"The Fourth Trade" - AvNetwork.com

"The Fourth Trade"

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Since you make your living in the contracting industry, you have undoubtedly become familiar with the three major trades: electrical, plumbing, and HVAC. Each of these professional trades has long been recognized as a unique category with the federal government. Working with federal authorities, the NSCA was successful establishing the "Electronic System Technician" as a unique professional trade. This was accomplished as part of the national "21st Century Workforce Initiative." As a result, low voltage contracting employers can now classify their technicians for reporting purpose in the new category. Over time this may help with Davis Bacon wage classifications and more importantly may lower our general liability insurance and possibly workers compensation rates, as the kind of work we do is recognized and better understood, while separated from the electrical contracting industry.

For many years our industry has benefited from the presence of specialty consultants in data, communications, and AV. Now, in rapidly increasing numbers, MP&E (mechanical, plumbing, and electrical) firms are adding the fourth category of "integration," specializing in low voltage disciplines as a unique offering. The larger general contracting firms are now hiring special systems estimators familiar with our disciplines and putting them in charge of bidding out our work or coordinating us with other trades in design/build projects.

Then along comes the new CSI MasterFormat 2004, clearly the most sweeping revision of the architectural master format in many years. The expansion of the divisions allowing for many new future categories, coupled with the creation of unique divisions for low voltage disciplines, is being quickly adopted by architectural firms. Many new specifications were produced in 2006 that included division 26, "communications" and division 27 "electronic safety and security." No longer tucked among electrical specifications or in furniture sections, our systems are now clearly defined and our trade specialties are becoming recognized for the professional results we are able to produce.

To top it off we had the recent announcement in November of the partnership between CEA, CEDIA, and the NSCA creating ESPA, the "Electronic Systems Professional Alliance." ESPA is intended to serve as the foundation of a career-ready workforce for the electronic systems contracting industry. The combined strength of these three giant industry organizations backing a unified training and certification effort for ESTs may very well begin to settle the debate among competing industry organizations about entry-level training and certification. Our industry stands to gain from strength in numbers and the ability of this new alliance to attract thousands of new professionals to our industry.

Low voltage contracting is no longer a cottage industry. We're growing up fast, and as business men and women we would do well to understand all of the new developments that are shaping our industry. We owe it to our business, our employees, and our customers to adapt our practices to a more disciplined and professional model. It may be a while before the term "The Fourth Trade" is freely applied to our industry, but it will happen. And those of us who lead the way to make it happen will benefit with higher profits and larger market share than our peers who cling to the past.

As 2007 begins, consider the upcoming NSCA Expo in March. It's a great venue to bring your key staff and technicians for training on all of these subjects. Certification, master format, business classes, sales classes, and most important a huge gathering of your peers awaits you. It's been said that you can't make money without spending money. An investment in yourself and your staff with training and mingling at the NSCA Expo will pay dividends for years to come. The future is finally here. You are now part of "The Fourth Trade."

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