It's Time for QE (Quality Education), Not CE

February 1, 1996

If the great spiritual leaders of the world converged to deliver a sermon on the meaning of life, the only way to get full attendance from the real estate industry would be to offer continuing education (CE) credits.

How many times have you heard salespeople say, "I already have all my credits," or, "Can I get credit for it?" as an excuse to avoid training? We've bred a generation of Just for Credit (JFC) salespeople.

As a 20-year veteran of the real estate training industry and one who once supported CE requirements in Minnesota, I'm pro education but anti continuing education laws. (I'm also pro motorcycle helmets but anti helmet laws, pro seat belts but anti seat belt laws.)

CE requirements are well-intentioned: Proponents believe they increase the amount of education that salespeople get, raise professional standards, and weed out incompetent salespeople. But that's not happening.

Raising the Requirement Lowers the Standard

Any minimum requirement is a double-edged sword. It raises some people to a standard, but it lowers many more to it. Once some salespeople have their credits, they're reluctant to waste class time on "excess" training. For them, mandatory CE is a limit. One state association executive officer told me, "Many salespeople came to more classes before CE was mandated in my state than they do now. All I hear now is, 'I already have my credits.'" At conventions, salespeople are torn between speakers they want to hear and taking a CE course just to get their credits.

CE requirements take the emphasis off getting into the right classes. JFC salespeople will often sign up for any class—whether or not it fills their professional needs—at the last minute as long as it fulfills their credits by deadline. Since the system rewards clock hours, that's what we get: time in chairs instead of information in heads.

And with the focus on credit count, credits become a commodity, so the emphasis is on the cheapest credit instead of quality. By eliminating mandatory CE, we can get back to making quality, not credits, important. Then salespeople may be more selective about topics and classes. Classes could focus on delivering timely, relevant topics and quality instruction to attract students who want to learn and are willing to pay.

Also, consumers aren't served by salespeople who take last-minute, often irrelevant courses. Consumers demand that salespeople be adept at communicating, negotiating, making presentations, marketing, and other things related to building practitioners' income or business expertise. Yet, the courses for those skills are rarely required by most states because, unlike such areas as law and finance, they don't benefit consumers directly.

Weed Out the Bad Seeds

CE requirements shouldn't serve as a means of population control. Changing markets create educational needs that competent salespeople fill with the appropriate education. And the salespeople who seek meaningful education, market themselves, and serve their clients' needs will ultimately dominate. Those who don't keep up with their education won't be able to compete. Let's stop forcing competent salespeople to take CE just to discourage others from staying in the business.

I think CE actually keeps JFC salespeople in the business. For them, a CE minimum is like a health club membership: They don't want to go, but they're afraid to cancel it. They're not committed to real estate, but they're afraid to let their license drop. Right before a credit deadline, they resurface.

Alternatively Speaking

There's a huge market of high-quality education. Industry designation programs, such as CCIM, CRB, CRS®, GRI, and LTG, aren't only education focused but also results oriented. They maintain quality standards and create pride in learning. The real pros in the industry recognize the value of professional education and will seek out those offerings through such sources as state and local associations, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, and its institutes, societies, and councils. Private companies and franchises also offer in-house certificates for completing critical technical and skills training.

If we do mandate education, let's make it competitive. We should require that salespeople disclose to consumers—as they do regarding agency and property condition—what education they've received in the preceding 1224 months. Consumers could use that information as a standard of comparison. Because the market would hold salespeople accountable for their education levels, this system would create incentives to stay informed.

The best salespeople will determine their own education requirements, grow professionally, provide superior service, and continue to take market share from those less qualified.

Mr. Knox is a real estate trainer and president of David Knox Productions, 7300 Metro Blvd., Suite 120, Minneapolis, MN 55439; 800/533-4494.

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