Preparing students to pursue technology careers

08/09/2011  |  Olivia Sellke

It is no secret that technology-based careers are on the rise. A job candidate who has a strong background in electronics is a valuable commodity in today’s workplace and will be in even more demand as technology becomes absolutely essential to everything we do in our lives. Finding a technology program that feeds into a defined career can prove to be difficult. Do you know where to direct those students who want to pursue technology as a profession?

A survey of seasoned Electronic Systems Technicians (ESTs), conducted by Electronic Systems Professional Alliance (ESPA), asked participants about their career and training experience and found several important factors including the need for schools to do a better job of priming the EST workforce.

Forty-nine percent said high school left them feeling not at all prepared for a career as an EST. 76 percent rated a vocational course tailored to an EST career as somewhat or very important in preparing an individual technician. 69 percent would like to see more EST programs in colleges or career training centers/schools; 65 percent wanted more apprenticeship opportunities.

Most alarming, less that two percent cited a teacher or course in school as their primary motivation for beginning a career in the electronic systems industry. How can we inspire students to pursue an EST career if they don’t have the teachers or programs in school that motivate them to pursue 21st century jobs?

What is an EST?

Becoming a certified electronics systems technician is a viable gateway option for those students who show an interest in hands-on technology careers. Electronic systems technician (EST) is one of the fastest growing professions in North America according to the US Department of Labor.

ESTs install, upgrade, and service a wide variety of technologies in the field. Some work in residential settings, with systems such as distributed audio, security and surveillance, and home theater. Others work on systems in the commercial industry: schools and offices, sports bars, and conference rooms.

There are a variety of career options available to certified ESTs: Residential A/V, IT, Commercial A/V, Security, Satellite TV, System Design, System Maintenance, Fire Alarm & Access, Green Technology, Telecom, and Surveillance.

Areas within the electronic systems industry are seeing growth, even in the current economy. A study conducted by an industry trade association projects that the A/V industry will reach $91 billion worldwide by 2012. This segment has seen continuous growth and is expected to continue on an eight to 10 percent compound growth trend per year.

The current emphasis on streaming media, alternative energy and energy management even further drives the demand for qualified entry level employees. Additional training and certification in computers and networking is also a huge plus when entering the job market.

Where ESPA Comes In

ESPA was formed to build and maintain a job-ready workforce for the electronic systems contracting industry, both residential and commercial, through training, testing and certification of entry-level electronic systems technicians.

The development of the ESPA curriculum was produced by a group of industry experts who created a Job Task Analysis and/or Exam Blueprint based on an individual with zero to 12 months of job experience in the electronic systems industry. Existing programs and curriculum offered by ESPA’s founding partners, CEDIA, CEA and NSCA were vetted, and elements of each program’s courseware were selected and revised to create the five domains that make up ESPA’s curriculum today. ESPA’s program is made up of five domains including Electrical Basics, Tools, Construction Methods and Materials, Wiring and Installation Practices, and Standards, Codes and Safety Practices. Once students complete the five domains as needed, they will be better prepared to sit for the ESPA certification exam.

The ESPA Certification exam tests the student’s knowledge in these fundamental areas that ESPA finds to be most important for an entry-level technician. Pre-test assessments, exam blue prints and review sessions are available through ESPA to help students prepare for the exam.

Where Schools Come In

The ESPA curriculum works very well when incorporated into a program focused on computer technology (A+, Net+, Strata) or a legacy electronics program which teaches all aspects of analog and digital electronics. Many schools may already have, for instance, courseware teaching to construction methods, safety, electrical basics etc. but they may not have anything covering wiring practices. The five training modules were designed in an a la carte style so schools can adopt the specific modules they need.

These curriculum and training materials are available to schools through the ESPA Authorized Training Partner Program. Authorized Training Partners receive access to the online pre-test assessment, and instructor, classroom and lab resources. In addition, through a partnership with the National Systems Contractors Association Education Foundation, ESPA is able to offer scholarship opportunities to eligible students.

Continuing education and training

Graduates of the ESPA program have a variety of resources available to help them continue in their chosen career path. Upon passing the ESPA Certification exam, students are given a complimentary one year Student membership to CEDIA and NSCA which offer discounts on continuing education, access to job boards and more.

CEDIA, NSCA and CEA memberships are comprised of over 8,000 companies with varying focuses within the electronics systems industry. These companies represent a wide set of job opportunities for the newly certified and entry level technicians.

High school and Vo-Tech programs have seen success

Walker Career Center in Indianapolis implemented the ESPA curriculum at the high school level. Instructor Randy Decker integrated this curriculum into the existing Electronics and Computer Technology program and also worked with the Building Trades department to give students the opportunity to do system installations in a real home.

“Our electronics program, like many, had been developed years ago with a focus on manufacturing and electronic engineering,” said Randy Decker, EST Instructor at Walker Career Center. “The ESPA curriculum has helped enhance our program, participation continues to grow and advanced training is being added.”

As a result of this new program, several students in the class of 2010 are now putting their new skill set to work in the real world. Jacob Wheatley is working for a well established electronic systems contractor in the Indianapolis area. He is working on both residential and commercial projects.

When asked why they stay in the industry, an overwhelming 76 percent of ESTs said they’re interested in and/or love the work they do. More than half said it was a personal interest in electronics (51 percent) followed by the variety and challenge it provided (24 percent).

A career that is always new

A career as an EST is appealing on many levels. It is a growing industry where students are able to put their love of technology to practical use. There is an ongoing need for training to adapt to new technology, and a qualified workforce is always in demand to install these new technologies. As early technology becomes mature, others come along to replace it. Consider the advances in the past 10 years, VHS to DVD, DVD to Blu-Ray, and now Blu-Ray to high definition streaming.

ESPA Director of Technical Training, Jeff Gardner, sums it up this way: “The demand for installed technology will only continue to grow. Foundational EST training provides the gateway to a career that can go in a variety of exciting directions.”

Olivia Sellke is the PR and Marketing Assistant for ESPA. ESPA was formed by three partners — the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA), and National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA) — in 2006 to develop a universal education and certification program that would help meet increasing consumer demand by providing a gateway for new professionals to enter the workforce.The ESPA certification provides a foundation of knowledge to help students begin their career. Learn more about ESPA at or e-mail [email protected].
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