CSA vs. NICET and Other Options

Compliance Services and Assessments, LC (CSA) provides services designed to help jurisdictions achieve code compliant installations.  Our primary services involve the development and delivery of qualification assessments.  Our assessments have been developed to evaluate an individuals understanding of code requirements related to national and local requirements. 

Many jurisdictions feel they are limited on ensuring contractors are qualified.  Lets look at some common obstacles:

Requiring NICET:

  • An AHJ may require installers to have NICET certification.  It is important that AHJ's understand NICET.  We encourage you to visit their web site at www.nicet.org and verify the information for yourself.  Our information is general.  Information here is not intended to slander NICET as it serves a very valuable purpose when properly applied by the AHJ and engineers.   Our intent is for the AHJ to make proper decisions based on a programs intent.

    • Was established to evaluate "designers" working under the direct supervision of a registered engineer.  This is evident as it is operated under the direction of the National Society of Professional Engineers. 

    • From their web site:  "NICET defines engineering technicians as the "hands-on" members of the engineering team who work under the direction of engineers, scientists, and technologists."   A NICET technologist is one who has a college degree, satisfies other criteria, and is also required to be a part of the "engineering team"

    • Here is a potential legal issue caused by the AHJ's.  The AHJ is requiring the contractor to have NICET.  However, in nearly all cases the contractor does not work as a "member" of the engineering team.  In addition, most do not work under the direction of an engineer or technologist.  There are clear and legal differences and responsibilities between the engineering team and the contractor.  Thus, the AHJ is directing the NICET technician/technologist to violate NICET certification criteria by not working under the direction of an engineer.

    • Not developed or intended to evaluate installers.  NICET is specifically intended to evaluate individuals who are on a path to becoming designers.  In this process it requires installation experience.  Many installers may not have an interest in becoming designers, yet many AHJ's require it.  Frequently a smaller company invests thousands of dollars to get an individual trained and certified only to have the individual quit and go to work for a larger company where they can get better benefits and more pay.  Thus, leaving the smaller company back in the same predicament of trying to get a qualified person to satisfy the AHJ.  This does not serve the contractor or the AHJ.

    • Their exam fees are over $200.  There are also other fees such as for applications, renewals, schedule changes, etc.

    • Tests are paper based, offered in large group proctoring sessions, only offered certain times a year at limited locations.  As a result testing frequently involves additional travel and lodging expenses if trying to speed up the process.  There has been a move towards computer based exams.

    • Applications require numerous reference forms and project history information.  This information is not formally reviewed until after the individual passes their exam (as many may not pass or complete the process).  Once a person passes an exam it can take 45 days or more to formally review their application.  Often the applications are returned several times to address errors.  As a result it can easily take 6 months or more to achieve certification.

    • A person that tries to reschedule less than 30 days before the exam pays additional fees up to 50% of the exam fee if within 5 days of the exam.

    • Exams are frequently not up to date with current codes.  Many NICET fire protection exams are three or more code cycles behind. 

 

Although we have been testing since 2002, many jurisdictions still are not aware of CSA qualifications.  As a result due to pressure from contractors for an alternative to NICET, the AHJ may be pressured into recognizing very basic certifications that often do not adequately address their needs in ensuring public safety.

  • An example is allowing a fire alarm contractor to attend a three day class and take a test at the end of the class.  The class may be geared towards security alarm systems and barely touch on fire alarm systems.  In fact, it may not even touch on the fire alarm code or electrical code.  What's worse is that for a security class it may not even address building code requirements for access controlled egress or delayed egress.

 

Another consideration:  Requiring a single source for services is prohibited by some state laws and by many government and/or public financed contracts.  This not only includes sole-sourcing a product, but can also include requiring a contractor or individual to be a member of a specific trade association, membership organization, or be certified by a specific organization.  Besides braking a law, such practice does not allow the local jurisdiction with a means to incorporate local criteria into an assessment without delivering their own tests.   In some cases, there may not be other organizations offering a test on a particular subject you need tested.  The solution is indicating that you will recognize other qualifications if they can demonstrate they satisfy your criteria.  This way you are leaving the door open for others to compete.

 

Some jurisdictions develop and proctor their own tests.  This causes staff burdens, is difficult to maintain current tests, is often looked at as targeting certain contractors, frequently does not offer quite or proctored testing environments, normally will not recover your time and expenses, and many other challenges.  Thus, third-party testing by testing organizations eliminates many issues.

 

What Makes CSA Different?

CSA allows jurisdictions to offer options to a contractor.  In addition, CSA is not a trade association and we do not require membership or annual dues.  We offer assessments to demonstrate qualifications.  Here are some items that make us different:

  • Our goal is to ensure that contractors are qualified.  We expect them to know the codes that apply to the scope of their services.

  • Our installer tests target installers, not designers.  As an example, our fire alarm installer questions place more emphasis on field conditions such as spacing and location of devices.  Our sprinkler installer questions place more emphasis on field issues such as obstructions, hangers, and spacing rather than how to perform hydraulic calculations or use the Hazen Williams formula.  Our sprinkler tests also focus on the contractors services such as residential, commercial, or both.

  • CSA does not require lengthy forms, references, or project history.  Although this may be appropriate for a career designer under an engineer, most of our tests are focused on evaluating if the individual understands the code and how to use it.  A simple one-page Internet form is submitted to request an assessment.

  • Examinee requests are normally processed within 2 - 3 days.  Examinees receive an email with a link to schedule and pay for their assessment on-line.  The examinee selects the assessment location and time based on the test centers availability.  Some centers offer evening and Saturday times.  Most assessments can be taken within 1 - 2 weeks of initial request.  Standard exams can be taken at roughly 220 locations around the U.S. ( <1-hour drive for 80% of the population).  Other options are available for a specific jurisdictions needs. 

  • Individuals can reschedule on-line 24/7 up to 3 days before the exam with no fees.

  • Examinees know their score when they finish the exam.  A score report is provided so that the examinee has evidence of passing while they are waiting for their ID card and certificate to arrive in 2 - 3 weeks.

  • Most companies schedule their employees to coordinate assessment times with job schedules.  Our on-line dash board allows company supervisors and examinees to review score reports from past assessments.  Topic scores can be used to help supervisors and examinees target week training areas for an examinee.

  • Unlike some testing organizations who deliver computer tests in wood and metal shacks with dogs under the table (real condition), our assessments are delivered at community colleges in a professional environment with dedicated Information Technology (IT) staff to support the systems.  Our standardized assessments are considered high stake exams. Therefore, the assessments are video / audio monitored and recorded with at least four cameras in the room covering each angle.  Each examinee has their picture taken, ID is verified, and cell phones are secured to reduce disturbances.

  • CSA provides a quality PVC photo ID card with the individuals company name.  Although we are testing the individual, jurisdictions want the individuals company on the ID card.  This ensures the individual is working for the permitted contractor and not getting paid under the counter to show up for another companies inspection.  Some general contractors also require that the ID card be displayed so that they know their subs are qualified reducing chances of a stop-work order being issued.

  • CSA delivers standardized assessments, but also works with jurisdictions to develop specific assessments around their needs.  This can include new subjects, or local amendments.

  • CSA strives to review and update questions within one year following publication of new standards.  Recognizing that many jurisdictions may be one or two code cycles behind current editions, we try to maintain most questions applicable to at least the last two editions.  New code items are specifically worded such as "Effective with the 2010 edition...".

  • CSA requires re-testing on three year intervals.  Rather than requiring the individual to track training hours, projects, and submit new documentation, we require they take a new test.  This reduces the paperwork burden for the individual and ensures that they are keeping up with new standards.

  • As with other qualifications, many companies use CSA exams as part of their internal promotion requirements.

 

This summarizes a few characteristics between different options an AHJ has.  Feel free to contact us for additional information.

 

 

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