Training 101

Byline: Steve Filippini

A few months ago, my boss asked me if I would conduct some training for my coworkers. The training would cover the basic application and operational aspects of a burglar alarm system, and I would have to do it in less than two hours. I quickly agreed and spent the next few days putting my materials together. Why? Because I love conducting training seminars. I used to be a field engineer for a national alarm company, and it was my job to support our local branches (55 at the time) through on-site technical assistance and training sessions. I figured with all that experience under my belt, training a few coworkers would be a snap.


It wasn’t. I overestimated the audience’s ability to grasp basic electronic theories and applications. I was used to field technicians and operational personnel who had pulled their fair share of cable, but this class comprised internal account reps, drafters, and fellow system designers, none of whom had field experience. Because they had no alarm system backgrounds except what they had picked up at their desk, I fell back on my Security 101 skills and started with the basics. I showed the class what a door contact looked like and how it operated. Hold the contact and the magnet together, and they do this. Move them apart, and they do that.

The goal was to not overwhelm the students. Although it was exciting to be passing on some industry-related information to others in my field, I was frustrated because I could cover only a tiny fraction of what they needed to know.


Training is the most often overlooked aspect of the job. Training once consisted of a box of parts and an address. You had to possess the gift of reading the manual (if you even took the time to look at it at all) in front of the customer without letting on that you were seeing it for the first time. You’d look at the paperwork, nod, emit uh-huh’s (as though you were agreeing to something you had just read), and take more than a few bathroom breaks just to get another glimpse at the wiring diagram before flipping the power switch.

My job responsibilities evolved into training others to do what I did, which was service and installation. It wasn’t because I had all the answers – I just had the advantage of seeing how technicians from branches around the country did their jobs. I was lucky enough to draw from their experiences and pass them on.

That in itself was the most difficult part. No one wanted a stranger representing the corporate office to come in and say what he or she was doing wrong. My first two sessions were disasters. I showed up in business attire, armed with a box of useless information primarily used in marketing kickoff meetings. The salespeople loved it, but the field technicians were greatly disappointed. So I decided to dress casually for the next class. I found it was easier to connect to the technicians without putting them on the defensive. However, the material was the true obstacle to overcome. I gathered up all the install manuals and troubleshooting guides I could find and put them in a PowerPoint presentation. My next class was a huge success.

My favorite part of those local training sessions was when I would caution the technicians against doing something against the installation manual, and they would look nervously at each other and their supervisors. That would usually lead me into the next discussion. It’s not that they didn’t know what they were doing; they just felt their way was the cheapest and easiest way to do it. Most of the time, their methods worked, but it wasn’t the best way to do the job. I knew that after I finished the training, many of them continued doing it the same way as before.


After five years of putting it off, I took a National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET) class so I could achieve Level Two certification. NICET doesn’t mess around when it comes to certifying field technicians and fire designers. Certification means you really know the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 72, NFPA 101, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and National Electrical Code (NEC) requirements as they pertain to fire alarm systems. Depending on where you go, you could spend as much as $2,000 to sit in class for three days before taking a 183-question, 41/2-hour test. Although it’s an open-book test, it’s the longest half day you will ever endure. Fewer than 30 percent of those who take the test reach Level Two the first time out. Not to be outdone, NFPA, OSHA, and NEC classes are also available.

Some companies even require their technicians to be NICET Level Two before they are allowed to attend other training sessions that offer high-end fire alarm and building automation systems. Too many people are working on fire alarm systems without a clue as to how to do it correctly.

Although some people learn from a book without field experience, others learn on the job and then turn to books for more instruction. There is no universal standard to how someone should be taught, but there is one way technicians shouldn’t be taught.

When I was 19 years old, I attended a class to get my state alarm agent’s license. The session was held in a run-down building that had a few folding chairs and a chalkboard with a sheet draped over it. The class consisted of a 30-minute review of the alarm industry and a 12-question test. The instructor warned us that we needed a perfect score to get licensed. He then removed the sheet and presented the 12 answers.

As soon as the instructor graded the test, we were fingerprinted and sent on our way. I asked my boss why they needed our prints, and he said that the best person to defeat an alarm system was an alarm technician, and it was the FBI’s way of keeping us honest. What a scam.

Steve Filippini is a senior technician with more than 20 years of experience in the security and installation industry. He can be reached at

Time for School

The following Web sites offer courses that technicians will find handy.

National Fire Protection Association

National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

COPYRIGHT 2004 PRIMEDIA Business Magazines & Media Inc. All rights reserved.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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