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Installer Training, Certification Programs Picking Up Speed

11/06/2000 02:00:00 AM Eastern

While politicians extol the virtues of the new economy, there is one drawback that may give pause to the exuberant: a shortage of skilled labor. But no one has been more attuned to the labor crunch than CEDIA and the Consortium for Electronic Systems Technician Training (CESTT), formed in 1998 by CEDIA, CEA, NSCA and other trade associations to expand the pool of skilled installers.

"It's universally acknowledged that there's more work than there is labor," said Consortium president Dick Goldman.

Said CEDIA education director Susannah Nation, "There are no technical schools or community colleges in the country that offer the education that these installers need, so companies are sometimes limited to workers who are just starting out without much experience."

To address the shortage, CESTT has developed a training curriculum targeted to community colleges and vocational schools to expand the talent pool. To upgrade the skill levels of existing installers, CEDIA is expanding its certification program while maintaining the pace of its own training programs.

To date, CESTT's curriculum has been adopted by Coyne College in Chicago and Sir Sanford Fleming College in Canada, and it will be launched as a pilot program in a few weeks through the Job Corps in Maryland.

If the Maryland program is successful, the Consortium hopes it will be adopted by other Job Corps locations throughout the country, said Goldman. He estimates the potential windfall could be as many as 5,000 new industry workers in a year and a half.

Job Corps is the nation's largest residential education and job training program for "at-risk" youth, ages 16-24 and generally high school dropouts. "We have unemployed individuals between the ages of 16 to 24 who desire a technical career. Through this program, they receive a general education, their GED and training in our curriculum," said Goldman. "We pick the instructors, and the cost is picked up by Job Corps."

CESTT education director Laura Hochstein said that to promote the curriculum, the Consortium recently held a town meeting at Maryland's Montgomery College.

CESTT also used the event to learn from students and faculty how to integrate the curriculum into the college landscape. Based on the input, Hochstein said, the Consortium will look to make the program more flexible to adapt to the needs of individual community colleges and technical schools.

"Our [curriculum's] training materials cover all fields, from data networking to commercial A/V," said Goldman. "We identified those basic skills that are needed regardless of what specific field they ended up in" and incorporated it into the curriculum.

Levels I and II of the curriculum are available, and Level III is under development. Level I, the equivalent of two full-time community college or vocational-school semesters, covers such topics as construction materials and methods, electrical theory, electrical safety and low-voltage cabling. Level II includes craft-related mathematics, power quality and grounding, voice and data systems and computer applications.

CESTT's third level, due in the spring, is expected to include cable selection, busses and networks, video systems and wireless signal transmission, among others topics.

For its part, CEDIA is expanding its Professional Certification program, which provides objective standards for the required skills and knowledge of custom designers and installers. CEDIA hopes that its certification tests will promote professionalism and growth throughout the industry.

CEDIA has finalized its Installer Levels I and II certification criteria and is drafting more advanced certification levels called Designer Levels I and II. Level I should be out at the first regional training program of 2002, with Designer II available a year after that. Certification tests are also given at CEDIA Expo.

To prepare for the Level I test, CEDIA recommends such resources as the Audio Cyclopedia, the Audio Dictionary, CEDIA Home Theater Manual, Audio Systems Technology Level I & II, the National Electric Code and Sound System Handbook.

Also to improve installer skill levels, CEDIA holds five Regional Education programs a year, and while they are not strictly test-preparation classes, they do cover many of the subjects necessary for a passing mark. "CEDIA does offer classes to brush up on the skills at both Installer levels," said Nation. "Installer Level I and II Essentials are offered at every Regional Education program and at Expo."

The regional 2001 schedule is Jan. 28-29, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; March 4-5, Dallas; March 18-19, San Francisco; April 1-2, Chicago; and May 6-7, Stamford, Conn. Topics for the 2001 programs had not been approved at press time.

How effective these and other programs will be has yet to be proved, but the custom industry is counting on them to help expand sales and profitability-and to prepare for the future.

"People can't aggressively market because they can't do the jobs if they get them," lamented Goldman. The shortage also makes it more difficult for custom A/V installers to diversify into other disciplines to position themselves as one-stop shops for builders and homeowners.

"With the shortage of installation personnel, it's difficult to take on any type of new product or product categories, such as home control, because there's no time to train people to learn the products and market them," Goldman said.


Installer Demand Curve (Among CESST member companies)


Actual Employment

1995

117,000

1996

135,000 (+15%)

1997

153,000 (+13%)

1998

180,000 (+18%)

Estimated Job Openings

1999

81,000

2000

45,000

2001

63,000

200

281,000


Source: Consortium for Electronic Systems Technician Training (CESTT), based on actual number of installers (also called technicians or system designers) employed and job openings expected by companies that belong to the trade associations that constitute CESST. Installer disciplines include entertainment (audio, video, multimedia, and home and corporate theater); communications (telephone, fax, modem, Internet, local area networks, paging, intercoms and public address systems); life safety (access control, burglar and fire alarms, and video surveillance); control of indoor and outdoor; control of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and energy management; and other forms of home and building automation.cTWICE 2000

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