Security moves to the head of the class with educational offerings

But despite the growing selection, some are slow to jump on the learning bandwagon
Friday, October 1, 2004

Every industry struggles with employment and, specifically, finding qualified and reliable people to fill open slots. The security industry seems to especially suffer from this - mostly because it is not a career path many follow from an education perspective.

But these days, the ability to train employees is growing. Educational offerings are readily available through a variety of venues, and there seems to be a move towards educating people in the market. Even so, some have been slow to embrace them.

When education comes up among the industry a myriad of excuses arises: There is no time, training is too expensive, my employees are trained enough, the employee pool isn’t that bad.

Therefore, newcomers usually fit into two categories: inexperienced or experienced in other markets, which is why finding “good” help is challenging.

One example lies on the central station side. Pam Powter, vice president of operations and vendor management at Vector Security, said one of the major issues facing central stations is finding responsible people to fill open operator roles.

“At the CSAA operators’ management meeting, one of the key issues is how are you finding and retaining people,” she said.

And this problem is not only found in the monitoring sector. Fire installers, integrators, dealers and manufacturers have all said it - the pool of potential employees seem to be lacking. Some claim it can be chalked up to a lack of education in the market, but today, educational offerings are more abundant.

But these classes have not been completely embraced by the industry, which may be due to the lack of awareness that these programs exist.

“I don’t think a lot of people in this industry know what is out there,” said Connie Moorhead, president of the CMoor Group, an online learning provider serving the security industry. “It’s a matter of finding a way for everyone to know because it would help train people and maybe even get them excited about coming into the security industry if they know that there are better resources available to them.”

It’s all about the benefits

Perhaps that is where another problem lies. Companies throughout all sectors of the industry may complain that they cannot find qualified, dependable help, but if companies are not offering programs for advancement to employees how will that attract qualified personnel? A competitive salary can only account for so much.

“If I am looking at a job that has no training and no professional development,” Moorhead said, “then why would I want to work there?”

According to Moorhead, data shows that the number one thing employee’s desire in a job is advancement opportunities - a lack of this will drive people to look elsewhere for available positions.

“These companies need to start making training a priority or people will not want jobs there,” she said.

Lisa Prosser, the owner of General Alarm Co., said having training and certification options readily available attracts prospective employees.

“As an owner, it helps to solicit employees,” Prosser said. “I believe technicians want to do a good job and will want to work with a company that has a good name. It is a recruiting tool, in my opinion”

Interest in the educational programs out there is rising, Moorhead noted, but said that it is not at the level it needs to be.

“I feel strongly that the security industry needs to have the best training it can have because we are the ones protecting the country,” she said. “We are the ones putting in alarm systems and fire and smoke detectors. We better be well-educated and informed.”

Therefore, incoming companies and employees into the security industry need to find venues for information and education. Although there are a variety of programs offered today, Bill Bozeman, president and chief executive officer of PSA Security Network said, education at the entry level is lacking.

But that doesn’t make people coming from other backgrounds shy away from grabbing a piece of the security pie.

“Everyone wants a piece in security,” Bozeman said. “It’s a big, important business.”

Bozeman suggested people interested in pursuing a career in security seek out foundational courses, such as those offered by industry associations, including the Security Industry Association and the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association and at trade shows like PSA’s yearly exposition. Manufacturing courses are also sometimes a good resource for entry-level individuals, although many are only open to current industry professionals.

Moorhead from CMoor Group concurred that trade associations can serve as a valuable resource.

“It’s an excellent way for people who want to get into the security industry,” Moorhead said. “That’s what these associations are there for.”

These groups try to assist with the problems associated with finding qualified personnel - knowing that a hiring candidate is much more attractive to an employer if he has shown initiative to learn about the industry.

Accidential employee

But that doesn’t happen often among the inexperienced. Todd Burgart, vice president of marketing at Fire Systems Design, said interest for an open position can be large, but most applicants are not experienced in the industry.

“We run an ad on a Sunday and get 100 resumes,” he said, “but we are not getting qualified, trained applicants.”

Burgart said since “most people do not grow up saying they want to be in the fire alarm business,” it’s understandable why there is a lack of trained, entry-level employees in this field.

“Most people got here by accident,” Burgart said.

And those workers who made their way into the industry by chance are the ones trained by the companies that hire them, which for smaller companies may still be a common practice.

“I think there are a lot of people who want to hire someone and have them learn as they go,” said Shelly Binder, vice president of operations and vendor management at PSA Security.

Thomas Rogers, senior vice president of operations support at Vector Security, said there “is a need to hire the well-trained, but there are also positions that you can hire for at the entry level.”

Dale Eller, director of education and standards at the NBFAA, said he knows companies that are afraid to invest in employee education because they are afraid better opportunities will lure employees away.

“It’s kind of a fine balance,” Eller said, “but if they are not trained, do you want them to stay?”

But Rogers said that practice is common in any industry.

“You will always have the employee who will move to another company,” Rogers said, “but I am a big believer that if they are in a position where they can learn, they will stay with us for a long time.”

According to Moorhead, data shows that companies that invest in training record higher employee retention.

Companies may need to look at education as not just a benefit to employees, but as a advantage to the company. There is more to training than educational value - there is the value it can add to a business.

“From a marketing perspective, it says ‘look what we’ve done to try to be the best,” Eller said. “I view education as much as a business marketing tool than as a training and education tool.”

Also, Moorhead said studies have shown that a company’s bottom-line increases and stock improves in direct correlation to training.

Burgart said Fire Systems Design does hire so-called ‘green help’ and then trains them through manufacturer and in-house training - although it tends to be costly.

Balancing act

Industry experts point to online training as a cost-effective solution for companies that cannot afford the cost or time associated with classroom-based education. According to Eller with the NBFAA, Internet classes are more convenient. It can be completed at a student’s and employer’s convenience and saves time and money from having to take a person out of the field for training. In addition, it passes on additional cost savings from the traveling sometimes associated with classroom training. But there is a trade off with respect to the interaction found in classroom learning.

“It’s a balancing act,” said Eller. “Live training offers the ability to interact. I’ve seen students learn as much during breaks as they did during class. There is a value in sharing war stories.”

But Eller also mentioned that there is a new generation of workers entering the industry who embrace online learning models.

“From what we’re told, if you look at the average technician, they are 20 to 30 years old,” Eller said. “We’re being told by experts that online training will fill a gap geographically, but also be more in tune with the next wave of employees.”

Moorhead said online learning has become “increasingly popular” and reports have shown that it is more effective.

“Data shows us that with online training, retention rate is actually 10 to 30 percent greater,” she said. “That is why truly progressive companies are moving towards online training and the ones that aren’t are getting left behind in the dust.”

Fast track

Online training works in this industry because it is a quick way to get information out in the field. With new products constantly being released, it is important to stay abreast of it all - making up-to-date, timely training imperative.

“We have a lot of technicians, installers and integrators working with these new products,” Moorhead said. “We need a fast-paced way to get this information out there.”

Dave Junio, training manager at Pelco’s Video Institute, said education on new products is necessary due to the intrinsic details involved.

“Products are complicated enough that somebody really needs to be trained on them to install them,” Junio said.

But more than that, Junio said, is the effect on a manufacturer’s reputation if a product is incorrectly installed.

“What we’ve found is if a product is installed badly, the end user sees our name on it and we receive a black eye,” Junio said, “even though there is nothing wrong with the product.”

Moorhead said classroom training and binders are antiquated ways of educating, although they do have a place.

“Online training is never going to eliminate instructor-led training,” Moorhead said.

For Prosser, of General Alarm, online training is something she has been lobbying for. She requires all her technicians to be IQ certified - a certification course offered by the NBFAA that teaches parameters to follow and also instructs on how to reduce false alarm dispatches. Prosser said her local chapter has been unable to organize classes on a regular basis, making it harder for her to make sure her staff is trained to her expectations.

“We’re anxious to have classes online,” Prosser said. “The only other way is to travel to another state and as a small business it’s difficult to bear that expense.”

Certification station

In some localities that expense may become mandatory. Some states are beginning to require certain certifications for alarm technicians. These certifications are secured by taking classes - raising the educational level of the industry indirectly.

“Regulatory agencies are looking at education as a way of keeping standards high,” Eller said. He said it is beneficial to get to this mark as an industry but once there, it can’t stay stagnant.

“If you want to continue being a licensed professional you have to continue to learn,” he said.

Eller said that five years from now he expects there to be double the amount of states that are requiring certifications. Although no industry wants to be over-regulated, it seems as though additional requirements might help increase the knowledge base.

“It takes time and money, but the end result is that it is better for consumers,” he said.

But Bozeman sees the state certification as being an opportunity for states to generate additional revenue. Other organizations, such as SIA, NICET, ASIS and NBFAA all offer their own certifications - but they are not regulated or required in the industry.

“Frankly, it’s getting a bit confusing and the systems integrator out in the field doesn’t know which is going to be more important,” he said.

As for what regulatory licenses are most valuable is anyone’s guess, but Bozeman said it will be determined over time.

“I think the cream will rise to the top,” he said.

Market value

Whether or not certifications will push education is still to be determined, but many think a proactive approach to education will increase the professionalism in the market.

“Without a doubt,” said Prosser of General Alarm, also noting that the industry has yet to accept the full value of such programs. She said she thinks increased marketing will help.

Eller agreed and said that the fast-paced speed of the industry makes it pertinent to learn the basics.

“There are a lot of people getting into (the security industry) for the techie things that do not learn the fundamentals,” he said. “It’s like trying to build a house on quick sand.”

It seems as though the catalyst to move training into the forefront of the industry, may be communication - not just in one sector such as central stations, but throughout all of the industry.

“We need to get stuff out there,” Powter said.

But also realizing the value of training is needed, Junio said.

“I just don’t think everyone has truly realized the benefits they gather from training,” he said. “They look at it as lost time from work instead of improved efficiency.”

Moorhead said that publicity and marketing may help change this viewpoint.“The industry needs to work together much more effectively so we know how to get these people trained,” Moorhead said.
Shelly Binder