Nothing hits the point home better than real-world experience. This is best accomplished with on-the-job experience under direct supervision. Although there is no doubt that hands-on experience trumps what can be accomplished in a lab environment, there are many training facilities around the country that have taken the lab experience to a new level. For example, the NJATC has developed a lab manual that applies real-life fire alarm installation in a controlled environment, which allows electrical workers to apply theory, installation, and troubleshooting concepts in a truly interactive and safe environment that encourages a systematic approach to solving problems.

For instance, a lab may require the installer to simulate a high-rise office building that requires complex programming and integration with other electrical systems. Another may simply require that the fire alarm system closes an HVAC damper. Both examples are real-life installations that provide the electrical worker with practical experience in a controlled environment. Another lab may require the electrical worker to diagnose or troubleshoot a problem that exists with the installation.

Without a doubt, students will make mistakes while going through the lab experience. However, it is better to make those mistakes in a controlled lab environment — where the instructor can point out issues and offer advice on corrective actions — as opposed to making them in a stressful job-site situation. Sure, mistakes in the lab may cause a little frustration, but mistakes on the job could cost the contractor money, delay the project, or possibly create a life safety concern.