Dedication. The quality of being dedicated or committed to a task or purpose. When we reflect upon why AFSA was incorporated in 1981, the phrase “dedicated to the educational advancement of its members” is the key reason the organization came into being. As I’ve said to numerous elected leaders within our group recently, although AFSA is considered quite young for a national trade association, in my opinion our lack of 100-plus years of existence have actually placed fire sprinkler contractor members in a better position to receive modern-day benefits and services. You see, the founding contractors of AFSA took the best of what parallel associations had been doing since the early 1900s and improved on areas of governance and services aimed to benefit dues-paying member organizations. In particular, AFSA took on the challenge to assist fire sprinkler contractors in maintaining a quality workforce – and created a Sprinkler Fitter Apprenticeship Training Series which continues to be the hallmark program of our dedicated Education Services Department.
Led by AFSA’s Director of Education Services Leslie Clounts, our Education Services Department is committed to offering cutting-edge training programs for the installation, design layout, and inspection, testing and maintenance of fire sprinkler systems. Last fall, Leslie celebrated her 20th anniversary as a staff member with AFSA, showcasing invaluable dedication and an exceptional proficiency to identify the unique needs of contractors looking to raise their level of professional training. Twenty years. And as anyone on the AFSA Board of Directors will tell you, Leslie is an A+ employee. Recently, Leslie has been laser-focused on the creation and execution of AFSA’s newest educational deliverable, our ITM Inspector Development Program. While still charged with the oversight of correspondence courses designed specifically for training apprentices in the fire sprinkler trade as well as our ever-popular specialized schools, Leslie is crafting a game-changer within our industry for contractors interested in developing an employee to become the ‘‘face” of their company to many customers from an ITM standpoint.
Born out of quarterly AFSA committee meetings where dedicated volunteers gather to create and/or improve industry programming, our ITM program is the perfect example of how AFSA staff strives to execute the vision of its elected leadership. A curriculum that was developed by contractors for contractors, Leslie has successfully facilitated on-demand and live training courses combined with a robustly-structured on-the-job training (OJT) and mentoring program with the goal of candidates passing NICET Level II water-based inspection certification exams in 19 months. With modules covering an introduction to the trade, NICET Level I exam and preparation, fire protection systems and inspection/ testing procedures, water supplies and fire pumps, advanced inspection and testing procedures, inspection and testing review and field work, NICET Level II exam and preparation, as well as 15 days of live lab and classroom training, contractors who’ve enrolled students into the course since April of 2016 tell our office AFSA’s ITM program is one of the best professional investments they have ever made. A dedicated process, where $3,600 over 19 months generates an ITM professional ready to play a major role for fire sprinkler contractors during any economic climate.
AFSA’s hallmark educational feature, our apprentice training courses, again were written from a contractor’s point of view. Developed through combined efforts of technical experts and AFSA contractor members, each level of the apprentice series includes photographs, drawings and tables to provide the latest graphic as well as written instruction on proper installation techniques and use of tools. Two AFSA staff members dedicated to course development and delivery of services to members include our Education Programs Specialist Richard Cevallos and our Education Systems Coordinator Jill Gamble. Though both Richard and Jill have only been on Leslie’s team since last year, their professional acumen and devotion to being service providers to members is profound. Richard’s ability to build courses, design and maintain on-demand lessons, as well as format live seminar and webinar content is the tangible benefit participating contractor members realize when taking advantage of AFSA programming. Jill’s deft touch to expertly interact with members on a litany of issues ranging from training correspondence courses, e-Learning inquiries, testing challenges, as well as coordinating live seminar training content, provides anyone within a member company the assurance that an answer to their educational needs will be found efficiently and delivered to them with kindness and a high technical aptitude.
AFSA could not be more fortunate than to have such a skilled team at the helm of the core reason for its existence. Kudos to any fire sprinkler contractor who enlists the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage by tapping into the vast education and training resources offered to AFSA members. Remember, although our economic climate is currently strong, this is not the time to decrease professional development. The term “too busy to train” not only will lessen the opportunity for your contracting company to grow, but expose your workers to potential peril. When times are busy in the field, that’s when accidents happen if personnel are not properly educated and trained. Lean on AFSA’s Education Services Department and the many programs tailored to the needs of fire sprinkler contractors. Your team of Leslie, Richard and Jill welcome and encourage all requests to tap into their knowledge base and extreme AFSA dedication.
Frank Mortl III, CAE is president of the American Fire Sprinkler Association.