Partnership unlocks doors to security and automation jobs
When the phone rings with other colleges looking to replicate your program, you know you’re on to something.
Kent Hartwig is happy to take the calls. As the director of the new Security and Automation Systems Technician program at Palm Beach State College, he’s got a success story to share. The field is a hot one, most of the first class landed jobs halfway through, and companies are lined up to hire more.
The program started last August and paves the way to immediate employment in the rapidly growing security and building automation industry. Wireless technologies now keep homes and businesses secure, smart and energy efficient. With a smartphone, tablet or wall-mounted keypad, everyone can control their security, lighting, room temperature, entertainment, the whole works, driving the high demand for qualified technicians.
Students learn the low-voltage electrical skills required to install and repair a wide range of high-tech systems for remote access control, whole house audio and video, closed-circuit television, nurse call and fire alarms, intrusion detection and turnkey gate automation. Graduates receive a Postsecondary Adult Vocational certificate from the College as well as the Electronic Systems Technician certification from the National Center for Construction Education and Research. Employers value this combination of a PSAV certificate and NCCER certification.
“The goal is to get students truck-ready,” said Hartwig. “A company can put them in a truck, send them out and they’ll be ready to get the job done without being spoon-fed.”
Like all PBSC career programs, Security and Automation Systems Technician was born out of local need and the commitment of strong business partners. In this case, Rick Seymour, CEO of Carpenter Security Integrators: Palm Beach, told Hartwig about a problem he and others faced: a lack of trained technicians for the growing number of security and automation companies. “We were just struggling out there with no formal training. All we really did was hire each other’s bad habits,” he recalled.
As the program got underway, Seymour reached out to his competitors to form a Business Partnership Council to support the new program. “We got folks like ADT, the biggest security dealer in the world, involved, right on down to mom-and-pop companies like ours,” Seymour noted. Current council members also include Honeywell, Comcast, Alarm Association of Florida, Knight Fire and Security, Guardian Alarm, Environmental Technology Control, Electronic Security Association of Florida, NAPCO Security Technologies, and Mellon Security and Sound Systems.
The partners have contributed time and materials to the program by doing class demonstrations and donating equipment. Before the program was approved for financial aid, Alarm Association of Florida, Electronic Security Association, Mellon Security and Seymour’s company made it possible for three students to get full ride scholarships. The nine-month program costs approximately $3,000 including books.
Finding an experienced instructor was another hurdle, but as luck would have it, Alan Mullenax, one of Seymour’s longtime employees and a former army training instructor, was ready to transition from being a full-time technician to teaching. “Alan has great pride in ownership to make the program worthwhile for the students,” Seymour commented.
Mullenax knows from experience that the program is sorely needed. “I’ve been in this business for 35 years now, and it’s been mostly on the job training—there’s been nothing specific for what we do. Here we’re able to give it to the students all in one shot. They’re able to function at a certain level as soon as they show up on a job.”
If the inaugural class is any indication, Mullenax is succeeding. Most of the students are already employed, gaining work experience in their new field as they study.
Matt Probst has always been into wiring things and taking things apart and putting them back together. His dad confirmed that the program was a good idea and would help him get in on the ground floor of this up-and-coming field. Halfway through the program, he got hired by Carpenter Security Integrators. “I’ve learned a lot of things in here that I’ve already applied to that job. I like it. It’s a good field.”
The other classmates agree. Brian Garricks came from Jamaica last August. Now this high school graduate works full time at Environmental Technology Control. Alejandro Forcade Campbell, who came from Cuba three years ago, also works at ETC. Dylan Alsip joined Group One Safety & Security, where he’s training to become a fire and security systems inspector, and Matt Richard was hired by Definitive Electronics.
“It’s interesting and it’s never the same, which is something that I like,” said Richard, who started his job running wire through houses and is now getting into the actual programming of smart houses. “Each day, you wake up and wonder, ‘what’s going to be different today?’”
Richard, Probst and Matt Leow are the three students who won the full scholarships to the program.
Leow, who earned an A.A. degree at PBSC last year, has had multiple job offers, but is taking his time and interviewing.
“Our teacher is really helpful and very knowledgeable,” said Leow. “He’s just able to take these kind of boring, tedious books that we have to read and make it fun and exciting. I recommend the program to anyone who doesn’t really know what to do in the future. It opens up a lot of doors for you. Companies want you.”
Hartwig, who has an electrical background, is a bit envious.
“If I were picking a new trade, if I were to start all over, this would be the one I would pick out of all the trades right now. I’m really interested in it because I like the technology end of it. You get to use your brain, but at the same time you’re still using your tools. I think it’s going to be one of our strongest programs. There’s so much interest in it and so many job openings.”
An information session for the Security and Automation Systems Technician program will take place on Tuesday, May 24 at 5 p.m. in the Education and Training Center, Room ETA 118, on the Lake Worth campus. Check information session schedule for future dates.
Kent Hartwig talks about the program: