Training: Installers or Technicians?

March 11, 2021
Integrators must embrace a fundamental change in talent acquisition and retention
This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention @SecBusinessMag on Twitter and Security Business magazine on LinkedIn.

Spend a few minutes with most security integrator executives discussing business, and most conversations will inevitably turn to the lack of good technicians. While the industry is full of technology advances, the technology will never install or fix itself.

Security integrator owners, executives, and general managers have always had to juggle quality sales and installations with qualified employees. Finding qualified employees has always been a struggle, however, in the last 5-7 years, the trend has been that those skilled technicians have become more scarce. According to the recent Security Business 2020 State of the Industry report, a whopping 72% of responding integrators cited hiring and retaining qualified employees was their greatest business challenge (other than COVID-19). Access the full State of the Industry report at

The question is, why is this such a challenge? New and evolving career paths, lack of initiative, or the draw of more compensation in a different industry has led to a reduction in the talent pool of security technicians. Due to this issue, many security integrator executives field complaints from dissatisfied customers who struggle to find exceptional value in the integration company. The fallout from this is that the security integrator’s brand suffers. While the employee may not be fully at fault, many customers and executives find the burden is on the employee(s).

As a security integrator executive, the mindset and expectation for potential employees is set up from the beginning – is the employee going to be an installer or a technician? An installer installs a product and walks away. If it fails, they return to replace the product with new product, and this process is repeated until the product works, or they run out of new products. The installer may be a hard worker, gets things done, and the install looks and works great when everything goes according to plan; however, in reality, not many security installations go according to plan.

The technician, on the other hand, brings problem-solving capabilities to the installation or service issue. When the product fails, the technician finds out why the product failed and fixes the underlying cause instead of just replacing the product.

Not every installer is capable or desires to be a security technician. They are satisfied with the status quo. A successful security technician is someone who can be taught, and that shows initiative.

For the security integrator executive, it is possible that qualified security technicians are not always a possibility – due to budget, location, or qualified talent in the local talent pool. These situations create a dilemma: Unqualified technicians who create brand disruption; overworking of a few individuals because they have become rock stars in their position, but not wanting to promote because of the gaping hole that will be left; or finding the lack of drive by employees to be able to promote them.

A Fundamental Change

A wise man once said “we cannot bring them in; we must raise them up” when there was a lack of qualified teachers. This statement holds true in the security industry as well. Many security integrator executives are going to find the applicant who wants to show up late, leave early, and do as little as possible while still getting paid. Not every security integrator is going to be rewarded with a talent pool of qualified applicants or be blessed with a budget to hire a rock star in the security field.

As an example, the 2002 Oakland A’s baseball team did not have the budget to buy talent, so they improvised and in the process, they changed the way professional baseball was played and how teams are constructed. Security integrator executives face a similar struggle – they must embrace a fundamental change in talent acquisition and retention.

In the absence of talent, talent must be raised up. The consummate professional technician may already be employed by the integrator today – simply in raw, underappreciated form and waiting for an invitation to thrive. Failure to raise up talent becomes detrimental to the brand, as employees become frustrated with a lack of promotion. How do we accomplish it?

1. Find an employee’s strengths: Every employer should know an employee’s strengths – which are not skills, rather, they are the underlying personal themes that skills are built and defined on. An employee may not even know what their strength(s) are; however, for most employees, when they are working in their strengths, they will enjoy what they do, be more engaged, and will often work harder with less effort. The investment for an employer is minimal and creates a stronger workforce that complements each other’s strengths. For example, couple an employee’s strategic or analytical mind (a strength) with low-voltage electrical concepts (a skill), it creates an effective technician who enjoys the job.  

2. Experience the inexperienced: Experience does not happen quickly; good experience is cultivated. This is playing the proverbial “long game.” Many vocations offer on-the-job training or trade schooling; however, the security industry has lagged in these types of efforts. While organizations like the Security Industry Association (SIA) and the Electronic Security Association (ESA) offer training, there is currently not a curriculum for certification. While this concept is being discussed for the future, currently security integrators are left with the difficulty of training the inexperienced themselves.

Here are a few options for integrators to attract inexperienced but willing employees:

Career Certificate Programs are short-term training programs that often take less time to complete than a degree. While most think of large corporations offering internal certification, security integrators are getting creative about ways to train future employees. Some are beginning to offer in-house trade school programs, where completion of the program offers the training agency first offer to hire. While this involves a training curriculum, the security integrator can benefit from a trained workforce ready to work on day one with minimal cost. The target employee is the untrained entry-level employee, college student, or graduating high school senior looking for real-world references. This is a service that the security integrator can offer for free, or for a minimal fee.

College Interns bring new ideas and talent. Internships look good for scholarships and can be paid or unpaid. The intern does not have to be in the “electronics” field, and can be an open book to learn. College interns are often overlooked, but can offer rewards. Many internships happen over the summer months when school is out, and security integrators who work in the education vertical will absolutely need additional work during this short period of time. Training the college intern for that short three months may bring them back after college to become a skilled technician.

Young Professionals Industry Groups are a part of many security industry associations. The Young Professionals communities are interested in growing in a career. If the individual has taken a step to join a group, either within a security association or on social media, they are primed for training. When hiring, do not overlook these members as eager minds to mold. While a Young Professional is typically seen as a recent high school or college graduate, this may also include experienced professionals who have made a career change and are interested in the security world. The Young Professional shows initiative and is ready to be mentored – get involved and market positions to this community.

Educate Skilled Employees

Paid training is one of the hardest expenses to justify as a security integrator executive. The old refrain is, “What happens if we train them and they leave?” The response should be: “What happens if we don’t train them and they stay?”

Many security integrators desire cross-trained employees, but time, a trainer and profitability tend to suffer. While many integrators try to teach employees on-the-job skills, this typically falls short of the desired goal – often because there is too much work with too little training time, and projects do not have built-in training time that retains profitability. Instead, training gets relegated to an hour here or there, or on the off day when a natural disaster shuts down a project site, and sending employees home with a lack of pay for the day seems like an insult.

Paid training is a necessity for every security integrator to address. This could be a product manufacturer certification or a national certification course of study. Training adds to the integrator’s certification list, providing additional sales opportunities. Training also makes the employee feel like they have been heard, and gives the employee industry education.

Any training stipulations should be well balanced to ensure the training expenditure has a positive return on investment (ROI), and yet does not adversely reflect the investment causing dissention. Paid training should be spread across the employee base. For every paid training, when possible, at least two employees should be sent – this increases the skill level of the employees as well as providing a higher ROI in the event that an employee departs. Training opportunities should complement the business, not just compliment a single employee.

For many security integrator executives, the choice to offer training comes with a stipulation that if the employee leaves within “x amount of time,” “x amount of the training is owed back.” One caution here is that employees may feel that they cannot leave once they have training. Another option here is to offer incentives instead of payback, such as tuition reimbursement or travel reimbursement upon successful certification; or a step plan for compensation that gives the employee a tangible reason for becoming a better version of themselves.

While the security integrator executive struggles with what training is needed, many employees do not know what training is available. Encouraging employees to find training should be included in the company narrative – beginning with the interview process, with employee benefits, and as part of a yearly review. The employee is investing time, money (potentially), and mental fortitude. The training suggested and selected by the employee should bring a positive ROI to both the integrator and the employee.

Jon Polly is the Chief Solutions Officer for ProTecht Solutions Partners (, a security consulting and Project Management company, and has worked as a Project Manager and System Designer for City-Wide surveillance and Transportation camera projects in Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C.; Charleston, S.C.; and Washington, D.C. He is certified in Critical Chain Project Management (IC3PM) by the International Supply Chain Education Alliance (ISCEA).