RFID and the Non-Degree

By Mark Roberti

People who want a career as an RFID technician will be able to earn a professional certificate that proves they are up to the job.

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Some technical institutes in the United States and other countries offer advanced degrees in RF engineering, and many electrical engineering and logistics courses provide some education in radio frequency identification. Yet RFID Journal is not aware of any RFID degree programs.

But if universities don’t offer degrees in RFID, how can a potential employer know whether a job candidate with a degree in computer science or electrical engineering has an understanding of RFID systems? And as RFID moves from a niche to a mainstream technology, how will companies be able to deploy RFID systems if there aren’t enough qualified technicians?

Illustration: iStockphoto

This is a looming issue several RFID industry professionals recognized in 2012, a few months after CompTIA, a popular information technology certification body, pulled its RFID+ certification exam due to insufficient interest. These independent RFID industry veterans (including me) founded the RFID Professional Institute to develop certification exams designed to demonstrate that a test taker has a certain level of knowledge about RFID. The institute plans to offer three levels of exam.

For the past two years, the institute has been developing and refining its Associate exam. The exam will be offered at RFID Journal LIVE! 2016, being held in Orlando Fla., May 2 to May 5. The institute has also engaged InstructedU, an online training and exam delivery company, to host the exam and generate tests from an existing question pool, and its partner, ProctorU, which does online proctoring. This enables the institute to offer the certification exam to anyone anywhere in the world.

The Associate exam comprises 75 questions, divided into nine knowledge domains, each with five to 15 questions. There are three levels of question difficulty, with the hardest questions worth three times the number of points as the easiest questions.

The exam aims to demon­strate that those who pass understand:
• The difference in performance characteristics among active, passive and battery-assisted RFID systems
• The difference in performance characteristics among passive low-frequency, high-frequency and ultrahigh-frequency systems
• The differences among active systems that use Dash 7, Wi-Fi, Zigbee and other protocols
• The components that make up a typical RFID system and the role each component plays
• Methods of evaluating and selecting various system components
• The roles of providers of the various components and services related to an RFID deployment
• The role of standards bodies, the standards used in RFID and the regulations in place worldwide that govern the use of the technology
• The common applications for different types of RFID systems across different industries
• Issues related to privacy, safety and security that may arise during an RFID deployment
• Issues related to the design of RFID systems
• The general steps that should be followed during an RFID deployment.

There are more than 10,000 students from countries worldwide in the RFID Journal database. The exam allows them to get certified at a relatively low-cost ($200) and show they have a base-level knowledge of RFID terms, concepts and systems.

The next steps for the institute are to translate the exam from English into other languages and to create higher-level exams. The test for the Professional certification will cover all aspects of RFID, as the Associate exam does, but will go into greater depth. The Associate exam, for example, requires test takers to know sources of electromagnetic interference; the Professional certification exam might require them to indicate the means of preventing EMI.

A third level will feature multiple exams, each focused on a specific type of RFID; some people will likely get certified in active RFID systems, others in passive LF, HF or UHF. The goal at this level will be to demonstrate that the test taker not only has knowledge of RFID systems but that he or she also knows how to deploy such systems.

Today, the demand for RFID technicians and experts is relatively low. But adoption of new technologies usually reaches a tipping point and then explodes—that’s why it’s so important to have the infrastructure in place to certify new engineers. Those interested in getting certified at LIVE! 2016 will be able to take a one-day fast-track training course before the test to bone up on their skills.

By developing the RFID certification exams now to test core competencies, training firms can create programs that educate new engineers and others about these competencies. People who want a career as an RFID technician will be able to prove they’re up to the job, and companies will be able to hire someone who can ensure their deployment will be successful.