Nov 1, 2003 12:00 PM, Kim Doyle
An integrator's concern over how well he or she can do a job and for how much profit is a valid concern best kept away from the customer. In the game of margins, efficiency is a big player, and well-trained technical employees can help. Assessment, training, and certification will boost productivity and provide an opportunity for technical staff to advance professionally, and for the business owner or sales team, it's a perfect way to eliminate doubt in the minds of clients.
EST ASSESSMENT AND TRAINING
Assessment, training, and certification for electronic systems technicians (ESTs) and electronic systems integrators (ESIs) has become a movement of sorts and one proudly led by NSCA. Integrators can use a host of tools to make good hiring decisions, to effectively train their technical staff, and to obtain certifications that demonstrate skill and commitment to prospective clients.
“The lack of adequately trained people in our industry is a huge problem,” says Doug Padgett, president of Pendergraph in Tulsa. “Most people grew up in this industry, and that's how they got to know it.” To address this problem, the NSCA University introduced the EST Training Series. The e-based training offers 165 hours of technical instruction September through May and distinctive opportunities for peer interaction. In addition to sharing installation tips and real-world application ideas for textbook information, students interact with the NSCA master instructor and an in-house facilitator designated by the participating company. Level One of the four-year program, which is designed for technicians with less than two years experience, is now underway with nearly 200 students enrolled.
According to Padgett, the EST training and certification programs offered by NSCA “will be of value to our company because it is nationally recognized as the certification for technicians in the industry. This will become part of our company's marketing plan. We will promote our company as having x-number of trained people.”
The training is also important to technical employees but for a slightly different reason: it is a necessary component to their professional advancement. Russ Butler, a senior project designer with Pendergraph and the EST Training Series facilitator for Padgett's technicians, says the entire installation department is now enrolled in Level One of the EST Training Series. “Pendergraph requires all new hires to go through training, and until their enrollment in the EST Training Series, it had been self-study,” says Butler. “The actual classroom time and hands-on experience will help them learn a little better. It's been a long time coming and well accepted by the employees.”
To help employers place technical staff into the EST Training Series, the NSCA has developed EST Training Assessment tests. Results are available module by module, which include topics such as basic safety, electrical theory, and low-voltage cabling at the low end as well as electrical test equipment, computer applications, and voice and data systems at the higher end. Although sold separately, each test builds off of each other and helps the technician and business owner realize precisely where there may be a breakdown in understanding. Separate assessment tests are also available for preemployment and, as described at the end of this article, for certification preparation.
“Reasonably predicting someone's ability to perform is something the industry has been asking for,” says Mike Bradley, president of the NSCA and Safeguard Security and Communications in Scottsdale, Arizona. “The preemployment assessment test will eliminate doubt. The ability to tailor a prescription for training when necessary will be a great benefit for both business owners and for operations managers. It will also help technicians understand where they stand so as not to overstate their capabilities.”
EST Certification is a next step that is considered valuable by both the company and the technical employee. It is the industry's first systems-based certification and one that has been sorely missed by integrators nationwide.
“Meaningful credentials backed by a well-respected, national organization is a benefit to employees and their self-esteem, for customers looking for a job well done, and for members of the design community who will see a commitment to quality,” says Bradley.
The certified EST (C-EST) designation is a prerequisite to the NSCA's more advanced certified status, the registered electronic systems integrator (R-ESI). The goal behind the new certifications, according to NSCA Executive Director Chuck Wilson, is twofold. “First, the C-EST and R-ESI certifications address our industry's need for better-trained employees,” Wilson says. “We are also addressing the construction industry's demand for ways to appropriately specify technology into commercial building projects.”
The 2004 NSCA Systems Integration Expo will host the first certification exams for ESTs March 20 and 21 in the Las Vegas Convention Center. The release of the exams in March 2004 has been timed with the release of the 2004 CSI MasterFormat, which will now classify the commercial electronic systems industry's work in divisions 26, 27, and 28. Concurrent with promotion to systems professionals, the NSCA is marketing both certification marks to members of the design community.
Two years work experience are required for the C-EST, though any professional is permitted to sit for the March 2004 exam. Those with less than two years experience may take the exam and then receive their C-EST designation after two years time. Testing includes a written exam and a hands-on skill demonstration to assess basic installation technique. After successfully earning a C-EST and meeting a series of work elements over time, systems professionals may take the R-ESI exam.
An assessment test designed to examine a professional's readiness for the C-EST exam is also available. Questions will take into consideration a vast amount of content, also including topics from portions of three years of the EST Training Series. For those in need, an online, eight-week prep course for EST certification will also be available starting January 5, 2004.
“The intent of the certification program and accompanying training options is to support and advance the individuals who have the desire to excel,” Wilson says. “We are confident EST certification will be specifiable by the design community, and we are confident it will be affordable for our member companies.”
Kim Doyleis the NSCA communications director. She may be reached email@example.com.
NSCA BUILDING CONNECTIONS
For more information about training and certifying ESTs, contact the NSCA University at (800) 446-6722 or visit www.nsca.org.