Thanks in part to the diligence of Doug Powell, co-founder and president of National Field Services and National Switchgear, the electrical testing technicians on staff will soon have the opportunity to pursue certification through the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET).

Powell has been working with other industry leaders and volunteers for the past couple years to revise and upgrade the testing for NICET, which was discontinued in 2006 because the tests were deemed antiquated, especially when compared to the current standards set forth by the International Electrical Testing Association (NETA).

NETA restricts certification to only technicians of its member companies. At the time National Switchgear became involved in updating the NICET tests, it was not a NETA-accredited company because it was considered a manufacturer, and Powell was searching for an alternate certification for his technicians. Since that time, the company underwent a reorganization to separate its equipment company (NSG) from its field services testing company (NFS).

“That was what was needed to meet NETA’s bylaws,” Powell said. “We knew we (at NSG) were qualified and had the right people, but it was just too difficult for us to overcome that requirement, so we decided to do what was necessary to get into NETA,” Powell said.

Since National Field Services received NETA accreditation, eight of their field service technicians have sat for the NETA certification exam and passed. But the technicians who work for National Switchgear are not allowed to sit for the NETA exams. When the NICET exam is available, Powell expects the National Switchgear technicians will take it. “We’re looking to NICET to be able to offer that certification to those employees,” said Powell, who will also encourage the NETA-certified technicians to sit for the NICET exam.

“Really, the reason for that is it gives them just one more certification in the industry. It will be another credible source. You’re going to have people that will pass both,” Powell said.

The new NICET certification will resemble the NETA individual certification. They will both have four levels and cover roughly the same content.

The initial two-part NICET exam was developed to parallel the kinds of topics that would be covered in an associate’s degree education. One part covered the electrical testing component, whereas the other included more general components, such as English, drafting, math, and science—somewhat abstract and curriculum-oriented. As a result, the questions weren’t relevant anymore. “By contrast, the new NICET exam will be current, with questions about what technicians have to be able to do in today’s environment,” Powell said.

Overall, the new four-level program will be more focused on job skills. Each of the four levels from entry level to Level IV will be defined by a specific scope. In addition, the practice analysis defines what tasks that technicians need to have experience in at each of the levels, and then that serves as the outline for the tests. There will be no questions on English or math, except as they apply to doing technical reports.

Unlike NETA certification, which a technician cannot take with him if he leaves a NETA-accredited firm to work for a non-affiliated company, NICET certification is mobile and moves with the technician. For that reason, Powell said it would be worth the minor expense of having employees be certified by both organizations.

“You wouldn’t have to provide customers with the records of work experience of your employees to prove to them that your people are qualified to be on the job,” Powell said. “When you’re a small, independent company, they scrutinize you very closely, especially if they haven’t done business with you before. So you have to gather references and provide all your documents, including insurance forms and safety record. … They look at the work history of every one of your people. They really perform their due diligence. So these certifications take a lot of work off the hands of the employer.”

Powell said the Level 1 and Level 2 certifications from NICET should be available this summer. Level 3, which will require technicians have five years field experience, 64 hours of safety training and 400 hours of technical education, is scheduled to roll out in January 2012. Level 4, which will require technicians to have a minimum of 10 years field experience, and an accumulated 100 hours of safety training and 600 hours of technical education, expected to be finalized sometime in 2012 as well.

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