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Quality Don't Come Easy


By Brian Van Bower
In 2001, as part of his ‘Aqua Culture’ column in WaterShapes, Brian Van Bower penned a thought-provoking piece entitled “Quality Don’t Come Easy.”  In it, he decried what he saw as a dearth of quality craftspeople in the watershaping trades — and in the broader construction industry as well.
“Time and again,” he noted, “I commiserate with colleagues who just can’t find good people who are dedicated to 
maintaining high standards.” 
‘I’ve come to the stark realization that there are too few quality craftspeople in most geographical areas of our country.  And it’s not just the watershaping trades:  The same holds true for most areas of the greater construction industry as well. 
‘The hard reality is that, for many people in the trades, it’s easier to do three ordinary jobs in a week than it is to do one challenging project over a month.  I’m starting to think that this is a new example of the age-old quality vs. quantity paradox.  And frankly, it seems to me that coming down more often on the side of quantity is one of the things that threatens to doom our industry to mediocrity.’ 
‘This complacency of craft is, I believe, further reinforced by the way we regard people who work with their hands in this country.  In other places, particularly in Europe and parts of Asia, craftspeople are seen as artisans and enjoy prestige in their communities.  They work hard to build their reputations for excellence, and the pride they have in their work shows in everything they do.’ 
‘Many of these clients operate under the natural assumption that if they pay more, they’ll get better quality in return.  And as the world becomes smaller and clients and potential clients witness the caliber of work being performed in other countries and become more educated about what quality really means, a much sharper desire for true excellence will flow back to our shores.  The ability or inability to meet those expectations has everything to do with whether or not these clients report positively on their experiences in acquiring watershapes to other potential clients.  And it all comes back to having craftspeople on hand who can get the job done in a way that leaves the customer smiling.’ 
‘Ultimately, that effort must begin with the “E word” – education.  Too many trades in this country are learned strictly through on-the-job training.  Indeed, we lack any sort of apprenticeship programs for most of the skills required specifically to build watershapes.’  
‘[L]est anyone think that any movement toward greater quality in workmanship is a trickle-down thing that must necessarily begin on the high-end, let me counter that I think the true breeding ground for this change is in mid-range projects.  Yes, wealthy clients can afford excellence and demand it, but there’s no reason the $40,000 project should not be built to a higher standard.  These watershapes may not have all the bells and whistles and fine details and materials of high-end projects, but they should have sound hydraulics, square and plumb forming, sound installation practices and even a modestly custom design.’ 
‘To be sure, this whole picture is a frustrating one, and I’m the first to admit that I really don’t know what the “answer” is.  But I do know, in talking to watershapers and other contractors across the country, that this shortage of quality craftspeople is real.  Time and time again I commiserate with colleagues who just can’t find good people who are dedicated to maintaining high standards.’
In his column, Brian suggested possible solutions, such as “working toward adopting a value system that places greater emphasis on quality”; better trade education and certification; more apprenticeship programs; and stringent on-site project management.
What do you think?  Was Brian correct in his analysis 10 years ago? Has the situation changed over the past decade, or could he write the same column today? Share your views by scrolling down to comment.
Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group. Dedicated to top-of-the-line performance in aquatic design and construction, Genesis 3  conducts schools for like-minded pool designers and builders. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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