Maintaining professional practice standards
The International Municipal Signal Association (IMSA) is a membership organization whose 22 local sections provide quality certification programs for the safe installation, operation, and maintenance of public safety systems, including everything from traffic controls, fire alarms, and radio communications to emergency medical services, roadway lighting and signage, and other related systems.
In many U.S. states and other countries, an IMSA certification is a prerequisite for working for the Department of Transportation, and public safety professionals are obligated to renew these certifications every three years. As a result, IMSA has issued more than 150,000 certificates since certification began, not only to its 9,300 members, but also to thousands of professionals across North America and beyond.
Richard Porter, Certification Manager at IMSA, explains, “We have more than 20 certification programs in a wide range of disciplines. In the past, each section would run events where volunteers would provide training to help people prepare for their certification exams.”
The problem was that many of the smaller sections only had enough volunteers to run a few events each year and could only cover a subset of IMSA’s programs at each event. If someone wanted to take a certification in a specific topic, they might have to travel to the next state—or even farther—to find an event that could give them that opportunity.
Guy Petinga, Vice President of IMSA’s New Jersey section, gives an example: “Say you have a business three hours away from the nearest relevant event. You would have to stop work for the day, pay to travel two-and-a-half hours each way for two days, and book a hotel room for the whole period so you can attend the class.”
Moreover, the certification process itself was almost entirely manual. Learners would sit in a proctored exam room and use a No. 2 pencil to fill in a Scantron bubble sheet, which would then be physically mailed to IMSA for grading. As a result, the whole certification process might take up to six weeks.
Toby Cummings, Executive Director at IMSA, says, “To me, our old process was alarming, because we’re in the Amazon world now and everybody expects Amazon-speed delivery. It’s not just inconvenient; it affects people’s lives. In many public agencies, your job classification and your pay are based on your certification. So, if you were due to move up and you can’t get the certification in time, you’re delaying your career progression.”
“IMSA’s vision was to go to a more modern solution, and COVID-19 gave us the spark. As an organization, probably 65% to 70% of our entire international revenues comes from certifications, and we do roughly 7,500 to 8,000 new certification exams a year. When COVID-19 hit and we couldn’t do in-person events anymore, we had to find a new way—and fast.” – Toby Cummings, Executive Director, IMSA