Buildings and their individual systems—electrical, lighting, mechanical, communication, security, and fire and life safety—are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and the demand to integrate these systems for improved building operation and energy management is growing. Over the years, more electrical contractors have expressed interest in pursuing this avenue of revenue and have added low-voltage installations to their offerings.

Low-voltage electrical contractors need the technical education, training and licensing to install, maintain and service low-voltage projects safely, legally and compliant to code. Manufacturers, organizations, associations and private consultants offer training to help electrical contractors learn about and jump into the low-voltage market.

Manufacturers
What kinds of training programs do manufacturers offer? One is the Fire-Lite Academy hosted by Fire-Lite Alarms by Honeywell, Northford, Conn., which manufactures conventional and addressable fire control panels.

“The 65 sessions held a year by the academy are designed to provide product training around the country with CEU [continuing eduction unit] credits,” said Kim Weaver, national sales manager, electrical distribution.

In addition, eight regional sales managers offer local training, including a basic course for contractors that provides a general overview of the industry and that familiarizes attendees with Fire-Lite products and systems.

“Attendees learn about basic fire safety, industry terminology and acronyms, installation and system programming information, and troubleshooting,” Weaver said.

Fire-Lite’s approach is a critical component of its education program.

“In the fire industry, the electrical contractor usually has to sublet to a specialty contractor. With Fire-Lite training, no subcontractor is required, and the electrical contractor can improve its overall project margin,” Weaver said.

Silent Knight by Honeywell, also based in Northford, specializes in a range of fire systems, including conventional and addressable fire alarm devices and control panels, communicators, software, notification and voice evacuation devices, and power supplies. The company planned 100 Knight School sessions around the country in 2010, hosted at either a company location, a distributor partner site or a National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Center (NJATC) site. One component of the Knight School program is Fire Drill, a free classroom seminar designed for those who have no experience with the fire and life safety industry. It covers information such as the common components of a fire alarm system and how the devices, such as detectors, control panels and notifiers, interface with the monitoring station, various system requirements, and local safety and fire alarm codes. The other component is Tech Ed, which requires some hands-on experience with the product line. The two-day course covers system installation, signaling line circuit (SLC) modules, communication technology, programming and troubleshooting. Even more advanced training is available through the company’s Farenhyt Practical Higher Degree (PHD) program.

“By taking training courses, contractors can stay up-to-date on the latest technologies being used in fire alarm systems, such as the use of IP [Internet Protocol] communication for connecting devices to the central monitoring and control station,” said Susan Adam, marketing director.

System Sensor, St. Charles, Ill., manufactures fire and smoke detection and notification products that are designed to simplify the specification, configuration and installation of fire and life safety systems. The company’s online courses enable self-training and cover a wide range of subjects, including product overviews, installation and maintenance, and legislation. The company’s Fire Protection Technology and Design Seminars are held throughout the United States each year, and presenters are knowledgeable fire system and life safety experts. These seminars focus on fire alarm systems, HVAC/sprinkler systems, code reviews, detection technology, audio/video design and placement, and technologies that can be incorporated into fire protection. System Sensor also offers webinars that provide relevant and timely information and that answer questions from contractors, concerning topics such as products, market trends and legislation.

Another training program comes from Honeywell Security and Communications, Melville, N.Y., which specializes in intrusion technology, alarm communications, video surveillance and access control systems. The company offers dealers technical training that helps them learn how to install Honeywell products and the best ways to apply the technologies to solve unique problems. Online training courses combine visual presentations on the web and conference calling with a live instructor. Another option involves technical managers that visit the customer’s office to train installers. In total, Honeywell’s Discover eLearning training platform has more than 100 sales and technical courses available online.

“Electrical contractors would be best served by partnering with security dealers who need their services and expertise. Through a partnership, contractors can better learn the business and more thoroughly understand the products involved,” said Ralph Maniscalco, marketing communications director.

Home Automation Inc. (HAI), New Orleans, specializes in security, lighting, HVAC, audio/video and entertainment systems, which provide complete home automation. The company offers a robust training program for professional installation dealers and building contractors that is designed to help them succeed in the home automation industry. At the hands-on training facility at HAI’s headquarters, every facet of an installation is covered in the two-day class, from the physical connection to the programming. Additionally, HAI has several distributors and other educational facilities that work with the company to ensure similar training can be held in various locations.

“Electrical contractors already have a good portion of the necessary knowledge to deliver cutting-edge home automation systems. Getting the training they need to physically install and then program the equipment is integral to their success,” said Greg Rhoades, HAI associate director of marketing.

Speco Technologies, headquartered in Amityville, N.Y., provides closed-circuit television (CCTV) video surveillance and audio products for residential and commercial applications. The company has developed several courses that are taught at its headquarters facility and across North America. The more than 25 accredited training classes offer a basic understanding of system video and audio security systems design, and specific topics include system wiring, equipment choice and placement, and basic programming.

“Upon completion, an electrician or technician will have the fundamental tools necessary to design and create a CCTV or commercial sound application,” said Jim Pascale, national sales trainer. A monthly schedule of live webinars also is offered.

“Contractors need training to understand camera types, lens choices, lighting scenarios and their challenges, DVR storage capabilities, and networking to succeed in the low-voltage market,” he said.


Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12), signed by President George W. Bush, requires government agencies to issue smart cards to federal employees and contractors. Since federal mandates tend to have a cascading effect, state and local governments, first responders, and private contractors would have to follow. With the price of smart credentials being comparable to proximity cards today, there is no reason for businesses not to deploy smart cards immediately, even if the only application is physical access control. Electrical and low-voltage contractors can help their customers by proposing multitechnology readers that are able to read both proximity and smart cards. That way, when the customer inevitably switches over to smart cards, they won’t have to tear out all their old readers. Smart card reader systems are another technology that electrical contractors need to know about and get training for, in order to stay on the forefront of its deployment. —D.B.


Associations and organizations
Contractors also can receive training from a number of organizations. For instance, the National Low Voltage Contractors Association (NLVCA), Washington, D.C., promotes safety, code compliance, licensing and professionalism in the low-voltage industry. The association is continually implementing new programs and services to provide licensed low-voltage electrical contractors with a complete portfolio of resources. NLVCA plans to produce both audio talk show segments and videos dedicated to discussing code compliance, installation and service techniques, new product reviews, and other industry-related topics. Beginning in 2010, the NLVCA scholarship program awarded its first donations to underprivileged individuals who plan to pursue a career in the field of low-voltage contracting.

The Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA), Indianapolis, develops high standards of service and conduct for the designers and installers of electronic systems for the home. For more than 20 years, CEDIA has been providing industry professionals with educational opportunities, access to experts, and pathways to various electronic systems careers. -CEDIA University encompasses more than 200 courses in five industry-specific colleges—electronic system technician, project management, customer relations, designer, business—designed to provide credibility and certification. CEDIA certification establishes the contractor as a credible partner in incorporating technology into the home. In addition, CEDIA offers a variety of certification exams in electronic system design for electronic systems technicians and home theater specialists.

The National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA), Cedar Rapids, Iowa, represents the commercial electronics system industry, including systems contractors/integrators, product manufacturers, consultants, sales representatives, architects, specifying engineers and other allied professionals. NSCA University courses are designed for administrators, salespeople, technicians, installers, managers and executives. Specific to contractors, NSCA’s Technician Training Series provides complete training for technicians and installers in the commercial electronics system industry. The combination of instructor-led online teaching and local hands-on instruction teaches the technician or installer how to be more efficient.

Finally, contractors can turn to well-known training partners, such as the NJATC, for advanced programs.

Obviously, being properly training is vitally important to a electrical contractor’s business success. For those looking to maintain or expand their low-voltage options, the providers listed here and others not listed can assist in those endeavors.


BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.