The new year is always a good time to think about the future. In 2020, many of us were strictly focused on keeping our businesses afloat, trying to maintain a stable workforce and following mandated guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
With that ordeal hopefully almost over, have you thought about the changes that the pandemic response caused and how many of those changes will or could remain in place? In terms of market sectors, I believe we will see a drop in new office building construction and a chance for retrofits of existing office buildings, potentially to apartment buildings.
Regardless of whether my prediction is correct, change will stay with us. The new technologies that are arising in all facets of our lives will continue evolving. Putting aside the marketing hype, we must clearly think about and address the technical developments that will affect our profession. We are in a period of market disruption, and fire alarm equipment manufacturers are redefining what we should expect in the fire and life safety field.
We have seen the move toward more building management systems for large buildings, and those systems will continue to embrace the internet of things (IoT). But there is also a move toward more computer-based and IoT-based fire alarm systems. All of this is perceived to be for the good and for the growth of our businesses, but the real question is are you ready, and does your team have the skill sets to deal with the new technology?
A study performed in Europe three years ago stated that “in the coming years, 90% of jobs will require digital skills and competences at a higher than basic level.” We are closer now in time than when that prediction was made, and a brief overview of today’s fire alarm control units reveal technology has already changed to the point of requiring better technical skills than what was needed a short three years ago.
You are left with two choices:
- You can continue as you are, only to be replaced and left behind, or
- You can take the initiative and begin to grow your knowledge and define your future to broaden your competencies.
Obviously, number one is a non-starter. None of us want to be replaced (by the competition) and left behind. The right answer is to grow your knowledge so you can take charge of your future and broaden your competencies.
One way to broaden your competencies is to learn to collaborate more with those who have the specialized background needed to work on the more technical fire alarm control units. However, you may decide that now is the time to have members of your team advance their expertise on the design and installation of the more technically advanced equipment. If you choose this route, then you will need to choose what manufacturer you’ll be using for all your fire alarm system installations. This is no different than standardizing on a power panel manufacturer. You do so to ensure that every team member knows how to install that panel and increase your installation and quality efficiencies.
Your choice of a fire alarm control unit manufacturer will depend in part on your access to training available from that manufacturer and in part on the cost of the equipment. Of course, training is not cheap, so beware of free training. This free training will often only help you to understand the basics of installation of that product, and although not unimportant, it will not prepare you for the other systems and technically advanced products your team will need to know about. A better choice will be to seek out training at a community college and trade associations connected with the fire alarm industry (the Automatic Fire Alarm Association and NECA are groups offering what you need) for courses that will help your technicians become familiar with the applicable technology. You may want to do this type of training concurrently with the manufacturer-offered training. The goal is to cultivate a mindset of continuing education addressing the technological needs of your technicians.
Your goals should include the following as a minimum:
- Identifying and consistently developing the technical skills to successfully function in the changing digital workplace
- Modifying your communication and collaboration skills with a view to developing a synergy enabling your company to produce the best possible solutions for your customers
As technology changes, so must training. As the complexity of the equipment you install changes, so must your communication and collaboration skills.
One final note: If you are busy now and assume you will get the training you need at some later point, you are making the wrong assumption. Start now with a plan and you will grow while your competition struggles with new technology and falters. But in any event, do it now. Are you ready?