Certification: a central necessity

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Certification efforts within the security industry continue to boom. Globally, an increasing number of integration and installation companies are tapping into the ability to boast that their employees can be measured against the highest of standards when put to the test—by having them take a test to prove it. Certification promises to keep companies competitive across borders, and their employees competent.
The goal of certification is to improve the standards of the security industry as a whole. Steve Doyle, executive vice president and CEO of the Central Station Alarm Association, said his organization has been certifying people since the 1950s, and that it’s important not only for an individual’s knowledge but also for the industry’s survival and growth itself.
“No industry has ever survived by dumbing down its standards to the lowest common denominator. They survive by raising the bar and that’s what CSAA has always attempted to do; it’s the reason for our founding” Doyle said.
Things have changed since the organization’s early days, however, namely with the rise of the Internet.
The CSAA began offering online training and certification nearly three years ago. Doyle said this increased accessibility has allowed his organization to deliver training all the way down the company ladder so that not only CEOs are being certified anymore, but technical support and operators as well.
“The operators wanted to have the certificate on the wall and the patch on their uniform, and all that kind of mushroomed,” Doyle said. “What we’re doing now with our online certification programs have turned out to be way beyond our expectations in terms of their acceptance.”
Pam Petrow, executive vice president at Vector Security, was a member of the team that established the curriculum for the CSAA’s certification classes, and says the emphasis on well-trained operators is essential in the security industry, though sometimes neglected.
“The central station operators are truly a critical part of any alarm company,” she said, “and for owners not to invest the money to train and make sure they understand their jobs and can offer a higher quality of service is a mistake. They tend not to be the highest paid and are forgotten because they are behind the locked door.”
The CSAA provides Five Diamond Certification courses, aimed at “improving the performance levels” of central station operators and focusing on five major points as outlined at the CSAA’s Web site, which require central stations to be recognized by a UL or FM laboratory, be committed to “the highest levels of customer service,” as well as reducing false alarms, have 100 percent of its operators certified by CSAA online training series and have a CSAA membership. Doyle said 5,000 operators have been certified thus far.
He added that one secret to this success is CSAA’s commitment to keeping the courses updated and revising them every three years. Revenue from the courses is put back into redevelopment of the course to keep them “fresh.”
CSAA’s online courses have also garnered international attention, which Doyle attributes simply to “word of mouth.” Though the courses were initially offered only in English, they are now being translated to Spanish, Portuguese, and French. Doyle said the international companies whose governments may not have standards in place are reaching out to the CSAA and hoping to become certified, which Doyle says is a long-term goal of his organization, though he says “we have enough on our plate in the U.S. right now.”
ASIS International, which currently offers three different certification programs, The Certified Protection Professional, The Professional Certified Investigator, and The Physical Security Professional, is also aware of a significant global need for the professional standards certification.
Pat Bishop, general manager at Profile Group in Toronto, is one of ASIS’s Professional Certification Board’s 15 members, which decides the courses and curriculum offered. Bishop says, internationally, companies are looking for established standards that may be absent or unrecognized in their own countries. As such, the Certification Board boasts nine international members, and Bishop says the courses have been looked at through a cultural lens.
“The certifications are international in nature. All of our questions have been looked at culturally and whether they look into certain legal aspects all around the world,” Bishop said. “[ASIS has] fingers everywhere in the world; we’ve done these exams in Saudi Arabia, Singapore, New Zealand, we’ve got our fingers stretched through the world and we’re looking at stretching more of them around.”
Bishop said certification is important not only to the employer, but to the employee as well.
“As an employer, there’s the desire to keep current in their industry, and all of these certifications are reviewed and revamped every year,” Bishop said. “As an employer, I see it as important that my employees are doing that. It’s their individual certification and they carry it with them for the rest of their life, so people that rise in the industry and remain professional will do it.”
In the future, Bishop said ASIS is developing an advanced physical security protection course that is focused more on computerized networking and is integrator-oriented, as that seems to be in demand from its membership at present.
Similarly, the NBFAA continues to see a strong demand from its membership. Dale Eller, director of education and standards at the NBFAA, said he sees a “steady, onward progression,” in his association’s certification programs, and that more than 35,000 people have taken the NBFAA’s Certified Alarm Technician Level I, since its inception in 1985.
Eller says certification has become increasingly prevalent in the industry within the last five to 10 years, some of that being driven by regulatory forces and licensing agencies, but also complemented by an understanding of the need for these certifications.
“As our industry migrates into a more computerized industry … with conventional security and the IP side, the convergence of these two are helping drive awareness and probably creating the understanding for the need,” Eller said.
Eller said the NBFAA created its National Training School to try to raise the bar and add some professionalism to the industry. In the mid 1990s, more courses followed, including a Level II, Certified Alarm Technician course and a Certified Security Sales Person course.
The NBFAA offers a combination of classroom training and testing for certification, as well as online courses that launched three years ago. The NBFAA has also seen international attention from the Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago and Puerto Rico, where Eller says the organization has always had a strong presence.
Eller says that though critics said online training would “kill it,” classroom training remains popular, and that though instructor and student interaction is difficult to replicate, with graphics and other technologies the online experience is comparable, as is the success rate between the two settings.
“Basically, the same number of people fail,” Eller said. “I’d be concerned if everybody was passing.”
In the future, the NBFAA plans to build on its Level II course by integrating material on burglar and fire alarms, as well as access control, closed-circuit video and the integration that ties those elements together. Its latest course, launched last year, is on video technology. There is also talk of creating some type of certified service technician certificate in the future, though the details have yet to be mapped out.
“We’ve focused on installation, so we’re rolling out a service and trouble shooting course,” Eller said, but he added, “These things don’t happen real quick, you want to get through and vet the process.” SSN