Sharp Relies on CompTIA Programs to Validate Expertise

by Jim Staats | Aug 15, 2011

Digital document management is a rapidly changing and highly competitive industry. At Sharp Electronics in the U.S. and Canada, field services directors have discovered the value of CompTIA certification for their teams.

Weathering transitions with certifications

Scott Chatten is adept at transition. As senior director of field services for Sharp Electronics Corp., he supports a network of authorized dealers across the U.S. with a product line that has evolved from analog copiers to digitized document management devices over the past decade. The latest offerings consolidate printing, scanning, and open integration with outside applications, creating new challenges for service providers. “Troubleshooting these is very different than supporting a stand-alone copier,” said Chatten.

He credited his team’s smooth transitions in large part to Sharp’s long-standing association with CompTIA for its training and certification programs. “We quickly realized that several CompTIA certifications could help our employees learn and make their own transition, starting with the CompTIA A+ program,” noted Chatten. “This accreditation shows us they are receiving the proper training and are being independently qualified.”

Chatten saw certification as a checks-and-balances process “to make sure everyone understood the information and could pass the test.” The CompTIA A+ vendor-neutral certification has become the industry standard for computer support technicians, covering installation, preventative maintenance, networking, and troubleshooting. More than 700,000 people worldwide have attained the accreditation since the program began in 1993.

Chatten has a small, relatively static group of 27 regional support specialists for onsite support of 450 independent dealers. A Sharp dealer himself before joining the company in 1992, Chatten knew the CompTIA programs from the inside out. “Before I asked the team to take the exams, I did them myself.”

Support personnel step up their game

An immediate and noticeable consequence following Sharp’s participation in the CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+ programs was a change in the confidence, behavior, and vocabulary of Chatten’s team. “It was apparent the training enabled them to reach beyond their previous capabilities and to go out and apply it. The program makes technicians comfortable with the technology, and they use new terms with confidence that they were previously uncomfortable with.”

The new shift in confidence created a shift in manpower, according to Chatten. No longer did Sharp need engineers with a high level of Novell network or Microsoft training and certification, as his staff was now equipped to take care of a larger array of complex issues. For example, consider an issue where network connectivity prevented a printer from working properly. “In the past, we’d send a systems integration engineer out to handle it, but after CompTIA certification, our regional support specialist could solve that type of problem.”

Today, Chatten’s team members hold the title of documents systems support specialists, another improvement he attributes to CompTIA. Previously, regional specialists performed engine support while connectivity and networking issues were handled by a separate group of systems integration engineers. “The certification program allowed us to create a new hybrid position, a person who could perform 100 percent of the job,” Chatten said.

Though his group has a low amount of turnover, Chatten noted that when scouting new technicians he would look for someone who has the certification, or require them to get accreditation within a specified timeframes. For new technicians, the CompTIA curriculum gives them the knowledge foundation required to be most effective in their new role in the shortest amount of time.

Chatten sees the impact of certification, even helping team members who had been in the profession for 15 to 20 years deal with technology and service changes. “Some employees who were close to retirement were really nervous and uncomfortable with the fact they had to learn this material,” Chatten said. “But once they passed the certification, it seemed like they had their Superman capes on. After discovering they were capable of learning this material, they were the first ones in line to take the test.”

The certification program also provided each technician with a common industry language, allowing them to communicate better with other professionals. Now, when they talk about TCP/IP, they share a common vocabulary and universal understanding of the technology. That not only reduces communication errors, but also allows each technician to uncover problems and opportunities much faster.

Chatten also values the different methodologies available for CompTIA training, whether it’s delivered in a classroom, through books, or online. While he didn’t require it, the majority of his group chose the self-study route.

CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+ and CompTIA PDI+ have become the required standards on Chatten’s team, a fact he noted with great pride. “We have 100 percent for all four certifications, with some members also continuing on to receive their CompTIA CDIA+ certification.”

The transition merry-go-rounds at large technology industry corporations (including Sharp) aren’t expected to slow down anytime soon. “We are launching products two or three times a year and we have technicians in training classes constantly. Certification provides us a good common platform so we each have the same base knowledge.” Accreditation can also increase customer confidence if properly conveyed. Businesses understand how these programs help improve technical proficiencies, so promoting a team’s certification achievements is considered a valuable best practice.

Service manager helps create new certification

Bill Woodard, Chatten’s counterpart at Sharp Electronics of Canada, has an even closer connection to CompTIA training and certification. As service manager for Sharp Direct, he oversees all of the field operations within the firm’s direct sales organization in Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. However, it was his own CompTIA A+ certification experience that led to him becoming a founding contributor to a new benchmark certification for technicians.

Involved in the office equipment industry since 1978, Woodard ran into several inconsistencies as he went through the accreditation process that was mandated by Sharp for their service personnel. So five years ago, he decided to help fix those issues and found himself involved in the redevelopment of the CompTIA A+ series.

When discussion began heating up in Canada on whether copier and printer technicians would benefit from having a certification like CompTIA A+ for their industry, Woodard was drafted into the formation of what would become the CompTIA PDI+ course. “My involvement began with the initial steps,” he said. “As a member of the working group, I helped decide which questions were beneficial and which should be dropped.” At the same time, his position at Sharp transitioned from a technical support manager to a field technician manager—the proper audience for CompTIA PDI+, according to Woodard.

Technicians find daily value in certification

CompTIA PDI+ holders demonstrate entry-level competency in the basic maintenance of printers, scanners, copiers, and fax machines. The certification also covers “soft skills” such as customer service, professionalism, and safety.

Nearly 70 percent of Sharp’s CompTIA PDI+ certified technicians indicate the course material is relevant or very relevant in the workplace, according to a survey the company performed in 2011. More than half the respondents said the information and expertise received through the accreditation process were frequently employed in their daily routines. Even a 23-year industry veteran who earned a perfect score on the CompTIA PDI+ exam acknowledged that the information was “great reinforcement” for a professional of his caliber.

Woodard hinted that corporate implementation of programs such as CompTIA PDI+ certification are typically motivated by one director or manager, as he did at Sharp. Prior to that accreditation, there was no program that addressed the specific role of a print technician. For Woodard, the benefits have been numerous, including using certifications to validate the best candidates during the hiring process. “It’s the difference between what a prospective employee says he knows and what he really does know,” Woodard noted.

For a customer, certification demonstrates not only the technician’s skill, but also the ability to put that body of knowledge to practical use. For candidates, certification can provide the confidence required to initiate and complete complex projects, as well as give them the spark needed to lead others in the organization.

Woodard challenges industry veterans who balk at taking the exam to consider whether they have the same knowledge level as someone with one year in the industry. That question typically puts a stop to any resistance, with certifications having raised the bar significantly.

CompTIA PDI+ certification also serves as an entry point for those contemplating a career in the information technology industry. “Ninety-nine percent of people just kind of fell into IT and didn’t know these roles existed,” Woodard said, while noting that most transitioned from other mechanical businesses, including auto or electrical repair. Someone with a basic interest in technology can go through the coursework, take the exam, and if they’re successful, start a lucrative and productive career.

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