Are You Ready for the Tech Apprenticeship Program?

Oct. 27, 2008
This month’s fire expert gives new meaning to trained technicians as many adopt the ways of NBFAA’s apprenticeship programs.

NBFAA President George Gunning, president of USA Alarm Systems Inc. in Monrovia, Calif., was challenged by California law when alarm installers there were faced with a new law, supported by most electrical contractors, that required a “journeyman” to be on any public works job because the taxpayer’s money was being used. California’s alarm industry was faced with a dilemma. After much debate, the NBFAA decided to work with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship (OA) and surprised many contractors in the Golden State when they began work on an apprenticeship program strictly for security and fire alarm installers.

Apprenticeship programs are often associated with trade unions, so before you read any further, this needs to be addressed: There are two types of programs the Department of Labor regulates. For union shops, it is the Joint Apprenticeship Committee (JAC) - sometimes called Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (JATC). Regulation for the alarm industry, which is primarily comprised of non-union merit shops, is handled by a Unilateral Apprenticeship Committee (UAC) – sometimes called a Unilateral Apprenticeship Training Committee (UATC). The merit shop apprentice training program has nothing to do with unionization.

The NBFAA’s merit shop program was subsequently certified by the OA. This certification allows for each state to set up their own board, then develop and register their local/state apprenticeship program. This process also permits any State Apprenticeship Agency/Council to adopt additional state/local requirements into their apprenticeship program. At its core will be the minimum apprenticeship program developed by the NBFAA, which will allow for training uniformity and reciprocity between states.

Because of these efforts, the National Guidelines for Apprenticeship Standards has named our occupation: “Protective Signal Installer (Fire/Life Safety & Electronic Security Installer)” and has assigned our profession a Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) identification number of 49-2098.00.

Alarm companies can now use the 49-2098.00 code to locate national, state, and local wage data. The prevailing wage data used will be specific to our industry, and we will no longer use the electrical contractor’s prevailing wage scale. In fact, the federal occupational network Web site, O*NET, describes this new job classification as one for those that: “Install, program, maintain and repair security and fire alarm wiring and equipment. Ensure that work is in accordance with relevant codes. Exclude "Electricians" (47-2111) who do a broad range of electrical wiring.” When bidding on projects paid for by public taxes, you can now better estimate your cost, and place your best competitive bid.

With our new apprenticeship program and the occupational classification that comes with it, another “prevailing wage” has been established. We no longer have to use the electrician’s classification. In fact, the Construction Specification Institute has moved fire alarm and security system bid/construction specifications out of the electrical section (of the 16 Division Format), and placed it in Division 13, “Special Construction.”

After the recent approval of Louisiana’s alarm apprenticeship program, Ron Petrarca, Chairman of the NBFAA Apprenticeship Committee said: “Everyone in our industry understands the need to expand the labor pool, to attract the very best technicians, and to provide a mechanism to introduce and train on new products, technologies and applications. Our hope is that all of our chapters will follow (these first state’s) example and provide a foundation that will allow technicians to advance in their profession and improve the ability of the industry to recruit, train and retain the very best technicians from a competitive labor pool.”

There is a real need for trained alarm technicians. It’s no secret that the security and fire alarm industry has long suffered from a shortage of qualified installers. O*NET projects a need for an additional 19,000 employees by 2016 and has categorized this growth rate as “faster than average.” The apprenticeship training will be paid for by sharing the cost with other companies also having apprentices in the program. This way all those involved will get top-notch training and education for their technicians.

The primary role of the Office of Apprenticeship is to safeguard the welfare of apprentices. Secondly, the OA works to ensure the quality and equality of access to apprenticeship programs. Finally, the OA provides integrated employment and training information to sponsors and the local employment and training community.

The NBFAA’s role is to provide our association with the approved guidelines and the ‘roadmap’ to success. They will help supply training content to ensure ongoing quality. Ever since the NBFAA was able to obtain approval for their federal apprenticeship program, their goal has been to work through the National Training School (NTS) and the state chapters to create the administrative and delivery systems to make apprenticeship accessible to technicians in every state. The related instructional programs may be presented in a classroom through trade, industrial or correspondence courses (of equivalent value), or other forms of self-study approved by the state’s apprenticeship board.

Individual applicant’s must be at least 16 years old and meet the program's qualifications. Generally, applicants must have the ability, aptitude and education to master the rudiments of the occupation and complete the related instruction required in the program. Other qualification standards may include aptitude tests, interviews, school grades and previous work experience perhaps a background check.
Most programs will offer traditional classroom training through local community colleges and seminars, but the NBFAA’s goal is to also make most of the related theoretical training available online with a comprehensive distance learning program.

To begin meeting the “faster than average” national growth of 19,000 additional alarm technicians (currently at 57,000) by 2016, California has already graduated their first batch of Journeyman Alarm Technicians. Other NBFAA chapters have successfully sponsored new apprentice programs in their own state, while others are just beginning the process. If yours isn’t one of them, please encourage your state leaders to get to work on your state’s merit-shop apprentice program. The future is here at