Safety Leader

Training to Grow Low-Voltage Technologies: Multiple options to expand systems knowledge

Published On
Aug 4, 2022

Consider a newborn fitted with a tiny ankle band that can alert nurses, trigger security alarms, notify police and shut down entire sections of a hospital if the infant is taken from a secure area. What skills and training are needed to get the related controls and technologies working together to keep the baby safe?

Josh Bone, executive director of Electri International, posed this question to demonstrate the changing role of electrical contractors. Representing an organization that helps professionals better manage their businesses, he offered a perspective inspired by the NECA–BICSI Summit 2022, where he presented “The Future is Now: Technologies Driving New Opportunities.”

“There are more opportunities for steady income as far as systems integration than conventional installation, which is only a one-time occurrence,” he said. “Installing technologies is one of the largest areas of change. Working in the low-voltage world requires a wide array of skills, and it’s about setting up and maintaining interactive systems that will constantly change.”

Those systems include voice, data and video technology, lighting controls, variable-radio-frequency systems, smart home technology, security controls, HVAC controls, variable-frequency drives, fire alarm and sprinkler technology, distributed antennae systems and more.

Expanding opportunities

Equipment manufacturers such as Eaton, Schneider, Panduit and others provide product training and encourage specific certifications for those installing their products.

For wider reach, manufacturers also provide training to distributors so they can educate installers.

“Manufacturers expect distributors to be knowledgeable about how their products work so they can support installers,” said Todd Reed, national manager for Graybar, a low-voltage and communications product distributor headquartered in Clayton, Mo. “For more complex products, manufacturers will train engineers and designers at electrical contractors and select distributors.”

While product-specific training may always be necessary, too much of it can present redundancies and lost time.

“We’re seeing it may be better to look to universal considerations like identifying a VPN number and knowing how Bluetooth and Wi-Fi work,” Bone said. “It’s better to teach people what to look for to make systems work together and to know what questions to ask.”

Other available programs

BICSI is recognized as the standard of professional information, communication and technology industry-related certifications. The cross-pollination between BICSI and NECA in recent years affirms Bone’s vision for ECs’ future work.

Bone anticipates that more BICSI-certified technicians will be needed for low-voltage work as time marches on.

Along those lines, apprenticeship training programs in Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin are already authorized BICSI training providers.

Reed also sees progress with manufacturers providing support and resources for technician training labs.

Malko Communication Services LLC, Skokie, Ill., specializes in installing audiovisual, DAS, security and low-­voltage systems. Many of the technicians Malko uses were trained at the IBEW-NECA Technical Institute in Alsip, Ill., which is an authorized BICSI training provider.

“At the core, the foundational understanding comes from the apprenticeship schools,” said Thomas Pedergnana, vice president at Malko. “Once technicians are out of the classroom, there is still a lot of on-the-job training, which involves learning from co-workers.”

Malko tracks the skills, proficiency and certifications of technicians, electrical apprentices and journeymen.

“We’ll cross-reference who’s on a job and track who has training and who needs training, say for cable termination methods or other product training. We want as many people cross-trained as possible,” he said.

This is for a good reason.

“I think the push to product training is becoming pervasive with every product line,” Pedergnana said. “Manufacturers want to make sure contractors have workforces trained to certification levels. It’s becoming more prevalent, not just a nice-to-have. It’s one thing to terminate a cable, but another to splice it to meet the specifications of a particular product.”

Pedergnana believes the only way to remain relevant when it comes to handling low-voltage work is through constant training.

“When it comes to competing for business, certification and training push us over the edge,” he said. “That goes a long way for customers having confidence in you as a contractor.”

About the Author
Susan DeGrane

Susan DeGrane

Susan DeGrane is a Chicago-based freelance writer. She has covered electrical contracting, renewable energy, senior living and other industries with articles published in the Chicago Tribune, New York Times and trade publications. Reach her at sdegra...

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.