As a part of the 21st Century Workforce Initiative, the U.S. Department of Labor differentiates between electrical and electronic contractors, although many times consumers, builders and developers, and state legislators may still confuse the two. To increase understanding of electronic systems contracting, the Consumer Electronics Association, Arlington, Va.; Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association, Indianapolis; National Systems Contractors Association, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Computing Technology Industry Association, Oakbrook, Terrace, Ill.; and Tweeter Home Entertainment, Canton, Mass., recently formed the Electronic Systems Professional Alliance (ESPA). By the end of 2007, the organization will offer a single, voluntary, entry-level education and certification platform, which it hopes will become the universally recognized standard for electronic systems contracting.

ESPA seeks to provide one set of fundamental best practices that are common among all the industry organizations. After achieving ESPA certification, technicians will then have the option to pursue advanced careers through existing specialized programs offered by the independent trade groups.

“Right now, there are a lot of different certification programs,” says Deb Rolfes, managing director, ESPA. “But none that is purely entry-level that crosses the different industries.”

Groups representing electrical contractors that also offer electronic contracting services are encouraged to take part in the program. “We invite everybody to join our ESPA affiliate program,” Rolfes says. “The idea is for those contractors that do work in cross industries, now they can have a baseline where their employees can get trained in the basic fundamental skills.”