Plain Talk: Low Voltage Industry Lacks Standardized Education
November 1, 2006
The low voltage industry is a broad classification that covers several specialized fields, including lighting, fire systems, alarm and burglary systems, access control systems, home automation systems, networking, and audio/ video systems.
Currently, the emphasis on primary training and certification for low voltage as a specialty lies in the electrical industry. The skills and knowledge necessary for proper design, installation and troubleshooting of low voltage systems, however, is more closely related to the electronics and computer fields.
Electricians are considered members of a trade, meaning that being an electrician is conventionally understood to be in possession of a skill set that is documented and independently certified. The electrical industry has the National Electrical Code, which sets a minimum standard that can be superseded by local or state regulations, but not undermined.
The electrical industry has had decades to evolve and progress, occasionally through tragic necessity and lessons learned the hard way. Whenever the loss of property or life was traced to a fault in an electrical system, a great deal of effort and study went into preventing any re-occurrence.
However, low voltage systems are a relatively recent adaptation triggered by the evolution of electronics and computers. As such, low voltage systems have wholly different requirements and considerations in their design and implementation. Low voltage systems also typically have low current flow, being more concerned with the transmission of information and control. This is contrary to the goals of electrical circuit design, where circuit load is of utmost importance. Low voltage systems do not often cause fires, either.
With the critical parameters of high and low voltage systems being so disparate, a need exists for a widely recognized and accepted certification program. The rapid development in the various sub-fields of the low voltage industry suggests a degree program might not offer the flexibility and ease of modification that the apprenticeship system does.
The U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration assists sponsors in the establishment and administration of apprenticeship programs. Sponsors may range from employer associations to joint employer/labor group coalitions.
Once the Department of Labor determines that the apprenticeship program meets the Departmentâ€™s criteria, the apprenticeship program will be registered. Government registration of the program will establish credibility of the program and its participants.
Security industry associations such as NBFAA and ASIS would be logical choices as sponsors of such a program. Security industry manufacturers may also see an advantage to sponsorship, because basic training in communication protocols and other low voltage concepts could reduce the amount of technical support needed.
An apprenticeship program could be used to establish minimum guidelines on installation practices, with regional or state-by-state modifications to reflect local codes and the NEC. Standardizing many of the techniques used in low voltage systems installation can easily achieve greater uniformity and higher quality work. As things stand, installation quality is primarily determined by the supervisor or project manager. Perhaps a UL rating could be attached to the certification, meaning that the technicianâ€™s installation practices meet UL standards.
The security industry suffers from an image deficit, which could be reversed by the establishment of an apprenticeship program. The potential benefits include more consistent installation quality, a larger and more capable labor pool, establishment of industry standards, and recognition as a legitimate industrial trade. Further delay is to no oneâ€™s advantage.