After Stumbling, PHTA Corrects Course With Plans to Fine-Tune Education Programs

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It's no secret the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance has faced some challenges following the merger of APSP and NSPF — the two industry trade organizations that officially came together to form PHTA on April 1, 2019. Since then it’s been a period of transition as the new association works to unify the governance, structure and operations of the two organizations.

Although much has been accomplished in PHTA’s first nine months — including the hiring of a new CEO, Sabeena Hickman — one of the most challenging tasks has been integrating APSP and NSPF education programs, which sometimes overlap, under the PHTA umbrella.

One particularly controversial area has been builder education. Alexandria, Va.-based APSP, the oldest and largest association representing all segments of the pool and spa industry, has offered a course leading to Pool & Spa Building Professional certification. Meanwhile, Colorado Springs, Colo.-based NSPF is the parent organization for Genesis, a rigorous training program for builders founded in 1998 as a rebuke to APSP when it was still known as the National Spa and Pool Institute. Genesis merged with NSPF in 2015.

Now that Genesis falls within the PHTA umbrella, some Genesis advocates believe the program is being negatively impacted by its close association with APSP’s CPB certification course, parts of which Genesis has deemed both problematic and inadequate.


In August, Genesis Education Director David Peterson and Deputy Education Director Bill Drakeley left the group to form a new organization, Watershape University. Some Genesis volunteers and instructors also left to join the new organization. Then in September, Genesis co-founder Skip Phillips resigned over contract disputes, staffing changes and concerns over intellectual property rights. Phillips maintains that Genesis instructors own their own course materials and their contracts with Genesis did not transfer to PHTA as part of the merger. (Subsequently, Hickman has confirmed that Genesis instructors own their course content and are permitted to teach wherever they want.)

All of this turmoil prompted another Genesis co-founder, Brian Van Bower, to publicly plead with Genesis members to be patient while the organization finds its place within PHTA. Nevertheless, another high-profile departure came after the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo in early November when Paolo Benedetti, one of Genesis’s oldest members and a long-time instructor, resigned.

RELATED: Getting to Know Sabeena Hickman, PHTA’s New CEO

To curb the damage and begin the rebuilding process, Hickman and Chris Curcio, PHTA’s chairman of the board, met with Phillips to discuss ways to improve building and design education across PHTA and move forward.

“We realized how aligned we were in terms of what we wanted to accomplish,” Hickman says. After some fruitful conversation, she asked Phillips to rejoin, and he agreed following some negotiation. As an ambassador for Genesis, Phillips is expected to focus on developing curriculum and recruiting Genesis instructors, as well as revamping PHTA builder education. Along those lines, a review of CEUs will be explored as well as other synergies between PHTA and Genesis certifications and designations.

“Genesis will remain Genesis,” Hickman says, putting to rest concerns that Genesis might be consumed by PHTA’s other educational offerings. She says enhancing and updating the CBP content to align with Genesis and the current standards is a priority. “As the industry grows and evolves, adjustments to education are necessary,” she says. PHTA also will explore making CBP certification “the first rung in the career ladder,” with builders moving up by taking Genesis courses, she adds.

Incidentally, Genesis reported record attendance at its courses during November’s International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo, where PHTA’s board of directors met and recommended that the association address duplicate courses and certifications that came as a result of the unification of APSP and NSPF.


Without doubt, 2020 will be a year of evolution for PHTA education, with most changes going into effect in 2021, says Mark Milroy, PHTA’s VP of education, who started in the newly created position Dec. 2 and will oversee PHTA’s educational offerings moving forward. His arrival was followed by the resignation of Silvia Uribe, PHTA’s director of education, who had worked in various capacities for legacy NSPF and APSP since 2008. She had been supervising the consolidation efforts of the two programs since PHTA’s inception.

“We thank Silvia for all her dedication and hard work to advance the mission of PHTA,” Hickman says. “Much of the success and structure of the education programs in the industry are due, in large part, to Silvia’s tireless efforts.”

At press time, Hickman and Milroy have plans to fill the director of education position.

Milroy, a certified association executive, has 30 years of association, education and certification experience. In announcing his hire, Hickman called him “an innovator” who has “developed cost-effective solutions to maximize competitiveness, increase revenues and improve customer service.”

RELATED: PHTA Director of Education Resigns

Most recently, Milroy led his own consulting practice, providing guidance in analyzing organizations’ education programming and identifying deficiencies and opportunities. Previously, he served as the managing director of global education for the American Industrial Hygiene Association and VP of learning for the American Society of Association Executives. He has also held senior-level positions at the American Production and Inventory Control Society, The Association for Operations Management, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio.

“In early 2020, we will be forming a task force to evaluate the content of both the Certified Pool Builder and the Genesis programs to see where they can be updated, enhanced and aligned. The task force will make recommendations to the board for approval,” Milroy says. “Our goal is to align education and deliver the best education possible for our industry.”


Although changes to PHTA’s education programs will be explored throughout the coming months, some decisions have already been made regarding competing APSP and NSPF courses for commercial pool and spa service professionals.

The Professional Pool and Spa Operator course, offered by APSP, and the Certified Pool & Spa Operator course, offered by NSPF, will temporarily coexist and continue to meet state certification requirements for commercial pool operators. For 2020, both courses will be offered by certified instructors as scheduled. According to PHTA, these courses will continue to evolve and be used in a tiered design to create a commercial track that will allow operators and employers the opportunity to grow and build their career path. A new format will be launched in 2021 that will consist of two levels of certification under the CPO moniker.

The PHTA board also approved to phase out NSPF’s Advanced Service Technician program, which will be replaced by APSP’s Certified Pool & Spa Service Technician program, which more states recognize for licensing. For 12 months following the official announcement of this change, individuals who are currently AST certified are eligible to take the CST self-paced course and exam at no cost.

RELATED: PHTA Welcomes New Vice President of Education

Meanwhile, the NSPF Instructor Class will be fused with PHTA’s Train the Trainer in 2020. Aspiring Instructors will go through a revamped PHTA Instructor Assessment School and after successfully passing the course they desire to teach, they will gain authorization to teach that particular course.

“PHTA is a manifestation of strength in unity,” says Chris Curcio, chairman PHTA’s board. “One of the greatest benefits of the unification of APSP and NSPF is the overall enhancement of industry education. We’re putting the necessary elements in place to launch a revitalized educational platform, and I couldn’t be more excited for our industry.”

As course revisions are finalized, PHTA will reach out to certification holders about how they are benefited or affected by the adjustments.

“I’m very excited about the opportunities that lie ahead,” Milroy says. “I’ve experienced the merger of two associations where the educational offerings from both organizations had to be consolidated, so that aspect of the process is familiar. Having managed multiple certification programs and guided them through transitions is something else that’s familiar. Our intention is to go through this process of unifying our programs and content in a thoughtful yet deliberate way that considers the needs of all our stakeholders. We want to make sure we do this the right way.”

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