at USE Hickson (now Henry Company). With a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a post-graduate certificate in marketing management, Cordero practised architecture in Colombia for more than a decade before coming to Canada in 1999. Since then, he has taken extensive education in building science, sustainability, and several other areas of the construction industry. Cordero can be contacted via e-mail at

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  1. There is another side to the argument. Those without the qualifications and designations have no proof that they are competent. That is why they despise those who are. Councils in the UK do not allow officers to use designations as it highlights the fact that most of there officers are, at best, under qualified for the role they have. I may be over cynical, but that is my experience.
    By not including designations and other qualifications and memberships (of bodies that require registered or qualified entry) the inadequate hope to mask their inadequacies as many people will assume that someone calling themselves an architect or an engineer is one!

    Do not worry, they are just jealous. And I will receive abuse for that statement! Proving the point. The usual response is ‘I have all the experience and more’ without pointing out that any number of years experience of doing it badly is hardly something to boast about, whether clients are ‘satisfied’ or not.

    1. Your article is very appropriate & and what it reveals is enlightening & I hope, broadly read & appreciated.
      Working in the design industry for over 45 years, I have seen it all. At one point years ago, after winning many big projects for which I was recommended & invited to present my case, I was offered the opportunity to be grandfathered/mothered into ARIDO. This all seemed very wonderful to be recognized for my ability in design, space planning, meet Building Codes & local By-laws, project & trades management, achieve deadlines etc. till I read the limitations that ARIDO membership entailed. I could no longer work on a project under my own company & would have to report to and work under an architectural designation! I can tell you from my own experience on $multi-million projects, it should have been the other way around as I found architectural drawings giving no thought to space planning for the actual use of the building meaning whole floors already poured with conduits had to be ripped up and redone & whole wall was missed being constructed while it was clearly on the drawings.
      Where I currently live, I found major hidden structural defects with supporting columns sitting on 5/8ths plywood causing floors to buckle, huge cracks and holes from crumbling in demising, poured concrete foundation walls right next to the main feed electrical panel, banjo wiring, incorrect placement of natural gas pipes under an operating window without 12” separation between spent gas & fresh air intake just for starters. This is the state of construction in Ontario & it has been for a very long time with very little change foreseen for the future.
      From a dedicated consumer advocate!

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