Following a torrent of RFID mandates, many wonder if there are enough qualified workers to meet demand. Two trade associations say no, and plan to launch an RFID certification and training program.
“Hundreds of thousands of people” knowledgeable in RFID will be needed in the coming years, said David Sommer, vice president of electronic commerce at Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), which is collaborating with the Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility (AIM Global). The two associations have already held discussions aimed at developing an RFID certification program that they hope will be operational by late 2005.
“The numbers we’ve heard are that there’s only between 10 and 100 system integrators capable of installing RFID technology, but we’re looking at thousands of businesses that will be under mandate (to implement RFID),” said Mr. Sommer. “We’re looking at 500 to 1,000 system integrator companies that will need to be able to install these systems. The technology is moving faster than there are people.”
“The main point,” added Dan Mullen, president of AIM Global, “is that RFID technology is moving into some open systems and we need to provide people with the assurance that there are people out there who understand the technology. Likewise, the vendor community is looking for ways to differentiate themselves. The effort here is really important to supporting a quickly maturing RFID marketplace.”
Chicago, Illinois based CompTIA is a global trade association representing the business interests of the information technology industry. For more than 22 years it has provided research, networking and partnering opportunities to its 20,000 members in 102 countries. The association is involved in developing standards and best practices, and influencing the political, economic and educational arenas that impact IT worldwide. AIM Global of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has 900 member companies in 65 countries, concentrating on automatic identification, data collection and networking in a mobile environment. Its member companies are providers and users of technologies, systems and services that capture, manage and integrate data into larger information management systems.
“We’re acting now to avoid a shortage of personnel,” said Mr. Mullen. “As (RFID) usage grows, so the demand on the integrator will grow. Our members were looking for different ways to suggest people are qualified.” He added, “AIM members can play a critical role in the RFID certification development process through our work with CompTIA. This collaborative effort is in line with our ongoing work to develop educational materials that help business and industry better manage the collection and integration of data with information management systems.”
AIM Global will develop the RFID certification training curricula (“training to the test,” as Mr. Sommer said), while CompTIA will create and administer the testing. “In general, we don’t train towards certification,” said Mr. Sommer. “We work with the training community and other associations to train to our exam.” Training programs/courses can be implemented by private training companies or at universities and community colleges.
“We’re forming the committee (of members from both associations) to drive the certification process right now,” said Mr. Sommer. “We anticipate the first meeting will be the middle of the first quarter in 2005. The blueprint for certification will be available in the second quarter and the exam late next year.”
So what’s to be included in the certification process?
Proficiency is one element, said Mr. Sommer. “The number of skills and knowledge in understanding RFID technology (will be a main part of the program, such as) knowing what can interfere with RFID, how to actually tag products read by the readers, how the technology works in terms of the tags, how software filters the data that comes off the readers, active versus passive tags, the impact of the materials that are used in either goods or packaging of the goods, the standards behind the data encoding, both EPC and ISO standards We spent an entire day (recently) with 30 industry representatives detailing the types of skills that an efficient RFID technologist would have to know.”
Who would make a good candidate for a certified “RFID technologist?”
“A person working in a systems integration firm or in a company implementing RFID solutions that might be an advanced network engineer now, or a business analyst, or a systems technician” are some of the people the certification process would help, said Mr. Sommer. “It’s not an entry level. It requires some networking skills and computer knowledge.”
“We have years of experience doing this type of model,” said Steven Ostrowski, CompTIA’s corporate public relations manager. “We have 11 certifications now. While RFID is a little different, the model for certifying is pretty standard.” Some of the other certifications currently offered by CompTIA include: personal computer service, networking, document imaging, Internet, personal computer server technologies, Linux, project management, technical training, e-business, security, and integrated home networks.
“We’re the world’s largest vendor-neural IT certification body,” added Mr. Sommer. “We don’t train to a specific vendor certification, we train to whatever the industry standards are.”
What about cost?
The test itself will run about $200, said Mr. Sommer, the training itself, anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000. Some training could be done on the web, but there would still have to be some face-to-face instruction, added AIM’s Mr. Mullen.
Typically, said Mr. Sommer, the training could last three to five days, but many colleges could offer a whole course. “After the training, they’ll come to us for certification. We deliver the tests through proctored test sites throughout the world.” But even the training length isn’t set yet. “It’s hard to say how long it will take until we have the scope of the test,” said Mr. Mullen.