Electrical contractors can evolve into structured wiring installers with the proper tools and training.
Many associations, from BICSI to CEDIA, offer courses to prime installers on the basics of low-voltage wiring and home networking. Contractors can also become certified through companies' training programs, such the one offered by FulTech Solutions Inc., which graduates “electronic architects.”
Jacksonville, Fla.-based FulTech Solutions Inc., a home automation design and installation firm, launched a dealer and licensing division called the College of Smart in 1997. The program incorporates intensive training classes for installers both in the classroom and on the site of a “smart home.” Installers can earn a Bachelor of Smart or a Doctorate of Smart in home automation and be recognized as a FulTech Solutions Provider.
“It's designed specifically to get guys off the ground and save a few years of headaches while they're getting started,” said Daniel Fulmer II, FulTech's founder and president.
The course is designed to prepare contractors and installers to run a home automation business. After completing the program, graduates will know how to design and install structured cabling systems, including rough-in, trim-out, punch-down and wire/cable testing.
Up to eight students can enroll in the course, which is designed in three week-long phases, including structured cabling, trim out and punch-down and systems integration. Installers also have the option of enrolling in the fourth phase: audio and video. Unlike other programs, the training is not condensed into a few days. Instead, it can be spread out over a year so the students have the opportunity to soak in the material and practice what they have learned.
“We went to classes where they would cram a year's worth of classes in three days,” Fulmer said. “You'd go home and only remember what was talked about in the first day. This way, you can take the first class and use some of the things you have learned on your next project.”
Students not only attend training sessions in the classroom, but also visit some of FulTech's current projects. Since the company started in 1995, it has installed integrated subsystems in a variety of Florida homes.
“We have them do some runs and also watch the professionals,” he said.
As a company that still operates as a structured wiring installer, FulTech can give its students the inside scoop on the products and trends in the industry, Fulmer said.
“Our company is based on real-world experience of growing a business, doing structured cabling and working with the ins and outs of the industry,” he said.
Because of the booming home automation market, Fulmer said some of his students have customers lined up when they graduate.
“They get leads and by the time they get done, they already have clients,” Fulmer said.
Q&A WITH DAN FULMER
Dan Fulmer founded Jacksonville, Fla.-based FulTech Solutions Inc. in 1995 and the dealer licensing and training division, College of Smart, in 1997. Fultech dealers are now located in Philadelphia, Pa.; Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C.; and Miami, Fla.
Fulmer, the president of FulTech, earned his bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Central Florida and has served as the vice president of operations for a Jacksonville/Miami-based Florida state-licensed general and roofing contractor.
Q: Why did you start a company to train installers?
A: Finding training has been an ongoing problem. When we started, we couldn't find a training firm that could do it all, so we started our own. Now some of the national electrical cable training facilities, who do mostly commercial training, are saying, “This is a smart idea” and, “This is what needed to happen.”
Q: What has been the interest level of electricians in home networking?
A: Four or five years ago, we talked about the fact that electricians should have jumped all over this and they just didn't. We think they missed the boat because of lack of interest and lack of knowledge. They could have taken the whole market themselves. We thought at first that we would be competing against them, but not one of them has ever done it.
Q: Why do you think electricians didn't pursue the market in the past?
A: Electricians had a great market because they were already in there running wire. They were on the same phase and timeline on the house, but most of them didn't have the necessary training and background. They are used to a different type of wiring that is more heavy-duty and can be pulled harder. We work with more precision.
Q: What about now? Are more electricians entering the marketplace?
A: Maybe now they are going to see the light. I think things are going to change very quickly. Just in the last six to 12 months, the whole attitude toward the industry has changed from the public's, electricians' and builders' point of view.
Q: Would you consider training electricians to become structured wiring installers?
A: Yes. We're looking for people who have some aptitude with electrical or electronics in their background. The program is not open to everyone — applicants must have a solid background and experience to qualify.
Q: How do you apply for the program?
A: They need to fill out a 15-page application, which asks about their education, business experience, personal and business credit information and personal and business references. They also have to write essays on why they want to get into the business.
Q: Describe your training program for installers.
A: We offer them the most comprehensive training in the industry, with a class that covers all the aspects of home automation. It's not a quick weekender. They have to complete three one-week modules and have up to a year to finish them. We do some training in the classroom and some out in the field by taking them to houses with structured wiring. Since we are an installer, we can offer them useful tips and techniques like wearing medical booties when they are doing trimouts to keep everything clean inside the house.
Q: What do installers get once they have graduated from the program?
A: We give them the license to use our Universal Cabling System, which allows them to upgrade with any system and even mix or match products and/or parts. They also get dealer listings in industry publications, memberships in industry organizations and a long list of resellable services to sell their clients. We also provide them with the necessary tools.
Contractors can call Fulmer at (877) 739-4121, e-mail him at email@example.com or visit www.collegeofsmart.com to request an application or find out more information about FulTech's College of Smart training program.
ADDITIONAL ONLINE RESOURCES FOR TRAINING
Contractors can jump on the Web to learn about training programs for installers. Here are a few sites to get you started. If you know of other structured wiring educational opportunities for contractors, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
BICSI has internationally recognized training for voice, data and video distribution design and installation. Training is provided by BICSI master instructors or by BICSI-certified instructors at BICSI licensed training centers. BICSI also offers distance learning opportunities, such as the “Introduction to Commercial Voice/Data/Video Cabling Systems” package, which includes a training video and workbook, as well as the Web-based training course, “The Residential Telecommunications Cabling Standards — Understanding ANSI/TIA/EIA-570-A.”
The Consortium for Electronic Systems Technician Training
The Consortium for Electronic Systems Technician Training formed in February 1998 to find solutions to the labor shortage. The electronic systems contracting companies then partnered with the National Center for Construction Education and Research to offer education and training for installers. The consortium now offers a comprehensive training package for installers called “Structured Wiring.”
Home Automation and Networking Association (HANA)
The Home Automation and Networking Association (HANA) provides “Boot Camp” training sessions at its Electronic House Expo as well as a training recognition program.
The Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association (CEDIA) offers professional certification for installers. CEDIA currently offers an Installer Level 1 exam, which is designed for an installer with about six months of experience. The exam covers wiring a dwelling, prepping wire/cable, identifying and installing connectors, installing and mounting devices and components and verifying operations. After passing the exam, the Level 1 installer will be certified to work under supervision to install wiring, cable, components and devices for low-voltage electronics in residential applications.