Due to its unique makeup, complexity and lack of academic roots or standardization, training has always been and continues to be one of the electronic security industry's greatest challenges. This extends from basic industry education to rudimentary and advanced technical skills to business acumen and leadership. As the roundtable conversation continues, the participants air their concerns, ideas and passion associated with this industry quandary.
How do you assess training within your organization? How do determine the ROI on the training process?
Mike Bradley: Well, let's face it. The economy has changed the faces in the business. We don't have some of the same people we had three years ago. At the same time, those people that are there on the integration side of the business are those people you would never want to lose. So, we have a real challenge in keeping them challenged. We have some retraction. We have fellows out there doing things that they haven't done in a lot of years, and they're not all that happy about doing it, and so training and reinvestment in their education is one of those motivators that I think you can't ignore. At the same time, it has to be as we talked about ROI, there has to be a return on that investment because there are limited resources for everything. We're probably paying closer attention today than we ever did to who we send, what we send them to, and having very specific demands on that training that has immediate impact on the work we're doing. So, there is the opportunity for the global education. I still think there is always a place for generalized training and bringing people along. But we're paying very close attention to specialized network training and product training and orientation with key people that we're investing in because those dollars — we're watching them very closely, so I think it's becoming more of a challenge than it ever was. We depend less on manufacturer training than we used to. You might find this interesting — we're doing more of it ourselves because if we get what we need out of it, and we have trainers that train inside the company, so we're investing in those people. We do a lot of educating. In our new facility, we put a 3,000-square-foot training center that's pretty well equipped so we could facilitate our own training and not depend on sending guys all over the country. So that's reshaped the way we approach education. I think it's been pretty effective for us.
Curtis Nikel: The perfect worker for us just isn't out there. You have to groom them for the security industry. You can hire people with certain talents. You may have someone who is a networking specialist; you may find someone who is a server specialist; you may find someone with enough experience that he is a device mounter. But you have to groom your workforce. Our method of grooming workforce is you first have to hire someone who has some passion to get up everyday and want to do this industry. When you move beyond that, you then have to match that with someone who is experienced and skilled in a company and have them spend time with that person as an apprentice, developing the skills and hopefully the passion continues, but sometimes they jump off the ship at that point. I think one of the fundamental problems in our industry is that there is no training program for a young adult to groom himself. If you're an 18-year-old high school graduate today, how do you choose this as a career path? Where do you go to take a three- or four-year apprenticeship program to develop and become a certified security specialist on the technical side? We're working with the Alberta government to try to develop such a program and find a way to make this a career choice because I think this industry's here to stay. It's changing; it's evolving, but it's here to be part of our ongoing environment we live in. Finding people is difficult.
Phil Aronson: I totally agree with you. We're looking outside the industry because most of the time, people aren't moving. The good people are going to stay with the organization they're committed to and stay where they're at; it's hard to steal those people. Same with us. Our good people, we really want to make them sticky with our company, so now you go out, and if you can get somebody away from them, why is it so easy to get them?
Nikel: Because if we can get them, who's going to get them from us?
Aronson: Exactly! And so you look for those young adults that have some background in something else and are passionate about learning. We look for someone with an AA in electronics, someone who has a background like that. They may not understand the security industry. Another one we found was a mechanical engineer, not an electrical engineer, but a mechanical engineer. They have some expertise that we found. We have three mechanical engineers, and they just catch on so quickly. We're a little bit off track, but the training, one of the needs that we have is we're investing in our people, but also we're making investment in the manufacturers, and we have to make sure the manufacturers know that. So we have to go to market strategies with our manufacturers and say, "We're going to train this many people, and it's going to cost us this much to train. So what are you doing for us?" There's a two-way street just by having access to the product because how are you investing in us? They'll say, "We're letting you pay for training." No, no, no, no. That doesn't work. How many leads are you going to bring us? Are you going to go with us to accounts? We make an investment in our manufacturer partners, but we're expecting an investment back, so that's one of the reasons we do our training to show that we're investing in the manufacturers. The commitment. We make a commitment, but there has to be a two-way commitment, and you can't have that two-way commitment with everybody out there. We have some competitors that don't do any training and they have the same access and support to those manufacturers that we do, and we're going, that's not right. We're making the investment because when we make that investment, your customer support manufacturers, they don't have to support us as much as they would somebody without the training. So there is an advantage to them for us to get trained. That's just a side light in the way we look at ROI and training. The other thing is I think there needs to be more training on different subjects in the security industry. Manufacturer training is one, but project management is another. So is security engineering. There is no security engineering class that's not tied to a manufacturer. I'm just saying that if you're going to design an access control system, there is certain expertise you need and the certain things that are all access controls or all video systems that are the same. Like you were saying, Curtis, to find people in the industry, you want to find passionate people who want to learn. Could you find them? And unless you're doing something like Mike, such as building your own training program, where are you going to train? It's the school of hard-knocks, you know?