By Kris Bulla and Derek Pace, Co-Chairs of the MECP Committee
Part One – What is the MECP Certification?
There’s been a lot of chatter about industry certification and technician qualifications lately; including the only industry wide certification, the Mobile Electronics Certified Professional (MECP) program. It’s certainly generated some zealous conversation in response to an op-ed published in May CEoutlook.
Some employers have expressed disappointment with the service provided by technicians with MECP certification, while others have embrace MECP certification for their staff members. Still other employers are unaware MECP has three distinct levels of certification that correlate to three different expectations of skills and knowledge. They are:
- The MECP Basic level, (a two-year certification), the highest concentration of MECP-certified technicians, is an entry-level certification with no experience prerequisite. It is meant to indicate that the technician has basic electrical knowledge and introductory DMM electrical measurements. It includes tips on vehicle disassembly, terminology and general understanding of the process of installing various systems and components.
- The MECP Advanced level (a four-year certification) requires that the individual have one year of hands-on industry work experience, so this person has worked in vehicles before. The Advanced-level certification exam has many test questions not necessarily contained in the study guide, intended to evaluate the individual’s hands-on knowledge. More details about the Advanced exam can be found here.
- The MECP Master level (a four-year certification) is the highest level of MECP certification, and the process also includes a thorough exam. Currently there are just 280 MECP Masters with non-expired credentials in the U.S. and Canada. Pursuit of MECP Master certification requires the individual hold a current (non-expired) Advanced level certification and at least three years of hands-on industry installation experience, although many Master technicians have five or more years of experience.
MECP certifications do expire. A technician with an expired certification may not have read the most recent revisions; thus their employers dissatisfaction. MECP will validate any prospective candidate for employment for free. Simply email the candidate’s information ( name, state/province, CEA license number) to [email protected].
It is up to the individual store owner or manager to determine what they require. However, an Advanced or Master level technician needs minimal or no supervision to handle most common installation tasks. If you click on any of the links above for each certification level, you’ll find the detailed general job description that outlines the expectation for the individual holding that specific MECP certification. That can be useful for employers to refine the expectation of the MECP level that best suits their needs.
Retailers seeking experienced and qualified installers can reference these job descriptions when evaluating candidates and when setting goals for current employees. It’s hard enough to find and retain qualified people, if there are no established goals, expectations and opportunity for career development.
Check out CEA’s CE Industry Career Center to list a job opening or list your resume, if you are an MECP-certified technician. You can read more about the Career Center and special offers for employer listings here.
MECP provides a credible path for increasing one’s knowledge about relevant topics to aftermarket car electronics installation in many categories.
In part two of this series, we will address common myths or misinformation circulating around MECP and some of the employers utilizing MECP certification.
Part Two – Misinformation about MECP Certification
Long-time industry veterans that are not currently engaged in MECP certification often have a distant memory of MECP based on outdated information. We thought it was worth clearing up these misconceptions below.
Here are some clarifications to consider:
1) There are three levels of MECP certification: MECP Basic, Advanced and Master. The term “MECP Installer” paints the certification with a broad brush as if there is just one level of certification. MECP Basic, which requires no previous experience, is an apprentice level credential, not a promise of a highly experienced technician. It’s always helpful when describing an “MECP Installer” to indicate at which level they are certified. This helps clarify the expectation and filter who may be the best fit for a specific job opening.
2) MECP updates its study guide and exam material on a regular basis. MECP study guides and exams are regularly revised by a panel of industry veterans. These study guides are a tremendous resource for non-product specific information to help a technician with fundamental concepts to which they may not have had exposure such as electronic theory, vehicle electrical system measurements and diagnosis, acoustic fundamentals, safety-related measures in the installation bay and much more. Many technicians keep their study guide on the work bench as a handy resource.
3) Electronic knowledge is critical for effective troubleshooting. Given the complexities of today’s vehicles, a solid understanding of electrical engineering is the cornerstone of problem-solving and complex troubleshooting. Testable content has evolved to practical application in how technicians use measurement tools or electronic components today. Well-established topics like resistor color codes and knowing what band is on the resistor have not been part of test content for five years or more. MECP recommended practice is to use a DMM to measure and verify these resistors. Ohm’s Law and vehicle electrical system topics are continually evolving on the exams, commensurate with each level’s expected knowledge.
4) MECP certifies the individual technician, not the business. Stating that an installation shop is “MECP Certified” is inaccurate. A shop would employ MECP-certified technicians, not the other way around. MECP does offer qualifying retailers free-of-charge marketing kits (both in-store and online) to help their technicians credentials. The best way to identify a retailer employing MECP-certified technicians is to have technicians that are MECP-certified at some level and convey the importance to the clientele walking through the door, highlighting Advanced or Master technicians provides an added level of distinction.
5) Retailers of all sizes, including national, regional and independent stores, embrace MECP certification and require it for employment or incentivize it. These retailers are successfully leveraging the value of MECP certification as one part of their engagement strategy to actively provide a growth and development opportunity for their employees. They are also using the communication tools to engage customer awareness of MECP certification importance.
MECP exams are available nationwide through Prometric test centers or registered proctors. Exams are computer-based and are developed by MECP Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Each exam provides instant scoring results and accessibility to taking MECP exams has never been easier. Take a tour of how and where to take MECP exams if you haven’t checked it out in a while.
Even if you don’t have plans to take an MECP exam, MECP study guides provide the industry’s only definitive self-study resource for non-product specific learning. They are available at the MECP website, Amazon.com or through distributors such as AAMP of America and Mobile Solutions.
Part Three – Making a Career out of Being an Installer
Sometimes, it’s difficult to convince schools and administrators of the value of MECP certification. So why not provide apprenticeship programs for interested students at area schools? Many retailers such as MECP Master Technician Jeff Meece at Meece Car Audio regularly visit local high schools to shed light on the career path of car electronics installation. MECP makes this easier for retailers by providing a PowerPoint presentation and three-page handout on the background of the industry, basic electronic topics and audio fundamentals. You can request this package by simply emailing [email protected]. Reach out to local high schools and explain that you want to share information about a viable career path – you may be surprised by the reaction.
MECP provides comprehensive study guides to assist in preparation for the MECP exams; however, those individuals who require hands-on training should seek resources available in high schools, vocational schools, industry schools, specialized workshops, manufacturer training, and continuing education opportunities. MECP certification cannot substitute for hands-on training; rather, MECP validates the individual’s ability to problem-solve, understand recommended practices and wide ranging knowledge of topics needed to complete the job.
Most technicians started as enthusiasts. If the industry can foster interest in today’s car audio enthusiasts, these aficionados they are more likely to join the MECP ranks. This issue of how to develop interest in a trade is one faced by many skilled labor industries and it’s one for which this is no singular approach for a short- or long-term solution.
MECP and CEA are committed to help grow the pool of qualified labor, but MECP cannot create this infrastructure alone and fill the pipeline with turn-key installation technicians. There are far too many other vocations in the digital age that appeal to today’s students. It’s up to employers, manufacturers, MECP, CEA and other industry affiliates to foster interest and excitement in this industry. It’s a group effort and one that is a growing concern for everyone in the installer community.
Please share your feedback here or by emailing [email protected]. MECP welcomes constructive ideas that provide a beneficial outcome for technicians to enhance their career path, income and well-being. With motivated technicians in their employ, many retailers have the tools to take their business to the next level and retain long-term, highly-skilled employees.