Security Watch: Electronic Security Association: Future-Ready

When the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association changed its name to the Electronic Security Association (ESA) at the end of 2009, it did so in recognition that the industry was moving beyond burglar and fire alarms.

Video surveillance, access control, home automation, energy management and more have all become increasingly important parts of ESA member companies, and as the industry constantly evolves, so does the association.

ESA has continued to look ahead since changing its name, with 2011 being an especially important year. The association is well under way with its ambitious plan to build the industry of the future, giving member companies the training they need to succeed, developing leaders and improving consumer awareness.

Training the workforce of the future

ESA’s National Training School (NTS) has been educating security integration professionals for more than 25 years and is often referenced as one of the greatest contributions the association has made to the industry.

NTS is recognized as the leading provider of education for the security industry. Its core courses, including Certified Alarm/Security Technician, Level 1, are mandatory for licensing in many states across the country. NTS’s leadership continues today, with development of new courses such as the Residential Fire Alarm (RFA) course and Troubleshooting, Service and Maintenance (TSM). Both are designed to teach students about new emerging opportunities in the marketplace.

Last year, ESA hired Howard Sanders as its new senior vice president of training and certification and promoted Pat Allen its new NTS manager, bringing all these operations in-house. With NTS under the same roof as the rest of ESA, member companies now have access to an even broader level of service.

Goals and accomplishments

In September 2011, ESA received notification from the U.S. Department of Labor that its apprenticeship program would be certified as part of the National Apprenticeship System. Sanders said the program, which is designed to create skilled workforce for the future, prescribes a training curriculum and milestones that apprentices must meet.

“The apprenticeship program also makes us competitive with other industries as we vie for top employees in the 21st century,” said Sanders. “It's for individuals who want to get into the industry or who are interested in pursuing a career with a structured training program.”

Apprentices are teamed with an experienced journey worker in a one-to-one relationship and spend time learning both in the field and in the classroom. Individual companies can use ESA’s apprenticeship program or Chartered Chapters can license the program. To help manage the program, ESA has hired Don Harris as its new national apprenticeship program manager.

Mentoring future leaders

Many industry leaders tend to be owners and operators who have been with their companies for many years, or built, sold and re-started businesses. ESA has worked to groom the industry’s next generation with its Young Security Professionals (YSP) group, and, recently, it added two new professional groups aimed at developing leaders in specific functional fields.

The creation of the Sales and Marketing Professionals (SMP) and Installation and Service Professionals (ISP) groups has brought together staff from a number of member companies, all working to share best practices, improve their performance and learn new trends affecting the industry.

Gerrit Brusse, chair of the SMP group, said they work "to tackle issues such as effective sales and marketing strategy, sales and marketing law, regulation and ethics, sales force and marketing automation, application of IT tools, and sales and marketing staff recruitment and retention."

The biggest issue they’ve addressed is implementing social media and email marketing efforts. They’re learning how to effectively use these tools to dig deeper into their own client base and generate referrals for new clients. It’s an issue that many businesses are facing.

“People are just beginning to scratch the surface,” Brusse said.

The group includes everyone from company VPs to sales and marketing leaders in both national and local firms. "One of the advantages of the group is that we've got members from large companies who are in a dedicated marketing function all the way to a smaller dealer with one person wearing many hats,” said Brusse. "It's designed as a peer-to-peer sharing group.”

The SMP group is planning to survey its members to find the hot-button issues they’re facing in their own companies. "It's a fantastic group for staying on top of market trends," said Brusse.

The YSP group was originally developed to ensure the next generation of security professionals is ready to take over when industry icons retire. Todd Gaito, YSP chair, said that’s still the mission.

"We're about coaching the up-and-comers and turning them into top talent," said Gaito.

While the group has focused on learning about technology over the past few years, the goal now is to improve business and professional skills, such as customer service and sales. “It needs to be more about people than technology, because people make it happen,” said Gaito. YSPs have always talked about a mentoring program, and Gaito hopes to make it happen this year.

Membership in any of the professional groups is open to employees of ESA member companies.

Reaching consumers now and in the future

The playing field in the home security and monitoring industry is expanding, particularly with the entrance of major telecommunications and cable businesses. ESA has created new initiatives that emphasize consumer awareness and education.

For example, the association has built its online presence not only with www.ESAweb.org, which is targeted toward industry professionals and association members, but also with www.Alarm.org, which has been re-worked into a consumer-focused site providing information about electronic security systems, as well as helping consumers find a licensed installation company.

"The website is an easy online resource that lets consumers make informed decisions about safety, security and the new technologies that are right for them," said ESA President Dom D'Ascoli.

Consumers simply need to enter their postal zip code in the search box on the homepage of Alarm.org and they’re taken to a detailed results page that shows nearby ESA member companies, as well as the option to filter the results by customer type (commercial, residential, etc.) and the type of service needed (access control, fire alarm, home automation, etc.).

"They not only get valuable news and information, but also can easily connect with ESA member companies in their area through a geographically-targeted search function. We want consumers to know there is tremendous value in being informed, and in doing business with ESA members. Alarm.org is an effective way to achieve those goals," said D'Ascoli.

Along with the outreach offered by Alarm.org, ESA has also launched a public awareness task force, Secure Lifestyle in Control (SLIC). SLIC is an education campaign that informs dealers about the importance of offering new interactive services, and positions integration companies as the most trusted provider for security and these interactive systems.

While many consumers may turn to a security dealer for the installation of an alarm system, this campaign is working to position dealers as offering more than just alarms. These additional services include home automation, interactive services and energy management.

"We want to make sure that the public understands that electronic security companies are better equipped to provide these services," said SLIC task force Chair Kirk MacDowell. The SLIC task force is developing a program that would highlight work from member companies, as well as promote ESA member companies in mainstream media outlets and online on social networks and blogs.

Building the infrastructure of the future

While ESA is implementing a number of new programming and member initiatives, they’ve also made changes at home, including moving into a brand new location.

Still located in Irving, Texas, the new headquarters takes up about 8,000 square-feet in an airy, modern office complex. It's only five miles from the previous office, but in a more convenient location at the intersection of two major freeways in the heart of the Dallas–Fort Worth metropolitan area, adjacent to DFW International Airport.

The new space is an open environment that easily lends itself to collaboration and internal communication, a big change from the maze of hallways and offices at the previous location. Inside the new building is a dedicated classroom, which will host NTS courses throughout the year and provide a central training room for companies in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The new building also houses the brand new Member Services Center, which works to provide ESA members, prospective members and Chartered Chapters all of the information they need to prosper.

Vice President of Membership & Chapter Relations Amy Kirk said that the Member Service Center will oversee recruitment, member retention, chapter relations, provide support to NTS, and provide high-level information on Security America Risk Retention Group.

The idea for the member service center came after the decision to bring NTS in-house; they knew they would need the support. “It was a result of internal discussions,” said Kirk. “When you look at the big picture of what’s happened in 2011, and what will happen in 2012, we wanted to be prepared.”

The service center, which will have three to four representatives managed by Mike Hampton, will proactively reach out to promote events and contact members about important government relations information. It will also respond quickly to incoming member phone calls and requests.

If anyone has a question about anything ESA-related, this is where they should start, said Kirk. If a customer service rep can’t answer it, they’ll quickly find someone who can. To reach the member service center, call 888-447-1689.

Being future-ready is a top priority for the organization. ESA has positioned itself as the security industry’s go-to entity, providing its members with resources for training, workforce development, consumer awareness, networking and mentoring in preparation for whatever the future holds.

“These are just a few of the programs we’ve developed to help our members understand and respond to future trends. We’re committed to putting the resources in place that will allow us to stay ahead of the curve and keep our industry strong,” said D’Ascoli.

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