Are we professionals?

At the recent annual BICSI (Tampa, FL) meeting, the governmental relations forum hosted an open discussion about the place of the professional engineer (PE) in the cabling industry. As is the case with most open forums, no real conclusion was reached

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At the recent annual BICSI (Tampa, FL) meeting, the governmental relations forum hosted an open discussion about the place of the professional engineer (PE) in the cabling industry. As is the case with most open forums, no real conclusion was reached. However, there is a significant issue here that deserves some ink in Cabling Installation & Maintenance.

The basic question is simple: Are we professionals? Put another way, is there a clearly defined profession that is central to our industry?

Take, by analogy, the electrical industry. There clearly is a profession in that industry that is responsible for designing electrical networks. There is a discipline taught in engineering schools called electrical engineering, and graduates of such programs can obtain positions in engineering and construction firms designing electrical networks. Some electrical engineers also pass examinations given by the states in which they work that certify them as PEs.

Although electrical engineers are responsible for designing electrical networks, they do not usually install, repair, maintain, or troubleshoot them. These tasks are the responsibility of electricians, who are licensed by their states to do this kind of work.

The low-voltage cabling industry has been around for a decade rather than a century. It is a relatively young industry, so the situation with regard to professionalism is not nearly so clear-cut. However, there are some analogies with the electrical industry that are worth pointing out.

BICSI, a professional telecommunications association, established a registration program for telecommunications infrastructure design over a decade ago that it calls the registered communications distribution designer (RCDD) program. To be awarded an RCDD, applicants must have several years of experience working in the field and pass an examination based on the information in the lengthy, two-volume Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual (TDMM). Training courses are offered by BICSI and other organizations to prepare applicants for the exam, but it is reputedly difficult, and certainly not everyone passes it.

RCDD has clearly become the credential for communications infrastructure design, and many requests for proposals for new construction or building rehab now require that the design work be done by RCDDs. These designers work for systems integrators, engineering firms, network design companies, or end-user organizations. Some are electrical, electronic, or other kinds of engineers. Some are PEs.

A few years ago, BICSI also established an installer training program to qualify those who install, maintain, repair, and troubleshoot communications networks, the assumption being-as is the case in the electrical industry-that the same people do not for the most part design and install cable plants.

We have, then, a clearly defined profession within the low-voltage cabling industry. Qualification for it is sufficiently lengthy and rigorous to adequately prepare our industry professionals to undertake the tasks assigned to them.

The range of tasks our cabling-industry professionals must routinely perform is not defined by the PE certification, nor is the knowledge needed to do this work necessarily acquired in an electrical (or any other kind of) engineering school. And yet, state PE organizations are in some cases denying work to RCDDs. If this practice were uniformly applied to all RCDDs in all 50 states, it would overnight shut down the low-voltage cabling industry-for the simple reason that those qualified to do the work would be prohibited from doing it, while those with other qualifications not necessarily related to the work involved would be the only ones allowed to perform it.

Make no mistake. This is not a question of professional competence. It is an economic issue, plain and simple. When the low-voltage cabling industry was small, other professions saw no financial opportunity there and left it alone. Now that it is a multibillion-dollar market, others want a piece of the action.

Some of these other professional groups are willing to come in and compete for the business on the basis of their knowledge, experience, training, and competence. To them I say, "Bravo! Let the best man or woman win." Others, however, are taking shortcuts. They are using political clout and legislative maneuvering to achieve their economic goals. These organizations and the people who support them are not working in the best interests of the cabling industry as a whole and are putting their own selfish motives ahead of professionally designed and installed infrastructure that best serves the needs of the customer.

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Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.
Group Editorial Director
arlynp@pennwell.com

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