Certification and Training: Not as Simple as Black-and White

Feb. 11, 2015
Getting your technicians trained can be a delicate balancing act of time, money and resources

You would think a topic like vendor certification, along with other security-related training and education would be pretty cut-and-dry in the security industry. If you sell and/or install a product from Company X, then someone needs to be certified; or if your customer asks for a product from Company Y, then someone needs to go get trained on that product.

A little bit of research later, you learn that for security dealers and integrators, the training certification question isn’t nearly as black-and-white. Sure, in the scenarios above, someone is going to have to undergo the necessary training or certification process; but then it becomes a matter of who —and even more importantly, when. For many smaller businesses, the prospect of losing your best tech for half a week or more while they travel on the company budget to a training program that costs a significant amount of money is something of a doomsday scenario.

And don’t forget the fact that many techs and installers — just like any other people — learn in different ways and at different rates. Plus, the scenario of a qualified tech retiring and leaving their company without a certification is a very real possibility.

So, when a customer asks their integrator to install a system from Company Z because they saw a cool demo on the ASIS show floor, if an integrator doesn’t have anyone on staff qualified to install it, that integration company has a tough decision to make; and sometimes, the hard decision is telling the customer to find another partner.

In the end, security dealers and integrators are tasked with developing a healthy balance between providing service and training its people —and the most successful are the ones who are able to “walk the line” with a proven and tested strategy.

Why Certification Matters

Quite simply, getting certified on a particular vendor’s products can create a competitive advantage for an integrator. After all, if your firm is certified on a particular company’s product line and your competition is not, it stands to reason that you will have the first shot at landing the contract.

“In such a fast-paced and growing industry, integrators must look for ways to stay ahead of the competition and stand out to their customers,” confirms Fredrik Nilsson of Axis Communications. “Having certified staff shows that the integrator not only has a certain set of knowledge and skills, but also that training their staff and keeping up to date on the latest technology is a priority. This is key for developing long-term relationships with end-users, who will evaluate different integrators and options.”

“We’re moving away from an era where the main aspect was ‘how much do you charge’ to an era where price isn’t as important as competence,” adds Jim Coleman, president of Operational Security Systems (OSS), an Atlanta-based integrator.  

Still, obtaining certification isn’t always as simple as taking an online course in your spare time. Generally, a firm will need to send selected techs on the road to take part in training — whether that’s to a vendor’s facilities; to meet up with a vendor road show; or even to an industry education event like PSA-TEC, where certain vendor certification courses are offered. Of course, that means taking the tech away from day-to-day duties, and it means paying for travel, room and board, etc.

Not all certification programs are created equal. Some vendors charge a fee to become certified, while others don’t. Some vendors take their certification on the road to meet with clients; many do not. Some vendors provide their own experts; others outsource the teaching duties to a third party (of course, a firm also looking to make a profit) — such as with the eminently popular Cisco certification for the IT industry.

In fact, as with many of the technology and service trends in the security industry, it may pay for vendors and service providers to take a cue from the IT industry, which has been and continues to offer qualified certification to many times more people than does our industry.

One of the cornerstones of IT certification and training is “distance learning” — i.e. online courses. “There are some security companies that are offering online training,” Coleman says, “but the IT industry has really done a great job with that.”

Moreover, IT also offers techs the opportunity to pass an online test to avoid having to take a training course. Of course this would apply to an integrator’s most experienced and trained personnel.

Intangible Benefits

Beyond the obvious benefits outlined above, vendor certification — and in fact, all training-related educational opportunities offered in the security industry — include several intangible benefits that can position a firm in a good place both now and in the future.

First, as mentioned earlier, providing highly trained and certified technicians adds legitimacy to your company — your customers can see that fielding a team of the best possible techs and staying on top of technology trends and changes is a high priority.

“The security industry is constantly evolving through the introduction of new technologies, protocols and standards,” explains Hank Monaco, VP of Marketing for Tyco Integrated Security. “We work closely with manufacturers and industry associations to ensure our team receives the best training with the latest solutions and security strategies on an ongoing basis.”

For Tyco IS, these initiatives include offering hands-on practice for installing and servicing security solutions for technicians; providing online education tools for a variety of specific security topics and technologies; as well as conducting frequent assessments to ensure that training is fully understood and retained.

While many smaller firms cannot devote resources to testing techs internally, a good way to keep them sharp is by handing that knowledge down through your team. An integrator may send their most qualified tech to become certified on a certain product line, then that tech comes back and teaches others what was learned; then the next year, a different person takes the course and easily gets certified.  

Additionally, sending your team out to get trained and certified —or just for other work-related education — creates a culture within the company that employees are valuable and that they can spend an entire career with a single organization.  

“Certification is equally important for the employees themselves, especially since many certifications are awarded on an individual basis,” Nilsson says. “Not only does certification validate an individual’s knowledge, but it can also increase their value to the company and help differentiate them for that next job or promotion.”

Paul Rothman is Editor-in-Chief of Security Dealer & integrator (SD&I) magazine (www.secdealer.com).

Upcoming: SIA Education at ISC West

An inside look at the opportunities at the April 14-17 show in Vegas

SIA Education@ISC West is delivering 60 sessions of security industry education for everyone; however, the program includes a great deal of courses of specific interest to integrators in the areas of business development and technology.

Integrators can explore business development concerns on Three Strategies to Combat Attrition and Why It Matters, The Seven Deadly Sins of Alarm Contracts: Common Errors and How to Correct Them, and How To Design, Package and Sell Service Agreements, among others.

Integrators also can attend tech sessions like Evaluating New Technologies and Growth Opportunities in the Access Control, Video Surveillance and Smart Home Industries; Welcome to Social Spaces: The Era of Social Access Management; and Adopting Mobile Credentials into Your Access Control Infrastructure, as well as other critical topics.

The Security Industry Association (SIA) also teams up with the PSA Security Network to present specialized study including To Have or To Hire: The Advancement of IT Skills in the Physical Security Space, Get Off My Cloud! Best Practices in Securing the Cloud, and more.

Look for your integrator sessions in Rooms 302 and 304 at the Sands Convention Center from Tuesday, April 14 to Thursday, April 16. For more information and to register, visit http://www.iscwest.com/education.

In addition, the SIA Security Project Management Training Seminar gives security project managers the tools to execute projects efficiently and mitigate their risks for your clients and company. Learn more about this 2.5-day course (held April 13-15) at www.securityindustry.org/Pages/Education/Security-Project-Management-Training-Seminar.aspx.

About the Author

Paul Rothman | Editor-in-Chief/Security Business

Paul Rothman is Editor-in-Chief of Security Business magazine. Email him your comments and questions at [email protected]. Access the current issue, full archives and apply for a free subscription at www.securitybusinessmag.com.