With the spring semester underway at Mercer County (N.J.) Community College campuses in West Windsor and Trenton, a first-of-its kind degree program envisioned to steer students into the security industry continues to gather steam.
Launched last fall in a joint effort with the Security Industry Association (SIA), the Associate in Applied Science Degree in Security Systems and Technologies is a pilot program aimed at alleviating the dearth of highly skilled workers in the security industry, especially project managers, systems technicians and sales professionals.
The two-year degree combines business classes, liberal arts, lab work and industry-specific coursework in several disciplines, including “Systems Integration: A Business Blueprint,” “Security Project Management” and “Physical Security Product Technologies.”
Other courses teach fundamentals of electronics, wiring,cabling and fiber optics. As SIA CEO Don Erickson explains, since the tech boom in the early 2000s, fewer students have been going into the trades, opting instead for more computer-focused careers with greater earnings potential and seemingly more glamorous and challenging career opportunities.
“Fifteen years later physical security has evolved into sophisticated, high-tech solutions requiring expertise in hardware, software, databases and IP networking, but there is almost a nonexistent talent pool from which to draw because there have been very few academic degree programs to attract and train a new generation of professionals,” Erickson says. “Today physical security solutions are delivered and managed on traditional IP-based computer networks and end devices. Clearly the need exists for specialists who understand both physical security and logical security.”
Inspired and forged by Frank De Fina, the longtime security industry executive who passed away in July, SIA views the degree program as a model for community colleges.
Students who excel in the curriculum may be eligible to participate in internship opportunities with security product manufacturers, distributors and installing security contractors. A high point of the program is to provide students in their last semester with the ability to participate in the design and implementation of a real-world security solution.
The unique aspects of selling physical security systems and products are also considered central to the program’s curriculum. An introductory security solutions sales course titled “The Consultative Approach” is geared toward teaching students how to organize the sales effort, assess customer needs, evaluate return on investment (ROI) and manage the customer experience, among other topics.
“We really need to have the students learn how to build a security solution that combines the equipment, all the engineering, the services, the project management. We want to teach them how to analyze the attributes of the products and the services, assess the customer needs,” says John Hunepohl, director of special projects for ASSA ABLOY’s Door Security Solutions unit, who is involved in overseeing the program. “Technology is one thing, but what does the customer need and how can technology be applied to that? We want to figure out how we take the powerful features and strengths of these products and services and create a system to meet the client need and solve the client’s problems.”
SIA is asking industry stakeholders to help support the pilot program, including product donations for hands-on work, offering student internships, even helping teach coursework. Interested parties can learn more by contacting SIA’s Kimberly Roberts, director, education and training; (301) 804-4708 or kroberts@ securityindustry.org.
“We have every reason to believe this is going to be an extremely successful program with the support of many SIA members and others within the industry,” Erickson says. “It is certainly part of our vision and our intent for SIA to take this program national and work with other community colleges in other regions of the country.”