How Trained is Your Front Line

How much does your wire/cable puller know about what he/she is doing? In most cases, the answer is “not much”. Their job is to literally pull wires through ceilings or conduit under a supervisor’s immediate control.

The training a wire/cable puller gets typically consists of identifying the tools they will use, what the wire is, and sometimes how to read the different gauges of wire to determine what goes where. There is nothing wrong with this model; however, lets fast forward to the next step.

Now we have a wire/cable puller that is asked to start terminating the wire on devices. This is a typical training of either, “This color wire goes on that terminal,” or a small mockup of what colors go where on a specific device. Once the learning curve on this is achieved, then that person is typically shown how to terminate controllers, and how to dress in-panel wiring when needed. There is nothing wrong with this model, either.

So, let’s move forward, because the intent of this article is to talk about the rest of the steps and the importance of training.

Taking the Leap

When I was a service supervisor, there was no shortage of installers who wanted to take the leap and become service technicians. This leap into the service technician role didn’t seem that large of a gap, if any, to most installers. In fact, the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” kept them as content in performing their role as a well-fed baby. It was after the return calls and those calls where they had replaced every device, but the problem was still occurring that a few of the installers started to acknowledge there was something missing in their toolbox.

The tools ended up being a fundamental understanding of electrical circuits and things such as resistor properties and tolerances. Many of their apparent fixes were taking that little wire with the ceramic bubble in the middle of it (resistor) and putting it at the panel instead of at the device. It was like magic. The customer was pleased because there were no more beeping keypads at 3 a.m., and the supervisor liked it because it was a completed call.

However, the problem came when somebody triggered that particular device and it didn’t activate the alarm; the bad guy won. It is the basic understanding of how an unsupervised input actually works, what the acceptable tolerances for voltage, current, and resistance are, and how to read current using a volt-ohm meter that comprises the basic level of technician training.

Fundamental Training

When a wire/cable puller is hired, they are typically from outside the industry and are not expected to have an understanding of Ohm’s Law, or any of the other tools in a technician’s mental toolbox. Once the puller gets proficient at pulling wires and cables, however, then that person is usually tasked with device and panel terminations. Once the technician is successful at device and panel terminations then they are typically asked to start programming. If they have charisma, they either go into management or to service, starting the cycle again.

In this model, where is the ideal place to insert fundamental training? If you are thinking at the beginning when they are learning how to pull wires/ cables then you, my friend, are correct. When we are teaching the beginning installer how to read construction prints, how to fill out time cards, and where to get the boxes of wire/cable for the job, we should also be teaching them the basics of electrical circuits. It is during this time, when their minds are the most open to learning the things they need to do their job, that extensive training should take place.

I supervised 12 service technicians, yet, for the volume of tickets coming through the office I needed 30, so the recruitment was on. What I found is that the pullers turned installers generally were not aware of the fundamental circuit basics, and when I tried to teach them, they were not open to learning. Subsequently, most of the service ticket callbacks were directly related to not understanding the role of the resistor and not understanding how to use a meter when needing to check current versus voltage.

After a couple of months of this, I started recruiting people I met in the service industry, like servers at restaurants and bartenders who had great customer service skills and showed some mechanical aptitude. I would hire them, put them in as pullers and begin the basic training of how to use a meter, Ohm’s law and why the end-of-line resistor goes at the end of the line. Some of them stayed with it and some didn’t, but the ones who did out performed those long-time installers who thought they had learned it all.

Just a Small Window of Opportunity

The greatest technicians I have ever met, or seen at work, were those technicians who understood the fundamentals and were able to grow on that solid foundation. These technicians were efficient, confident, and their work was absolutely clean, with very few callbacks.

There is a small window of opportunity when training a technician to get it right by giving them the mental tools to fill their toolbox for success. It is at the beginning when the person is new to your organization and this industry, because it’s at this time their minds are most open to learning.

I encourage each of you to look at your organization and identify when the technicians learn how to read a meter, not just look at the numbers it displayed, but how to accurately measure current, how to change the leads from common and voltage to common and current on the meter. If you are uncertain when this particular item is learned in your technician training, then perhaps it doesn’t exist. This self-check may be as simple as asking who knows how to calculate backup power length using voltage drop values.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Security Today.

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