MANAGEMENT – Certified Aerospace Technician
Releasing a new credential is not unlike rolling out a new product: Issues of logistics, development, promotion and outlay come into play in both circumstances. Hence each involves a great deal of hard work, study and stress, but as U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…”
The National Aerospace Technical Education Center (SpaceTEC), an aerospace education organization established in 2002 with a three-year grant provided by the National Science Foundation, recently launched its first-ever certification, the certified aerospace technician, in conjunction with professional services provider RWD Technologies.
“What we did for SpaceTEC was provide the system for them to administer their core certification exams—they developed their own content,” said Karen Warner, manager for operation support for RWD Technologies. She added that the system provides user registration and course scheduling functions as well.
“The SpaceTEC project has been active for 27 months, and specific work for the certification program has been underway for about 18 months,” said Dr. Al Koller, executive director of SpaceTEC. “These first couple of years have been trail-blazing in areas never before traveled for aerospace technicians, and I fully expect the follow-on work to go more rapidly.”
Koller said SpaceTEC’s strong partnerships with businesses, as well as industry and government organizations, with links to aerospace had been very helpful in developing the aerospace technician credential. “Those partners serve on local advisory committees at each of our 12 partner college locations and determine the level and extent of curricula in their areas of interest,” he said. “The National Aerospace Technical Advisory Committee (NATAC) provides national overview for program evaluation and endorsement of the processes we are using.”
In order to become a SpaceTEC certified aerospace technician, candidates must first meet the program prerequisites, Koller said. “The primary focus of our program is the student/practitioner, but the entry point into our program is through the local partner college. Prerequisites depend on the individual colleges where each student enrolls. For practitioners who are already part of the workforce, certification is possible through direct application to the program. Requirements include at least two years of military aerospace experience, two years of employment relating to aerospace or related technical work (e.g., electrical, mechanical, hydraulic) or completion of a certificate or degree program with subjects similar to the SpaceTEC core program.”
After obtaining a voucher through SpaceTEC, participants must successfully pass two online exams and two oral/hands-on exams conducted by authorized SpaceTEC Examiners (STEs). The exams will be administered at proctored testing centers at six of SpaceTEC’s partner community colleges in Alabama, Florida, California, Mississippi, Ohio and Virginia. The program will expand to 10 locations within a few months, Koller said. However, because of the Internet-based format, the exams theoretically could be administered anywhere, Warner said. “We can allow what we call ‘mobile’ or ‘roving’ proctors. So someone from SpaceTEC can go to a business and set up a classroom and administer the exam right there.”
Warner explained how RWD Technologies uses randomization for exam security. “(SpaceTEC) gives us a pool of about 360 questions, and from that pool we only present about 70 questions to the end user,” she said. “Those questions are randomized. So the chances of any two people getting the exact same set of questions in the exact same order are very slim.” She also mentioned the measures employed to prevent piracy of test answers: encryption and a separate, safe Web site for authorized SpaceTEC administrators. “We have the user site, and we also have a secure administrative site. That site is only accessible by people designated by SpaceTEC. We used (encryption) for exam content, so that it can’t be hacked into.”
SpaceTEC plans to utilize its associates in business and government, as well as its partner colleges, to raise awareness about the new aerospace technician program. “The certifications will be marketed through two primary channels: company-sponsored and individually initiated,” Koller said. “For company-sponsored examinations, we will be much more efficient in organizing the program deployment. We will use our local and national advisory committees as the primary recruitment/dissemination tool. For individuals, we will use our colleges and their marketing programs as adjunct to their normal program/course marketing activities. We will also make use of some of our national partners, such as the American Technical Education Association, and special groups with a natural interest in our program, such as the Civil Air Patrol and the Junior ROTCs at 1,100 high schools nationwide.” He added that SpaceTEC is actively seeking to establish partnerships with the national labor union system. “More active linkages with labor will help promote the program and its goal of advocating for professional development and sponsorships for those who seek certification as a career enhancement strategy.”
To ensure the success of the certification program, SpaceTEC and RWD Technologies have emphasized availability and accessibility of courses; implemented an assortment of techniques to guarantee test security; established the benefits of holding the certification; and built strong relationships with partners to facilitate development and marketing. These steps are crucial for the successful inauguration of any certification. Admittedly, that’s a lot of work, but the returns are worth the effort.
Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Certification Magazine. E-mail Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org.