Why SBE certifications should matter, but often don’t

Industry certifications are good tools to gauge an person’s knowledge and experience. Often times, potential employers look for specific industry certs like CCNA, CCNP, Comp TIA A+ or MCSE as conditions of hire.  In highly technical fields, these are reasonable benchmarks.

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In the field of Broadcast Engineering, a CCNA or a MCSE are nice, but do not cover the RF, audio or video skill sets.  True that more and more content transmission is migrating to IP networks, the initial input is still analog.  I have seen the most savvy IT guys utterly baffled by professional audio and/or video requirements.  A tube transmitter?  That is a special animal that can exact a high price from careless maintenance personnel, up to and including death.  That type of situation is clearly not covered by a CCNA or a MCSE.

The typical Broadcast Engineer straddles both worlds; IT and RF.  On any given day, s/he may be working on the computer automation system, or at the transmitter site fixing a transmitter.  Thus, we are jacks of all trades, master of none.  The finer points of configuring MS Active Directory may be beyond a Broadcast Engineer’s understanding.  Same with the tuning up an AM directional antenna.  At a typical broadcast facility, these projects do not happen very often and experts can be hired to complete this work as needed.  Having a specific industry certification for Broadcast Engineers makes a great deal of sense.

The reason SBE certifications often do not matter is that most station managers and owners have no idea what a Broadcast Engineer actually does.  It is an unfortunate situation when a non-technical manager has no idea where their subordinate is or what they are doing.  It is not simply a matter of accounting for time either.  Almost every station or cluster manager that I have ever known came from a sales background.  To many of them, engineering is a black art.  Working in such environments is a study in frustration especially when engineering is seen as a liability on the balance sheet; somewhere far below sales and promotions but slightly above the cost of garbage collection.  When these types of managers are in a hiring process and a candidate presents them with a set of letters following their name, who knows what they actually mean?  What hiring managers do know is this; more experience means more salary.

In order for SBE certifications to mean anything, the SBE itself needs to do a better job promoting its certification program to owners and non-technical managers.  This can be done through working with the NAB and other trade associations that broadcasters belong to.  Part of the reason why so few new people are coming into the Broadcast Engineering field is because career paths are ill-defined, promotion and advancement opportunities are limited, salaries are stagnant, and better opportunities are found in other technical fields.  A better understanding of Broadcast Engineering skill set would be helpful to non-technical managers, sort of a “Explain it like I am five,” (ELI5) type seminar.

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