Training Tomorrow’s CCTV Designers

There’s been a lot of talk in our industry about how poorly we’re doing in encouraging the next generation of the workforce in the security industry. As an industry, and as employers, we’re faced with the need for increasing technical expertise plus knowledge of the basics of security systems installations like cable pulls. Like it or not, our industry has been in a bit of a crunch for talent.

In California, around the Fresno area, that’s starting to change. Pelco, a manufacturer of technical security and video systems based in Clovis, Calif., has been behind a program that brings vocation training to local high schools. And behind Pelco is the work of one passionate man, Agustin “JR” Correa, a former vocation teacher turned Pelco systems trainer, who is taking his position with one of the leading video surveillance companies and giving back to the community. Correa has helped lead a program Duncan Polytechnical High School that teaches high school students in the essential of video surveillance systems and design. In his own words, it’s been very popular and the students coming out are very excited to get real-world technical knowledge and skills that can land them good jobs.

The program will be seeing its first students graduate this summer, and Pelco is working with other area high schools to expand the program. caught up with JR on Friday afternoon to talk about the industry-building work he’s been doing.

SIW: What was happening that necessitated this type of program to teach video surveillance?

They needed more involvement from business and basically the kids needed more guidance. We were doing a networking curriculum before, and the kids weren’t seeing the advantage of the curriculum and it was getting costly for the schools. With the cameras they’re hands-on, they’re actually being able to touch them and do more with them. And they want to learn a lot more.

Clearly this is needed in our industry? What is the job market like and what is industry facing if it doesn’t get behind this kind of training?

There is a lot of potential for jobs. The integrators need workers. The ADTs, the Simple-Grinnells, the Tycos of the world are looking for people with some kind of experience in the field.

Lack of skilled people has been a biggest problem, and not only in our industry. Just try to get a plumber or an electrician now, and they’re charging about what a doctor would charge. It’s really hard now to get any kind of vocational person because where would you learn plumbing or where would you learn electrical? You’d have to go become an apprentice for somebody and that is where you’d have to learn your skills. We’re not teaching to the children anymore in the schools; we’re in this mentality that everyone is going to college, or that the junior colleges are going to teach these skills. Well, they’re not. Most of these kids will not make it through college, and the dropout rate in the first few weeks of college is really high. What we’re trying to do now is to say here is a career; here is something you can do. Now you can walk into a company and say, “I do know the terminology, and I do know the basics, and I’m trainable.” And that’s what we’re looking to do is make them so that they are trainable. Whereas if you walked in right now and you wanted to be a plumber, you’d have to go find somebody that would let you be an apprentice, and they’d have to take a big chance on you because you wouldn’t know anything about the field or about the industry. Now, they’re coming out and they can say, “I know what a bat box is; I know what AGC is; I know what wide dynamic range is.” If they know the terminology, the employer can look at them and say, yes, this is someone who understands the field.

I’m a field trainer and I travel all over for Pelco, and as I talk to a lot of integrators. They tell me they’re having trouble finding people who are qualified, who can run the wires and terminate the camera and have a look at it. With security growing so quickly, we really don’t have a market where enough kids are showing an interest in this and saying this is a field where I could be employed. Integrators I have talked to have been very supportive of the program. And we’ve spoken with some other companies in the alarm space who would love to see these kids get more alarm panel training so that would make them more marketable in the industry because that way they could maybe learn to do fire alarms also – so that’s something we’re looking at as well. We’re trying to make these kids as well rounded in the industry as we can with fire, alarms and CCTV, and then they might be able to choose where they want to go.

How did this start? Did you take your knowledge of vocational training and take this idea to the schools?

I went to the schools. I used to be a vocational teacher, and I had a friend who was working at Pelco. We were talking one night and a light went off, and I thought this would be something great to bring to these kids – something tangible that they can actually grab a camera and work with it. He was helping me to create that, but then I actually learned of a job opening at Pelco and I came to work here. I started working here and I still had that dream that this would be a great program. So I just went ahead and started creating the program and using things that we already had. I had a great deal of support from the different departments and from the managers. A lot of the managers got behind my vision and they’ve helped it along.

In terms of curriculum, what are the biggest challenges of getting this knowledge out there?

The hardest thing for them to learn is the electrical theory, but they’re also having a challenge with the mass of products out there today. There are so many products out there and they’re trying to figure out what the difference is between two DVRs, or why they should choose this camera over this camera. Because of that, we’re going to revamp our product overview curriculum for next year and what we’re going to do is to get them to see more videos. When you talk to a student and you talk about AGC (automatic gain control), you tell them when the light starts to go down, we’re going to activate AGC to pick up more light. Well, you can tell them that in theory, but until you show them that, they really don’t see it. Now, we’re going to actually take some videos of that and incorporate them into the program. Or we talk about wide dynamic range and backlighting where you open a door and all of sudden there is a lot of white light, and we ask, “What can we do to fix that?” And so we show them that this camera can take of that. We’re trying to give them examples of that.

The schools have a few cameras, we donate some things to them, and they borrow some equipment from us and they actually do the wiring and hook up the cameras. They have a couple of DVRs there and they actually test things out. They also do the design. We give them some floor plans from different buildings. We might design for their school, and we’ll say we’re going to 50 cameras and they need to tell us where the cameras are going to be put in, where they are going to use fixed cameras, and where they are going use PTZs. They’re going to tell us how much it is going to cost, what the labor costs will be – so they actually have to come back with a full plan, basically a bid proposal. They put their heads together as a group and they come back and say, “This is our plan. This is how much in equipment; this is how much in labor, and this is how much for profit.”

How do they take this into the real world?

They’ve been able to come to Pelco and do two interviews per student. We give them a job descriptions that we have here, and they come here and we give them fifteen minutes to sell themselves to the managers. The managers actually give a critique back on how they did in their interview and things that they can work on. And that’s huge, because now when they graduate and go out and do their real interviews, they know how it works.

We also did job-shadowing, where some of the jobs that they “applied” for in the interviews, they actually got. So they got to come in and listen on the phones with the tech support. They went to a tradeshow and were able to see how the video systems are built for the booth at the tradeshow. They were able to go to finance and sales and see actual meetings, so they got to see the business culture.

They’d be really high candidates for a job because they’ve already had training and they’ve received certificates in different areas that we give out. We know that they have experience with Pelco, and we also have a couple integrators who are looking at these kids, because now they know how to install a camera and how to run cabling.

What’s the future look like for this video surveillance vocation training program?

We have four more schools coming on board next year, and we’re just trying to let it grow locally so we can get some of the bumps and bruises out of it. Eventually and hopefully, we could offer this where anyone wants it. And because our industry is worldwide, if we lay down a good foundation, it’s something that could be continued in other places.

Some of these kids might come out of high school and take jobs as technicians, but we might just trigger something in them that they want to go to college and invent the next analytics. They might be the ones to develop the next generation of an IP solution.