Ken Larsen – The State of Industry Education & Certification: Part 3

Air Date: 11-4-2016| Episode: 436

This week on IAQ Radio we welcome Ken Larsen, CR, WLS, CSDS for Part 3 of our Industry Education and Certification series. Jim Pemberton joined us on 9-23-16 for Part 1 and Lisa Wagner joined us on 10-7-16 for Part 2…

Full Description:

This week on IAQ Radio we welcome Ken Larsen, CR, WLS, CSDS for Part 3 of our Industry Education and Certification series. Jim Pemberton joined us on 9-23-16 for Part 1 and Lisa Wagner joined us on 10-7-16 for Part 2. This week we wrap it up and put a bow on it with Mr. Larsen. The discussion has centered around how to make industry education more credible and valuable for those in the field and for their employers who are paying the freight. Check out parts 1 & 2 at the links above and then join us live as we wrap things up live at noon today. As a bonus joining us for “The Roundup” will be the Restoration Industry Global Watchdog, Pete Consigli. Ken Larsen, CR, WLS, CSDS has been in the restoration industry since 1978. He holds RIA, ACAC and IICRC advanced designations. His career includes 18 years as an independent property restoration contractor, consultant to restorative drying during catastrophes and large loss drying coordination, expert witness, Director of Education for North America’s largest disaster restoration contracting organization, and now the author of one of the industry’s leading technical resource book on the subject of structural restorative drying – Leadership in Restorative Drying. He is currently an IICRC Approved instructor of WRT, ASD and CDS certificate courses. Larsen is also a RIA instructor of the restoration industry’s advanced certification credentials: Water Loss Specialist (WLS) and Certified Restorer (CR). He serves as Chairman for RIA approved Instructors, Trainers and Subject Matter Experts, a sub-committee of RIA’s Education Committee. Larsen presently serves as Senior Technical Director for the International Dry Standard Organization (IDSO) and Director of Education for the Restoration Leadership Institute (RLI) and lead consultant for the Restoration Expert Panel (REP). Ken lives with his wife Barbie (yes – really!) in Santa Rosa Beach in Northwest Florida. He can be contacted at

Z-Man’s Blog:

An educational sense of urgency

I know of no one more passionate about structural drying than Ken Larsen. He is obsessed about everything drying related: the science, the terminology, the equipment, the methods & processes and seemingly most of all the training. Flying all over teaching IICRC courses for weeks at a time over the course of decades is a tough gig that takes a toll on instructors like Ken and their families.

Nuggets mined from today’s show:

Ken Larsen became an instructor after (the late) Jim Myers of Dri-Eaz Products phoned to ask him if he knew anyone who wished to become a water restoration instructor and the restoration contractor for whom he was working instructed him to chase the opportunity.

While not an attorney, Larsen is very precise about the use of common industry terms citing dictionaries, science text books, and other sources. He is critical of the IICRC’s use of terms.

On “certification” – Merriam Webster defines “certification” as making something official, the act of certifying something, official approval to do something professionally and legally. He believes that the IICRC Certification is a misrepresentation to the public for the expectation of professional performance where none actually exists.

ANSI Definitions: 

Certification and certificate are distinct terms. A certificate reflects completion of a training and/or education program and accomplishment of intended learning outcomes. Certificates are issued for life or for a specific time period, and cannot be revoked, which means they do not require ongoing maintenance or renewal. A certification reflects attainment of established criteria for proficiency or competency in a profession or occupation, and is granted upon an assessment of an individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities. Certification is valid for a specific time period. A certification program has ongoing requirements for maintaining proficiency or competency, and can be revoked if ongoing requirements are not met.

IICRC’s Journeyman status is another matter deserving careful reconsideration. Within the IICRC a student can attain Journeyman status with 1 year of service and completion of required courses. Research demonstrates that a Journeyman in many states requires Journeyman’s licensure and stipulates that a Journeyman must be qualified to work unsupervised and have the responsibility of supervising lesser experienced workers and training them.

IICRC’s Master Status is awarded upon completion of sufficient number of courses (some of which are only be obscurely associated with the student’s field of expertise) and 3 years from receipt of their first certification. Ken points out the masters are representatives of a court or other entity that renders judgement involving difficult or specialized issues. He is particularly upset that an insurance adjuster with no hands-on experience can lord this authority over a contractor.

It can be frustrating for instructors to work within IICRC’s “Instructor’s & Schools Committee” system.

Existing IICRC instructors can become instructors in additional disciplines without the necessary knowledge and field experience by completing an application, paying a fee, having a course manual that covers 100% of the exam questions, and overcoming objections from competitive instructors.

The IICRC is concerned more about quantity than quality, giving awards to the instructor who teaches the most number of courses and to the instructor who had the highest student count.

IICRC’s paper and pencil testing procedure is antiquated.

IICRC instructors are required to do significant paperwork in every course for which they receive a per student fee.

From his perspective, the industry training model is stuck.

He is pleased that many issues relating to accuracy and bias within S-500 have been corrected. The one glaring exception is the air mover formula remaining in section and should be relegated to the “non-standard of care” guidelines right beside the dehumidifier formulas.

He attributes the root of industry problems to the IICRC exam committee making comments and recommendations learning objectives on exams which are then used as supporting documentation to find fault with the way in which contractors complete their work.

Unrealistic demonstrations, in 4 decades of doing restoration work, I have never run into a 1200 square foot house, with 200 AMP electrical service, built inside a warehouse, empty and with 5 ton air conditioning system. Why would the host spend $100,000 to build the facility? Does the host sell products and services? There is nothing generic about these courses whatsoever. The houses are marketing opportunities for the host. Flood houses served a fascination within the industry for a decade. The fascination is now gone. It’s harder to attract students. ASD courses suffered attrition because of the focus on silly equipment formulas and in-place drying. The insurance companies require contractors to adhere to rigid equipment formulas judging them right or wrong.

It’s petty and childish when the IICRC refuses to recognize other organizations training program. Reciprocity between training programs will come with true, state recognized industry certification.

The majority focus of water restoration training is theory and principles. Greater than 90% of this training could effectively be taught online. Online education has evolved over the last 2 decades and it is socially responsible to employ it.

Proper and accurate learning of basic skills by techs is important. The IICRC leadership has formally stated that they have compromised and watered down accuracy so that “Billy Bob from Alabama and Jose from Guatemala can pass the exam.”

I spend at least 15 minutes in each class explaining the importance of in an introductory class followed by 2-3 hours explaining scientifically current explanation related to competent drying processes. This squashes many ideas that they have come to accept as true such as “air holds water” and “thirst” along with watered down definitions that confuse rather than help students. It’s best when students receive great information rather than just simple information. If they don’t have the necessary foundational understanding they will never understand advanced concepts like vacuum freeze drying.

Neither an advocate or opponent of facility based training, he is an advocate for quality education that is engaging an accurate regardless of the venue.

Depending on the audience and the level of experience, I invite students to explore the qualities that make for great leadership-which in turn results in work promotions and a healthy company culture.

How do you incorporate independent thinking, alternative options and problem solving into your courses?

I explain the physics of what our tools deliver to the water molecule to cause them to change to vapor phase. Once the concept is understood, I ask the student to describe a project that simply didn’t respond to their drying approach and then we explore why it didn’t work and what was missing. This is in sharp contrast to the brainless equipment formulas taught by many IICRC courses. I invite the students to engineer drying strategies that work rather than being a mere equipment delivery service.

The most rewarding part of my course curriculum is teaching the physics of evaporation in a fashion where a completely uninitiated student can grasp what our tools do to the drying process. I watch their faces and body language for the light bulb moment, when they smile and relax, that’s my ultimate payback. I’ve helped them grasp something dynamic that will last them for a lifetime.

I’m proud to be an RIA instructor. The culture and spirit surrounding their education opportunities differs from other education bodies. The RIA is going through a comprehensive redesign of their advance education designations. I’m excited to be part of it. The Body of Knowledge for the Certified Restorer program is the defining document for the field of damage repair.

body of knowledge (BOK or BoK) is the complete set of concepts, terms and activities that make up a professional domain, as defined by the relevant learned society or professional association.

RIA, IICRC and ACAC training models are complimentary. Back in 1980, ASCR now RIA developed the Certified Restorer (CR) program and held it out as the most advanced designation that a restorer could obtain. IICRC courses are important stepping stones to that end. Since the CR course, RIA has developed the Water Loss Specialist (WLS) and the Certified Mold Professional (CMP). I opine that all these organizations need to collaborate closer with the logical career path of students in mind.

If you had the power and a clean piece of paper how would you change industry education?

Ken: Change needs to start with a bunch of people being fired and kept out of leadership positions.  Dissolve the current IICRC model and redesign it from the ground up. The new IICRC 2017, Ltd. shouldn’t have anything to do with schools and instructors. They would develop and sell standards and grade exams that were developed from legitimate and credible source material in the public domain. It would be beneficial if the group were 3rd party accredited and was state recognized.

Ken: Create an entity owned and run by instructors as a business cooperative. There may be minimum standards for participation. If someone wants to be an instructor, they join the co-op and market their education opportunities. There would be no biased and unwieldy instructor approval process. Ultimately, public opinion and free market will determine if the instructor has a future or not.

Ken: Separate church and state. IICRC 2017, Ltd. and the instructor co-op have positively no affiliation. They don’t formally communicate with each other on courses and exams. The instructors never know what the exam questions are, although they will know what subjects they must possess an expert understanding of and where this information is to be found. Students are free to challenge exams, they would go to a 3rd party testing center or perhaps online, pay the fee and give it their best shot. Who cares if they sat in a classroom or not?

Any regrets as an instructor?

Ken: I sometimes lay awake thinking about my early impressionable days of being an instructor. I’m embarrassed about the silly ideas that I was compelled to teach my students such as: “air hold water”, “air is thirsty”, “wet goes to dry”. These are inexcusable compromises of accuracy, that I publicly apologize for.

As an industry instructor, of what accomplishments are you most proud?Ken: I’m most proud of the privilege to teach the CR program. Having the opportunity to follow in Marty King’s footsteps and carry the CR message to the next generation and then to even beingable to assist in its evolution in accord with the Body of Knowledge- is too difficult to put into words. I fully expect it will produce a new kind of restoration professional one who carries himself with the same pride and esteem I remember observing the new CR inductees possessing after their induction ceremony with Marty over the decades. I can’t wait for that development.

Round Up

Pete Consigli:  Was also an IICRC instructor dropout in the 1990’s.  Fondly recalls his “”Iron Man” days from 1988 to 1992 as the first industry instructor for Dri-Eaz following in company founder Claude Blackburn’s footsteps.

Has great respect for the hardship endured by today’s Iron Men and the price they pay to be on the road training the next generation of cleaners and restorers.

Learned from Marty King that negative or dissenting feedback on an article or presentation is a good thing (just like positive feedback) as you took a position and made a point.

No comment means no one cared enough about the subject matter or focus of the article/presentation to comment.

Strongly believes the need to stop perpetuation of the false narrative that RIA and IICRC are competitors.

Believes the 2 prominent industry organizations are complementary through shared constituency.

An argument can be made that RIA and its collective membership is the largest single entity stakeholder of the IICRC.

Opines the industry needs and wants the 2 groups to collaborate on common interests to find the best solutions towards unification not fragmentation.

Ken’s final comments: 

The need for educational change is urgent.  Educational organizations must be nimble, be quick, be efficient and do the right things.  We all must consider the industry in which we work at large, not just the survival of our entity.  Some people will be upset by my comments. Anger can be a positive force because it can promote change.


Z-Man  Blog Addendum

Clearly the feathers of one of more listeners were ruffled by the subject matter covered in today’s broadcast.

FYI, the hosts and guests spend considerable time and effort assembling a thorough set of questions and discussion points for each interview, which we call our game plan. As the hosts can’t predict the amount of listener interaction each show will have we fill the entire allotted time with questions and discussion points the hosts and guests have deemed important and prioritized.

We have an interview pace and also have a logical order to our questioning,; the show’s game plan. Calling an audible going off the game plan and accepting a text questions can throw off both the pace or the logical sequence of questioning. The only host rule for text questions is “is it fair that will add to the content of the show” or “is it a cheap shot”?  We don’t allow cheap shots.

Listeners are encouraged to contact the guests or hosts with questions. kudos and complaints.

Mark Twain is credited with the quote: “Sir, get you facts straight first; before you try to distort them!”

So anonymous <Guest 5> Above I’ve outlined our methodology and reasoning for handling text questions. During the show we were able to get to most of your questions as they were fair and relevant to the discussion. Following are answers to the three questions/comments we did not have time to address. Thanks for joining us!

<Guest 5> I’m not sure, but it seems to me that no one has said that what they have learned, implemented into drying buildings has not worked.

<Z-Man:> I can tell you from my personal experience on both job sites and our training center that the concept of in-place drying didn’t work. Others have confirmed my findings.

<Guest 5> Those courses WLS, and CR were founded on some of the same material that is/was based on IICRC classes.

<Z-Man:> Wrong. Both the CR program and the ASCR Certified Restoration Technician Course (1981) preceded IICRC’s entry into fire restoration training. As such perhaps you have it reversed and some of the information in the IICRC courses was based on the subject contained in the ASCR/RIA courses.

The entire curriculum for the WLS course was developed by industry experts from outside the restoration industry (attorneys, industrial hygienists, fine arts conservators, building scientists, microbiologist, etc.)

<Guest 5> Is this show going to provide a counter to this interview? Seems very one sided. It would seem that the IICRC should be allowed to respond.

<Z-Man:> If you feel that IAQradio has been unfair to the IICRC I suggest you web-search the search term “IAQradio and IICRC”. The IICRC is welcome to respond and we will schedule a show ASAP.

Radio Joe’s Final Thoughts to the Z-Man Blog Addendum:

We have interviewed many leaders from the IICRC over the years. Having had the opportunity to serve on the IICRC Board of Directors under the watch of both the former and present Chairman and leadership teams and as co-host of IAQ Radio; I welcome and encourage the IICRC to come on a future show to offer their perspective on the “State of the Industry’y Education and Certification” programs.

This is an important discussion that should continue!

Today’s music

Pink Floyd-  We don’t need no education    YouTube


Which law of thermodynamics in short form allows recognition that two bodies in a relation of thermal equilibrium have the same temperature, especially that a test body has the same temperature as a reference thermometric body?


Zeroth law of thermodynamics

Z-Man signing off