What may have started out as a simple competitive edge is now starting to look like a black hole for training time, instruction expense, and various other costs.
Six of your firm’s 20 electricians have a Master Electrician’s license, so an extra certification or two in this or that is no big deal. But after Frank hung his Level II Test Technician certificate on the wall, everybody else wants his own certification in something.
Getting that certification for Frank was essential to landing a new contract. That customer wanted some documented, third-party assurance that your firm would handle the electrical testing project correctly.
This example helps provide the answer to the question posed in the headline, once you’ve done some analysis on the kind of work your company does and the kind it’s seeking.
Let’s look at a certification that is quite popular right now, the Level II Infrared Certification. If your firm is basically “running pipe” (installing electrical infrastructure such as electrical distribution systems) in new facilities, investing in this certification doesn’t make much sense for you. On the other hand, if your firm provides industrial maintenance services (whether on an outsource basis or in-house as a maintenance department), this certification is critical to your core competence.
It’s not a matter of accumulating certifications as if the sheer weight of the list will impress your clientele or improve the capabilities of your workforce. So “how many” is not the question. “In what areas?” is what you need to be asking.
The question posed at the outset doesn’t differentiate between certifications. But that differentiation is the key to obtaining the certifications that will take your business or maintenance department to the next level of performance and profitability.
If a certification is based on competent instruction in the chosen knowledge/skill area, it will fill the many holes that crop up in the “figure it out as you go along” method of “training” that many firms rely upon. This latter method is not structured and does not build upon a solid foundation of understanding. It’s much more costly than proper training, though this cost does not appear as a line item in the budget (and formal training does).
What’s that about competent instruction? As opposed to what? You can find certification offerings in everything from project management to NEC to thermography. Among these offerings, you find clusters of prices across a range. At the higher end of the pricing, there’s also typically more classroom time. At the lower end of the pricing, it seems like you get the best deal because you typically also lower your time investment in classroom time.
But there’s another characteristic that you’ll see if you look more closely. Where the prices cluster at the higher end, those offerings typically are backed by a standards body or industry trade association. In some knowledge areas the names of these firms often appear in industry publications, typically bylining informative articles in that area of expertise.
These are the certification providers who are going to give your technicians and electricians the knowledge that makes the certification more than just a marketing shill document. Don’t fall into the trap of obtaining a cheap certification “for marketing purposes.” This will backfire on you when a poorly trained electrician or technician makes a blunder that a truly qualified person would not make.
To map out an intelligent certification strategy, then, follow these steps:
1. Analyze the work you are doing now. Look for training gaps. One way to spot them is to look at where errors have occurred. Did X take far longer than it should have because of “stumbling in the dark” or trial and error? Where has rework occurred? Where have test results led you astray instead of pinpointing problems?
2. Analyze the work you wish to do. Where are the opportunities in your market (contractor) or where does the plant need to eliminate failures (maintenance)? What tools and test equipment do you need to get there from here, and what training will be needed to use those tools and test equipment competently?
From a business perspective, it makes the most sense to nail down item 1 first. Only after you have all the training and certification to fill holes do you want to go after item 2. Why is this?
If you’re a contracting firm and don’t have the training and certification for the work you’re now doing, you’re not a premium player in that space. You’re not at the top of your game, and your project history no doubt shows this.
Rather than getting just enough training to be mediocre in your existing work and in some new work, you should buckle down in your existing work so that your projects get straight A's on their “report cards.” Only then should you consider diverting resources to something new. Something new always has start-up problems and multiple learning curves, which means a period of less than optimal performance.
If you’re a maintenance operation, then your people probably are already stretched too thin to take on new areas of expertise. Free up some time in the long run by improving the skill sets that apply to the work they are doing now. In the short run, outsource the “what we’d like to do but don’t have the skills yet” work to a firm with qualified (and certified) people to do that work.
Once you’ve mapped out what training and certifications are needed, then look for providers that meet the criteria discussed earlier. As people complete training and obtain certification, assign them work that reinforces what they just learned.