Mission critical training: Are you certified or qualified?

Posted by on Sep 4, 2014 in Training | 1 comment

How do you certify or qualify someone to work in your data center? Do you administer classes, give them a written examination, question them in front of a panel of experts, or review their experience and call it good?

I see it on resumes and applications, “qualified data center technician” or “certified data center technician or engineer.”  And when I see that, I always ask, “How did you get qualified? Who certified you?”

A combination of experience over the years and a certificate given by the employer (who in reality doesn’t have an accredited program) is usually offered as the answer. I see a definite need for legitimate certification and qualification processes; but before I go further, let me explain how I use the terms “certification” and “qualification.”

  • Certification: A process through which a person’s level of knowledge and skill at a certain level has been validated through accepted, repeatable examination and testing.
  • Qualification: A process through which a person demonstrates repeatable success in the operation and response to a facility’s equipment and systems.

Justifying an industry-wide effort

Our industry could benefit from a two-part process that successful programs in the aviation and nuclear power industries use to ensure people are competent to work in their mission critical environments:

  • The first part is a recognized certification that ensures individuals meet a certain minimum level of knowledge, skill, and experience.
  • The second is the qualification to actually operate the facility to which they are assigned.

I am very supportive of data center industry leaders coming together to define the specific knowledge and skills that should constitute the minimum certification level for facilities technicians. In fact, the International Society of Automation is doing exactly that with its new Certified Mission-Critical Professional certification program (CMCP); but, as yet, they are still in the development stages. According to Tina Ward, certification administrator for the program, the ISA has completed a job task analysis (JTA) and is presently conducting a survey about the JTA which will be compiled to produce a final Job Task Analysis Study with a “full classification system and test specifications” in December 2014. This will help form the basis of a certification exam based on the JTA survey results as early as July 2015. The first full year of the program could be offered in 2017, according to Dalton Wilson, ISA’s manager of Education Services.

I don’t think there is consensus among the major players in the industry as to what that minimum level is today, and that may be due to the fact that we still need to recognize the value of a certification program in order to support it. (Basically, what is the return on the investment or ROI?) Here is why I support the initiative of the ISA: Speaking as a hiring manager, it would help if candidates could present a certificate that shows they start with some recognized level of understanding and skill that is applicable to my employment opportunities. If you hire many facilities people in critical environments, you would see an immediate ROI by virtue of the fact that they are pre-screened. Your hiring programs could then be tailored to accept people with a known minimum level of knowledge and skills, enabling you to focus your training resources on whatever qualifications are necessary at your specific site.

In some ways, this is an appeal for the industry to participate in and accept criteria for certifications and the accreditation process for certification programs from either public or private institutions.

The payoff of well-trained personnel

If you can’t tell by now from my other blogs/articles/book, I am a big proponent of mission critical training. It is unfortunate that most companies can only practice the toss-them-in-the-deep-end method of training; that is, they review your experience and determine that you have been successful in the past and figure you’ll be successful in the future. Instead of investing in a comprehensive program of training, they introduce a new employee to the crew and hand them off to the facilities manager or chief, hoping for the best. The facilities manager or chief assigns them to one of the other experienced people and that’s it. “Just do what Bob tells you or does and you will be fine. Follow the procedures; you’ll get the hang of it.”

Miraculously, for the most part, the new person does get it, picking up the required information and skills. But just like in the game of telephone where one person tells a story to another and the story morphs into something completely different, the vital or correct method and knowledge is inevitably lost. The new person becomes the experienced person, and the process begins again. I’m not sure about you, but this is not how I want my training program to work.

I’m glad the ISA is working to define the set of tasks that a certified technician must competently perform. For most facilities technician positions, this amounts to 50 to 100 tasks, depending on the size of the facility and installed equipment/systems. From my experience in the nuclear power industry, qualifying – or proving repeatable success – on that many tasks requires about six months to a year. As you can imagine, this type of training is not cheap. It requires analysis, development, and time – both from the incumbent experts to do the training and to examine/test the individual to determine qualification.

If your operations truly are mission critical, this time and effort will be a profitable investment.  The ROI is a well-trained, engaged, and respected operations staff. The payoff comes in the form of reduced human-caused incidents, a depth of understanding that can foster innovation and an esprit de corps found in only a few organizations.

So the next time someone asks about certification or qualification, you know what it really takes to obtain either of those two distinctions. Do you support certification guidelines? What should certification cover?

(This subject is near and dear to me, so I am always pleased to engage and discuss. Offer your thoughts in the comments or contact me personally if you like.)

One Comment

  1. The National Consortium for Mission Critical Operations (NCMCO) is the name of a new project being funded by a U.S. Department of Labor grant. The NCMCO will develop a 2 year AAS Degree to address demand for a mission-critical workforce. We are also working to develop 2 certifications, a fundamental certification, Certified Mission Critical Operator (CMCO) with CompTIA (of A+ and Net+ fame) and with our partners at ISA to develop the CMCP mentioned here. Many thanks to dedicated professionals like Terry who are helping to develop this credential.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *