Welcome Aboard: Hiring New Fire Alarm Systems Technicians

Welcome Aboard: Hiring New Fire Alarm Systems Technicians

Say you want to expand your business in fire alarm and other signaling systems, such as mass notification systems (MNS). Laying out and installing these systems requires slightly different talents than those most electrical technicians possess. Where do you start? Do you advertise? What skills should a successful candidate have?

First, decide what capabilities you must have to ensure a successful entry into this market. For example, you may have installed a few fire alarm systems—or even MNSs—and maybe a sound system or two. But, does the potential client base know your company can provide these services? More important, do they know that your company can perform this work efficiently and in a code-compliant manner?

If you can honestly say yes, you have a head start and a good reason to develop more profitable business in these areas.

Next, decide on business goals. Will you measure these based on an increased dollar value of sales or increased sales due to the value your company adds to every project?

For example, say you have developed a reputation for maintaining existing systems installations or for installing entirely new systems. Look at the number of systems installed, and determine how much could be added to your planned growth if one additional crew member was added? Do you have enough trained fire alarm systems journeymen to train and mentor the planned new hires, or do you need to hire existing journeymen and orient them to assimilate the company culture?

Right now, the market for skilled technicians remains very tight. I would suggest taking a somewhat different approach. First, look outside the electrical labor pool. Second, hire for attitude and work ethic, then train for the work the technician will perform.

All new fire alarm, MNS and sound systems depend significantly on computer technology. It makes sense to find new hires with computer skills than to worry about whether they can pull wire. Other industries have technicians with a significant level of computer proficiency. They would be the obvious industries to investigate for technician availability.

Ideally, a potential new hire would come from the fire alarm systems industry where they have specific skills related to fire alarm system applications and system programming. Be cautious when a prospective new hire’s training focuses on a single manufacturer’s equipment. Most of that training will likely prove somewhat useful to you. However, if the equipment on which they are trained differs from the brand you typically use, the training may not translate.

The fact that the prospective new hire understands systems programming is a positive trait when evaluating them for hiring purposes. However, once you know the equipment they’re trained on, you will need to arrange the specialized training and certification on the equipment you use before you can expect the employee to prove fully productive in the field.

If you do wish to expand into the fire alarm systems market, your company will need to provide consistent training that includes a thorough understanding of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. Also, include training for any specific requirements that the authority having jurisdiction may have for the areas you serve.

Technicians who wish to expand their horizons may want to work for big name companies that consistently perform unusual or complicated, large projects in their service areas. When hiring outside of your normal pool, you will need to promote your company as well as the profession of fire alarm systems. Here it makes sense to show enthusiasm for the market and the important role the technician serves in helping to save lives and protect property. What other profession can say that?

In other words, your enthusiasm for the fire alarm business that you want to grow must shine through. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “If we don’t have enough fire alarm work, we will use the new hire as a helper.”

No trained technician wants to work below their level of expertise. Without a significant challenge, technicians will change jobs rather than go to work each day performing tasks that do not require their best efforts. Instead, get them in front of existing and potential new customers to sell your company’s abilities in the fire alarm and MNS arena. Or, use their talents to upsell inspection, testing and maintenance (ITM) contracts. ITM offers a convenient way to ensure recurring revenue and future systems upgrade work. If you truly want to expand your book of business in the fire alarm systems and MNS area, focus efforts on this goal. And, begin by hiring the right employees for the job.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. He is a vice president with Jensen Hughes at the Warwick, R.I., office and can be...

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