The Educators

Following comments on the standards of work and training by our anonymous contributor, and the subsequent feedback from readers, InAVate seeks to tackle the issue head on. Who better to talk to than InfoComm’s Terry Friesenborg, former head of Education and now VP of International Development.

There are some changes going on in InfoComm’s certification programme currently Terry, can you tell us about them?

We’re going for ANSI administered ISO IEC 17024 accreditation for the CTS certificates. We believe this is a very positive step going forward.

It radically changes some things. Some things are internal that no one will ever see and some things are external that people will see very dramatically. Firstly, anybody who holds a CTS certificate needs to understand that it is still valid. But the critical thing I think is to understand the difference in process. We did a DACUM, (designing a curriculum) late last year and it was the first time that we did one of those when the US members were in a minority. We had two British, an Australian, someone from Singapore, some Canadians and we had some guys from the US. This was the first time ever that we have brought together that international a group to take a look at we were doing.

Their charge was to take a look at the general CTS and the CTS-I. And what they did was not to start with the existing tests, but from a blank sheet of paper. Where the existing general CTS was knowledge based, they said that’s fine but we really want to certify that people can do something, the same CTS–I and CTS–D are very much certifying that you can do something.

We need to do that very same thing with general certification, they said we need to think about what that entry level technician does, that technical sales person does, what that customer service person who has contact with the customer over technical issues does. We have set that as the benchmark for what we want to be certifying.

So how is that going to change things in the future?

We have internally completely separated the certification and education committees. Consequently we’ve totally new test questions and an all new way of taking the test. Up until now, the base certification has been taken using computer, and we’ve required that you had someone else from your company to proctor you. But that was really only as good as your word.

We’re now moving to purpose built test facilities, where it’s just you. There’s no fudge factor anymore. We were very careful not to choose just a US vendor, that they had world-wide coverage. They claim to have test centres within 50 miles in the US and 150 miles outside the US. It’s no longer going to be a terrible thing to get to the test centre.

The nice thing about this is that we’re going to do the CTS-I test and the CTS-D in exactly the same way, almost anywhere in the world.

But how can you test hands on skills on a computer in a test centre?

That’s the first thing we all said, and we all said it very loud and long. So we got some psychometricians, who are guys who write tests, to work with us. And over time we became convinced as we looked at other trades, which have heavy, hands-on components and how they did they certification. And you actually can do that by writing the questions not in the way that we might think of it, but in the right way.

Some of the hands-on skills such as rack building are going have to be pre-qualified either by technical school background or by on-the-job sign-off. Then you’re going to do the tests on more of the knowledge based side, but we’re going to ask you questions that are going to show whether or not you have performed these things in the field.

Can you give me an example of the kind of question you mean?

We used to ask the question: “The relationship between the horizontal and vertical dimensions of an image is?” The answer was Aspect Ratio. Now we would ask the question “If a client has a screen that is two metres wide, by a metre and a half high what computer resolution would be appropriate to use on that?” So now you’d have to go away, calculate the aspect ratio, 3:4, and say ok 1024 x 768 is the right resolution. That gives you a good idea about how the test questions have changed, to demonstrate that you know how to do something.

How happy are you with the progress made in Europe?

I’m thrilled the response in membership, that I’m very, very pleased about. I’m thrilled with the response to the show. I’m not happy yet with us delivering the value we need to deliver. Let’s face it, we’re doing better in the UK because we speak more or less the same language.

Whilst there are many people who can use our English product in other countries, as you drill down into the lower level technicians these people need it in their own language. And we have to face up to that, and it’s a matter of bandwidth. We’ve grown a great deal but we’re still relatively small. So the task is to develop a core of volunteer members to help us do that work, because we can’t do this on our own.

We’ve completed the translation and the first delivery of Certification prep, the existing one, in German, to a German speaking audience, with a German instructor. And that was out of the dedication of some very committed volunteers. And I think that’s a terrific example of what I’m pleased about.

How are you addressing convergence in the training programme?

What we thought the most important thing we could do right now was to help our community on the AV side to understand the potential of becoming integrated with the IT side. Most importantly simply to prepare them to go talk to the IT community. That’s the key, because if you don’t speak their language, they’re not listening. And they view us as a threat; ‘you want to put what on my system and do what with it?’ An IT-guy’s best day is one where nothing happens. We want to do extremely weird things over the network, so we better know what we’re talking about when we go talk to him.

We’re premiering the AV/IT course at PLASA this year (September 9-11). We’re going to do some things that show you how networks are built. We’re going to help you understand the language and how to talk to people, help you understand what they’re concerned about when you start running media over their networks. And also to help you understand why, in certain environments this could be a positive thing for you to look at.

Speaking as a former AV business owner why should people be getting their staff certified?

We always found in our business that if you looked up how we lost profitability it was when we screwed up. We believed that training our staff was essential to delivering a quality product, which is going to make sure we have repeat business.

One of the things you often hear from people is ‘well I train them, and they go away’. Well what you really need to get your head around is the cost of a new hire. If you bring a new person on board, it’s probably going to cost you more than the person you already had, because now you’re out in the market place, it’s an emergency and you’re seeking somebody.

Well, you know why you lost the guy you trained? It’s probably because you didn’t reward him. He feels he’s now better, he’s got a certification, ‘I deserve more’. It’s more cost effective just to give him a little more - not as much as the other guy you were going to have to hire. He’s already got some loyalty to you because you trained him, but the common mindset is: ‘I paid for the training, he should be thankful’, well maybe he should, but ultimately he’s got to look out for himself. So the bottom line is if you did this, you got that, so there’s a reward for you at the end. And for me, I know you’re going to be more efficient working, and more loyal to me. I don’t think anyone ever lost anyone just because they got certified, I think you have to look at your working practices and see how certification can be a very positive thing for everyone involved.

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