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CEDIA and NSCA Respond to Certification Criticism

Online commentary by InfoComms executive director concerning EST legislation has sparked controversy among three of the AV industrys largest organizations.

Indianapolis, IN–CEDIA and NSCA leaders fired back last week after their certification program was harshly criticized in an online article by InfoComm’s executive director, Randal A. Lemke. Both organizations denied accusations that they were trying to mandate their certification programs in certain U.S. states, saying that they were merely defending themselves against other potentially harmful legislation.

CEDIA and NSCA (the National Systems Contractors Association) defended their Electronics Systems Technician (EST) licensing programs after Lemke posted a critical essay on the InfoComm website about EST and the associations’ state lobbying work. In the essay, Lemke argued that CEDIA and NSCA were harming the credibility of the entire industry by hiring lobbyist in several states to push their low-voltage installation certification agenda. Lemke called on CEDIA and NSCA to abandon their “ill-conceived legislative strategy before they cause the industry to lose further credibility in state capitols.”

In response, CEDIA and NSCA defended their programs, saying that their “proactive introduction of legislation” was merely in response to years of defensive work against statewide electrical licensing and contracting proposals that would have required electronic systems contractors and technicians to complete electrician apprenticeship programs to work in certain states.

Lemke argued that, essentially, EST had been rejected by the industry, and that by continuing to market it would indirectly discredit InfoComm’s own Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) program. According to Lemke, 5,600 people have earned InfoComm’s (CTS) designation, with about 400 achieving the advanced certification for design and installation. Recently, the association also announced that it is seeking ANSI-ISO certification to further validate CTS.

In Lemke’s essay, he claimed that his association’s program has been far more successful than EST. “CEDIA and NSCA continue to lobby states to mandate the Electronics Systems Technician certification even though there are less than 150 holders of the C-EST.”

CEDIA’s executive director Don Gilpin and Board president Ken Smith responded to this criticism in their own written statement, saying, “The U.S. Department of Labor has recognized Electronic Systems Technicians as a separate and distinct profession as part of the 21st Century Workforce Initiative. The designation has its own separate occupational title and code. The federal designation has value to CEDIA’s legislative efforts as we continue to fight restrictive legislative proposals at the state level that do not recognize our profession and its unique training requirements.”

Chuck Wilson, executive director for NSCA, added his own rebuttal in a separate written statement. “It has been said NSCA is engaged in an effort to ‘lobby states to mandate the Electronics Systems Technician (EST) certification.’ This is inaccurate. NSCA supports the federally recognized occupation of Electronic Systems Technician and believe[s] this occupation is central to our growth plan for the industry, just as the electrician is central to the electrical industry. NSCA will continue to support this occupation as will other prominent not-for-profit trade associations across the industry.”

Lemke had implied that CEDIA and NSCA had attempted to “mandate” their certification programs in Nebraska and New Hampshire, even though “there was no clarion cry from anyone in any industry in the state calling for this license.”

Lemke added, “One must ask why this legislation was introduced in Nebraska when not one company based in the state has chosen to invest in the EST training program and other certification programs from other associations are ably serving the needs of their own industries. Sadly, it seems that NSCA and CEDIA are trying to salvage a certification program, produced at considerable expense, which the industry has rejected…In New Hampshire last March the two associations tried to mandate the EST in a similar manner and were soundly rejected.”

In CEDIA’s statement Gilpin and Smith countered that the intent with any legislative effort is to have CEDIA certification recognized at the state level as one of the industry certifications that could be accepted, not the only one. “It was never intended to be the only certification and we welcome other industry certifications,” CEDIA said. “Mr. Lemke continually asserts that CEDIA tries to mandate the EST Certification within our legislative language. The word ‘mandate’ cannot be found in any document nor has it been used by any CEDIA professional during testimony. Our position maintains an open door of communication and a partnership with different associations in the electronics industry.”

NSCA explained that its legislative goals go well beyond Nebraska and New Hampshire, and are simply done to protect the interests of its members and their businesses. “Every year, NSCA works in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, California, New York, Iowa, and numerous other states to fight similar legislation or regulation,” NSCA’s Wilson said. “State capitols do not understand what our members do and often equate us to electricians. Our efforts at voluntary certifications and legislative study bills help legislators understand what we do. Voluntary certifications and legislative study bills would be feeble attempts to force one specific certification upon anyone.”

CEDIA’s legislative efforts also have gone much further than the issues addressed by Lemke, according to Gilpin and Smith. “Some of the states CEDIA has been actively involved with during the 2006 legislative session include: Illinois (SB 1434), Iowa (HB 2741), Massachusetts (SB1813), Missouri (SB1243), New Jersey (SB 4891), New York (SB 4891), and Pennsylvania (HB 623). These are specific examples where CEDIA has spent its own funds to either defeat or remove harmful legislation. If enacted, these very bills would have negatively impacted the workforce represented by many different electronics organizations, including InfoComm.”

The associations disagree on their philosophies toward government intervention. While CEDIA and NSCA take a proactive approach through licensing programs, InfoComm believes that testing the skills of its own members, internally, is sufficient.

“InfoComm is not categorically opposed to licensure, though we are generally of the opinion that the less involvement of government in the AV business the better,” Lemke said. “However, in Nebraska and in New Hampshire I clearly stated that when states determine there is a compelling reason to license AV technicians InfoComm will be of assistance, because we strongly support objective testing of skills and knowledge as the basis for any state licensure program. We take this stance because our certification program has always stressed that it is based upon measuring candidates’ knowledge and ability.”

Lemke added that InfoComm has the support of the industry for its certification program without resorting to government mandates and regulation. “With more than 5,600 holders of the Certified Technology Specialist designation, it is a program that stands up on its own merits,” he said.

CEDIA noted that the intent of its legislative efforts is for the betterment of the whole industry. It is not to position one’s education or certification as the standard. “Furthermore, attempts at select associations trying to gain state recognition and ignoring the rest of the industry would not be looked upon with favor from any legislature,” the statement said. “We welcome and encourage all stakeholders’ participation in the legislative process including their presence and participation at committee hearings.”

According to CEDIA, the association has more than 4,000 certified technicians through its various programs, and we will continue to protect their right to work through its efforts in the state houses across America. “In doing so, CEDIA continues to take steps to educate legislators on the electronic systems industry and how it is a separate and distinct profession from the work of an electrician. We will continue to fight restrictive legislation in states that do not properly address our growing industry. All industry stakeholders are welcomed and encouraged to participate.”