Unqualified Surveillance Techs?

A member emailed me with this observation / question:

"I have noticed a disturbing trend of businesses willing to do without qualified technical help with their surveillance systems to save on salaries. I find this as very flawed thinking. Do you have a thought on the subject?"

It's an interesting topic that I feel is worth discussing and sharing experiences.

My experience - not surprising at all. I think there are a lot of techs who are essentially pulled off the street, with minimal education, training or hard skills.

Some of it is being cheap but I think there's some real challenges:

  • A lot of time (junior) techs are doing grunt work that do not require much skills
  • Many experienced IT people are over-qualified for surveillance work, with skills that do not provide much value in surveillance
  • There's little, if any, training programs for people wanting to get into surveillance

These are just some broad brushes to get the discussion started. What do you think?

Since the lead term was 'qualified', it's tough to answer without qualifying what qualifies as qualified.

I know what most here would think were certain basic skills that might qualify a tech as qualified, but others need actual exam-proven qualifications to annoint someone as being qualified....

To qualify my last statement, the industry has few universally agreed-upon qualification standards or certs. The 'convergence' handbook left out that chapter.

Thank you, Bill Clinton. Can anyone here take a stand on this?

There are some courses one can do to get a tad into the the IP CCTV world.

One can take a CCTV course which, now-a-days, also handles the basics of IP technology. Next to that you can do a basic TCP/IP course which helps you on the way as well.
But in order to be able to create large systems of IP CCTV systems you need to rest on experiance. Those little tricks and traits you require aren't something you can easily school in a course.

If you just pick up any kid who learned some TCP/IP or once held a camera in their hand you're bound to make some large (costly) mistakes. Recruiting experianced specialists will pay itself back easy IMHO

I notice this a lot with the integrators I work with. The funny thing is, there are some integrators that do not even have a test bench at their offices. That to me is even more alarming because I feel equipment should always be tested in a lab setting before being deployed into the field.

I think integrators need to start looking at younger technicians. The level of technical knowledge that fresh college grads have is generally higher than 40-50 year old guys who haven't grown up on the computer like the younger generation has.

Like everybody has been saying, the people who are "qualified" do not want to be surveillance techs and find greener pastures in the IT world. That at least is what I have seen.

I think it's been an industry trend overall.... higher minimally (for less pay) and expect more. Not every company is a Google or Apple who can afford all savants on their staff.

"I think integrators need to start looking at younger technicians. The level of technical knowledge that fresh college grads have is generally higher than 40-50 year old guys who haven't grown up on the computer like the younger generation has."

I'm 40 and while I didn't grow up on a computer like a 20 year old may have, I learned quickly and am more adept than many 20 year olds I've met because I learned the theory and core functionalities behind today's technologies before it started being dumbed down with user interfaces that take out a lot of the thinking. Plus some of our experienced techs, while yes frustratingly stuck in old school sometimes, have experience and insights into things like codes, regulations and how things work in the real world that takes years to build up. But definitely there is room for both types.

One more thing, if you think some security techs are just "pulled off the streets" sometimes, it happens in the IT world, too. I was half an hour on the phone with a level 2 Bellsouth tech trying to work out a problem with a customer's modem before I started realizing I was talking with an inexperienced newb, so I asked him what his technical qualifications were. He said he had setup a game server at his house before.

Luis, I'm sure you're more adept than many 20 year olds. I'm sure you're pay level is higher than that of a security tech as well so you should be far more adept. Its comparing apples to oranges.

I'm saying if you got a 46 year old guy who has installed analog cameras his whole life vs. a 24 year old guy who has strong IT knowledge and went to a technical school of some sort, I'd be inclined to take the 24 year old and pair him with a lead tech to teach him the building codes/regulations.

That's just me.

And I'd agree with that and understand you weren't making a blanket statement. Sorry if it seemed that way. You have to look at all aspects these days. And to add to the good point you brought up, security is a technology getting mroe like the IT world everyday. And in the IT world you can't rest on your laurels and think you've learned enough and you don't have to learn anymore. There are 40 and even 50 year olds I've seen who are willing to learn and have. And there are 20 year olds who think they know it all and won't listen. You have to be willing to move forward or you'll be left behind.

I think that the best solution is in-house training. At least that's what has worked for us.

My technicians have typically come from other departments within the casino and are untrained in this field but have basic mechanical, electronic and/or IT skills. They typically start out learning the basics: cabling and physical camera installation; and work their way up the chain as they learn more. They are taught both by their peers and by me. They are encouraged to learn new skills and participate in continuing training and technical discussions.

I also give each technician an opportunity to create a project of their own design or demonstrate a new skill each year. In the past, projects have ranged from bending conduit to devising a cheap but effective way to back up our data to in-house equipment repairs. I would put my team up against nearly any in our industry.

I dont think you have to be a networking genius to be in this industry but you cant be a doofus either. I think a person who isnt good with computers probably shouldnt be in this industry. But I think the guys who do best in this field are the people who think this stuff is fascinating, then its easy to learn everything, because you want to. I'd rather hire an inexperienced ambitious guy as opposed to an experienced IT guy who is here just to get his hours in. The amibitious guy will make more money for me in the long run.

But as far as putting inexperience people in tech positions right off the bat, thats pretty stupid. You gotta train them first.

Disregarding the annoying wordplay in my first post, this is actually an issue I am exposed to weekly and must deal with on a regular basis. As a technical certification trainer for OnSSI, I have a fresh crew of ~16 techs in every class (and I avg 3 classes/mo).

With a roomful of dudes with varying ranges of technical skill-sets arriving each week, my biggest hurdle is maintaining a pace in class that can be handled by the majority of students - without putting the high-skilled guys to sleep, or overwhelming those that lack fundamental experience.

I see all levels of skill-sets - all the time - but there is one simple fact that can not be ignored: It is generally easier for those with IT skills to learn security 'best paractices' than it is for security guys to learn IT 'best practices'.

Some guys show up with years of experience installing and configuring many different vendors products, but have never seen our stuff: those guys generally do fine.

Some guys show up with no field experience at all, but possess the required attitude/aptitude to learn new stuff: those guys generally do fine. (but they will always lack the 'confidence' that comes only with experience).

As Rogier, Carl, Luis, Sean and Undisclosed have already referenced - it's all about:

1) Hiring the right candidates with the right attitude/aptitude.

2) Continuous training to expand skill-sets

Security technician is both a trade and a technical position - and both skill-sets are required to be considered 'qualified' (imho).

"I have noticed a disturbing trend of businesses willing to do without qualified technical help with their surveillance systems to save on salaries.”

I am not sure that is the main reason or even a reason for a majority of end users. My counterparts at other large corporations, who I have discussed this with extensively, indicate they go without for the same reasons I do. The main reason is there is no need, once a system is up and running, to have a maintenance agreement.

  1. Why pay for a tech that will most likely “troubleshoot” an issue by simply swapping a camera? Most fixed camera issues are a programming or power issue that internal staff can handle. Fixed cameras rarely if ever just out and out fail. I am still using eight or nine year old AXIS cameras.
  2. If it is a network or server issue we have entire departments to help with that.
  3. If it is a VMS issue the manufacturer can answer most questions. If they cannot take care of my issue I can pay for an hour of tech time from an integrator to troubleshoot/fix/answer for a lot less than a yearly service contract.
  4. If a camera is dirty, we clean it or have facilities clean it when they are fixing lights, the roof, AC units, etc.

Again this is for an established fixed camera system. I need as much help as I can get for the initial install, but after that a simple software support agreement covers most everything I would need.

As for the qualified question… Qualified for me means the tech is well versed in the specific camera software/programming, the specific VMS software/programming, general network infrastructure and troubleshooting, but also able to determine the issue without taking the camera away. If the camera is being taken away I want/need the exact same model number to go in its place. That, to me at least, is qualified and would be worth the price of a service agreement.

I come from a manufacturing engineering background. 'Security' wasn't even on my radar during school and several early jobs. However, the same skills valuable to those positions lend themselves to security: troubleshooting, critical thinking, and generally not feeling helpless if faced with a new problem. Specific training or certs can turn a person with those fundamentals into a very valuable asset. For those lacking 'it', certifications and training was just kind of putting a pretty dress on a pig.

Whatever 'that' is called lends itself to being a good tech, and I worked with several techs that had 'it' in spades compared to me. We all know college-degreed (or highly certified) individuals that are utter morons 'in the wild'. They cannot apply what they learn, nor are they bothered by that fact.

In my local market, good techs may work for 6 different security companies in 20 year's time, but they always have a job.

I've seen quite a number of guys who were essentially pulled off the street or from unskilled light construction jobs to become security techs. Is this common in your areas?

@John: Yes, very common in my area. Go through 20 day laborers in temp positions, find 5 you think can cut it, eventually hire 1 direct as an 'apprentice' or junior tech.

This week he's mopping floors, next week it's the cameras.

Well, in fairness, it's pulling wire. Can't touch the cameras for a while.

Well, a lot of these guys have essentially zero technical skills, so the time and effort to get basic competence is significant.

When I was an integrator, I pushed a few of the senior techs to get an A+ certification. It was crazy. They had no real study skills, the material was mostly foreign to them, getting them motivated to study the 50, 100 hours needed was very difficult, etc.

To me, that's the real problem with pulling people off the street. Most of them either do not like, have no experience or no motivation to study so training them on anything conceptually advanced is a huge challenge.

John, what about the 'average skill-set' differences now compared to when you and I were integrators?

Most younger folks have grown up in a 'connected' world, where as in our (especially mine; I've got 10 yrs on you) younger days this wasn't really the case.

Are younger folks better equipped (based solely on this 'connected world' culture) to more easily absorb the funddamentals of security/surveillance? I'm not exactly sure.

But 'bad attitude' will always trump the best training efforts. Just like it trumps pretty much any effort in a team environment.

I do think the average population's tech skills are higher today than last decade. However, ability to use a smartphone, install an app, send a text message, etc. doesn't mean much for surveillance tasks.

A big practical problem is that so many smart, ambitious young people are going straight into software development / computer programming as it's gotten huge (both demand for staff and interest in being an 'entrepreneur').

I think surveillance companies are largely still left with mostly guys off the street who are clueless. At least, though, they can use a computer now, if not configure or troubleshoot one.

"A big practical problem is that so many smart, ambitious young people are going straight into software development / computer programming as it's gotten huge (both demand for staff and interest in being an 'entrepreneur'). "

This brings up a good point. Scarcity and skill demand are geographically dependent. Also, I have to think the 'unskilled' day labor pool is motivated differently on an island than on a continent. The homeless guys living in vans on the beach in Hawaii are 'on permanent vacation' in the minds of guys in Central Oklahoma! :)

ExacQ just keeps pulling in the best and the brightest from Indiana University and Purdue to spearhead their software development. Seems to be a pretty good strategy based on the results. I bring this up based on Brian's comments about skill and scarcity being "geographically dependent."

I notice that Denver, Seattle and obviously silicon valley/ San Fran to be hotbeds for software developers and technical people.

More surveillance companies need to think about headquartering in these geographic areas.

Michael, sure, if you are a $50+ million manufacturer, that's easier. Also, they do software development, so getting software developers is not a stretch.

It's a lot harder for the typical 10, 20, 30, 40 person local/regional integrator.

I once spoke about this with my collegues. We work at a Steel company as the internal technical deparment which help out all the different factories we have sitting here. (Steel mills, blast furnaces etc.)
As the technical department we do both electrical as mechanical work. Here we also notice a distinct difference between mechanical men, and electrical men.

You'd notice that a true electro technician is quite curious as to why something does or doesn't work. Whenever there is a problem in a system which has both aspects in them, mechanical and electrical, you notice how the two approach the problem differently.
Usually the mechanical man comes first and can't seem to find the problem with 'his' system so he calls the electrician to come take a look. The electrician goes and see what's wrong and notices it's all working fine, and that the electrical system isn't the one to blame. He then starts to see where it might be in the mechanical problem. Usually they locate the problem, call the mechanical lads to fix it and it's all done.

Electro technician aren't scared of unkown territories. Let's face it, we come across unkown things all the time. I recon the nature of an electro technician is that they can see how systems work and aren't scared to get their hands dirty.
I found these traits to be rare on the job market. We have quite some trouble getting qualified personel.

On the question, can you rather take an IT lad and teach him security, or get a security lad and teach him how to do IT. I doubt it's either. And IT lad usually doesn't want to get their hands dirty and go for the easy (and ugly, inefficient) route. The older security lads usually can't pick up all the intricacies of the IT world. It will work for small installations, but once they get bigger their lack of knowledge will get them. I think it's as Carl says, you're better off training them from scratch. That's what we do as well. I personally did a telecom education, which taught me both the basics of electro and IT, which ended up being perfect for this line of work, but most only did electro and for some reason don't get anything about IT on their schools (which, in these times, is a tad hard to understand imho).

If you have a company which lacks the IT skills, one can also consider to partner with an IT company to design the networks.

That, Rogier, is where I think abstract thinking comes into play.

An abstract thinker is more likely to see the system as a whole and conceptualize more possibilities. That's why when I interview people for jobs I came up with a questionaire that not only asks specific technical questions but also asks scenario questions where I judge them on their ability to think through a problem, not just "what's 2+2".

I read most of the comments. I am an end user. I would say the problem is not withthe tallent pool being available. I would say that if a guy went to school for IT than yes he does not want to take a job as a security installation / service tech.

What I see as the problem is that the integrators don't send their folks to the training that is available out there. Recently myself and one of my employees attended three days of training put on by AXIS communications. Two day fundamentals and one day of design. The class had twelve people, myself and my employee, four from an integrator, two consultants. four other guys I think two were sales guys and not sure of the other two.

Do you see the problem. Only four from the integrator side of the house.

Another problem I see is trying to get the end user firm to buy into it. I had to convince my boss that the course was worth our attending. I tried to convince my boss last year to spend the mony to bring in trainers from 3VR to put on a VMS class for our staff and he just did not see the value in it.

Whether it is the end user company or the integration firm if you don't train your people and have them do all training by OJT often things will not be set up properly or to the full potential of the equipment you are trying to install.

This is a problem with several contributing facets.

There are companies willing to employ unskilled labor to hang security equipment. These guys become security "technicians" by default. There is nothing inherintly wrong with the idea as long as these new guys are shepherded along by educated, experienced technicians who truly understand the hardware, software and best (worst) practices. Lets be honest; if it weren't for on-job training, many of us and our friends would be where we are in the industry. However, that is not an excuse to run shoddy products, craftsmanship or service into our customers facilities. Somewhere along the line, a qualified professional must be involved to ensure the end user gets a safe and reliable system.

Another problem is where end user companies are willing to give their money to low-end installers or shady integrators. We have all seen it. Why is this? Well...security is not a profit center for any business (except security businesses). Dropping 10, 30, 60 grand on a security or surveillence system is not anything companies like to do. It's simply a matter of money. Anyone who could afford to buy better equipment or pay better people, would do so.

We have a unique set of technicians in my company. They are not only great installers but good with theory, good with networking and good with customers. Why? We grow them that way. We know that the best way to have the "perfect technician" is to turn great people into great technicians. This translates into better installations with fewer service calls, more referrals, and, other technicians from other companys want to work with us.

We started our own online technical academy, and everyone in the company can see and learn the same infomation. Our sales people can use the information to make better walk throughs. They can also list the academy as a feature that puts us above the competition. Its available for the technician from any internet computer or mobile device.

There are businesses that will always go for the lowest cost. We don't compete in that realm and it helps tremendously. When things are close and competition is tough, our deep technical competencies are what get us the jobs. Access control, ip video, analog video and networking allow us to have plenty to offer our potential customers.

I remember when I was a new technician years ago, starting out as a non-experienced CATV tech. If it werent for excellent senior technicians, I would not have stayed in such a great field and advaned to where I am today.