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RFID Industry Hungry for Pros with Experience

Only handfuls of technicians are equipped to handle the high-level RFID deployments that an increasing number of companies are demanding. In a February 2006 survey of 80 companies working with RFID technology conducted by CompTIA, 75 percent of respondents said they don't believe there's a sufficient pool of talent in RFID to hire from.
Oct 16, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

October 16, 2006—Dozens of would-be RFID professionals are getting schooled on the ABCs of RFID each week at a growing number of specialized training facilities.

But only handfuls are equipped to handle the specialized deployments that an increasing number of companies are demanding. In a February 2006 survey of 80 companies working with RFID technology conducted by The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), 75 percent of respondents said they don't believe there's a sufficient pool of talent in RFID from which to hire.

The number is only a slight improvement from two years ago, says CompTIA vice president of e-business and software solutions David Sommer, noting that the 25-year-old trade association has been issuing RFID-specific skills tests only since April. These written certification exams are based on concepts such as RFID installation, configuration, maintenance, site surveys, site analysis, air protocols, and tag placement.

What's difficult these days is finding individuals with high-level, real-world RFID deployment experience, say consultants, recruitment firms, and educators. Companies are looking for experts to figure out how to build a system from the ground up.

"What a lot of these candidates say is, 'I know RFID' and start talking about Oracle or SAP," Joe Kurtzke of technology recruiting firm TSRI tells RFID Update. "You have to ask, 'How does that relate to WMS? How does that relate to ERP?' For companies doing an RFID pilot or rollout, candidates need to be very, very strong. If you have somebody that has to do the entire business design on a system, they better know RFID. That's where the shortages lie."

But why do so few technically talented individuals possess these business-savvy skills, while RFID is making headlines and filling conventions?

For one, the technology is still relatively new, and many companies implementing it don't know what -- or how much -- they want to do with it. That's a problem when you consider that traditionally in the IT world, you don't have a lot of workers with both high-end tech and business skills, says Kutzke.

"The ones who have done implementations and made mistakes through trial and error, they're in great demand," he says. "The problem is people aren't really sure where they're going to go with RFID and to what extent. Are you going to do slap-and-ship? Or will your storage facility have a sheet hangar? How much interference will you have to take into account?"

Another reason that real-world RFID expertise pickings are slim? The demand for the technology hasn't quite caught up with projections, says Robert Sabella, president of OTA Training, an organization that provides three-day, hands-on training programs geared toward learning the basics of RFID implementation and concepts, and passing the CompTIA RFID+ exam.

"RFID isn't taking off as well as everyone anticipated," Sabella tells RFID Update. "For real, skilled RFID people there still is demand out there. The concern is, when demand ramps up, how do we get people the skills necessary to implement RFID?"

Although OTA Training provides hands-on introductions to RFID and teaches the technological concepts needed to pass the CompTIA exam, Sabella admits "Certification is only one part of it, training is only one part of it ... real-world experience implementation is the deal breaker."

The unfortunate upshot of such hesitation by companies is mirrored in the trepidation of individuals to invest in expensive training. Certification courses run in the thousands of dollars, an expensive proposition for an individual whose company isn't sponsoring them.

The good news, though, is that students have a number of options.

A growing number of organizations like OTA offer three- and four-day courses culminating in CompTIA certification. Universities are offering even longer courses and specialty RFID programs.

Oakton Community College's Certificate Programs for RFID Training is one such example. The school's flagship course began this fall with ten students, thanks to an Illinois state grant and vendor support. It centers on helping students develop both technical and business skills, says program chair Majid Ghadiri. One of the course requirements is that students identify a company with RFID implementation needs, and take that company through a real-life deployment. As they do this, they address issues such as interference, security, the best location for equipment, and dealing with other radio frequency noise.

"The uniqueness about this program is that it's hands-on," Ghadiri said in an interview with RFID Update. "The more that the industry is going to deploy RFID, the more we will need individuals to go in and optimize things."

The second part of this series will explore what skills will be in demand as adoption widens and RFID matures, and how training programs will evolve to address that demand.
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