The Entertainment Technician Certification Program (ETCP) Council recently announced it was beginning to accept applications for the ETCP rigging examinations for certification. The initial tests — one covering arenas and one covering theatre — are scheduled to be held in November 2005 at the ETS-LDI trade show.

Shortly after the announcement, we started to hear a lot of questions about the exams. There seemed to be a good deal of confusion and no small amount of misinformation being passed around about who would be eligible to take the exams, what certification meant, and how this would affect job prospects for riggers. Well, we went in search of the real answers. We spoke with Katie Geraghty, ETCP certification director, as well as Bill Sapsis, owner of Sapsis Rigging, and Eddie Raymond, vice president of IATSE Local 16, who, along with Rocky Paulson of Stage Rigging, Inc., are the co-chairs for the ETCP Rigging Skills Working Group and sit on the Council. Sapsis, Raymond, and Paulson are also now members of the Rigging Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). The 24 SMEs for the ETCP are all highly respected individuals who are working in conjunction with the ETCP Council's selected psychometric services provider, Applied Measurement Professionals (AMP), to develop the actual examinations.

The first answer we wanted was clarification of what, exactly, certification means. ETCP's rigging certification is defined on its website:

Personnel certification is the voluntary process by which a nongovernmental organization grants recognition to an individual who has demonstrated a high level of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Certification means that one has met specific eligibility requirements including training, experience, and education, and passed a rigorous, comprehensive examination. Certification indicates a substantial professional commitment to the field and documents this expertise to employers, colleagues, and professional organizations.

Or as Raymond states, cutting to the chase, “Certification is recognition through examination of a level of competence.”

The next obvious question is why get certification as an individual? To understand that answer, one must first ask who is eligible to take the examinations. According to ETCP, these first rigging certifications are designed for highly experienced riggers (rigging supervisors, high steel riggers, flypersons, etc). “For the most part, certification exams, in general, are for people who are very experienced,” Geraghty explains. “So that is what we are shooting for — someone who has years of experience in rigging. After reviewing the qualifications for the examination, you can determine if you meet the criteria to apply to take the test.”

Everyone involved with the development of the certification feels that it is the top one-third of the riggers who will be eligible for the exams. But this fact begs the question, “Why only the top one-third?”

Raymond explains, “Part of it comes from the definition of what certification is: recognition through examination of a level of competence. We looked at what that level of competence was throughout the industry from the point of view of the people that were on the rigging skills working group at the time and decided that, really and truly, the only people that have the level of competence relative to what certification really means in a practical and legal sense are the top third of the riggers.”

Sapsis' answer to who is eligible to take the test leads us back to why riggers should get certification as an individual. “I'm sure there are people who have been working for 30 years and are not going to want to go through the process,” he says. “But the reality is that certification is now here, and it is not going to go away. Aside from bragging rights, the idea is it will get you a leg up for a certain level job or for a promotion. As an employer, I'm sending guys to take the test, and I expect them to pass. So I guess when they come back they'll probably come to me and say, ‘Okay, now pony up.’”

Raymond agrees that certification will be a means for employers to find supervisors the leads for the calls. “The goal is that employers will eventually ask for a certain number of certified riggers to be on their calls, so that they can then have some consistency among those individuals in terms of their skill level,” he says. “It would be lead riggers, head carpenters, fly men in large theatres, road fly men, and road carpenters who would be the kind of people to be certified.”

This answer begins to clear up the greatest misconception regarding ETCP certification — if you don't get certification, you will not be able to work as a rigger. This is not true. Certification is not intended to be an across-the-board hiring requirement. “I think that is a common misconception,” Geraghty says. “The goal is to increase safety and have at least one person in a supervisory position be certified. It is a valid fear, but it isn't the realistic goal of the test. It simply gives an employer some information that you have passed this level exam.” And this is information employers want, according to an ETCP survey. “We did do feasibility surveys a while ago, and 81% of employers said they would like to see some certification in place,” she adds.

Raymond also put this issue into perspective. “Everybody recognizes that, first of all, because it has just started, there are not going to be that many certified riggers out there,” he says. “Secondly, the intent of the program is to have certified riggers being in charge and have other people working under them who can be trained and move up to become certified riggers. There is a lot of work that doesn't need to be done by certified riggers; it just needs to be supervised by certified riggers. This goes back to how the employers intend to use the certification. The companies who signed on to the certification council are some of the biggest employers in the industry, and they intend it to be for the supervisors.”

So, if employers want to know riggers' skill levels, you may ask, why certification for only the top one-third of riggers, and why not for other levels as well?

“There will not be a test for the next level down because of what certification means,” explains Raymond. “It means you are at a very high level. Certification will always only be aimed at the top level because, by definition, that is what certification is saying — you have the knowledge of that top level. The ultimate goal is that people will aspire to get the skills sets necessary to pass the exam and become certified to go out in those oversight positions.”

Sapsis agrees that certification will always be for the top riggers. “We do not anticipate any other level of certification except at the top,” he says. “I don't mean that we are in any way looking down our noses at the middle and beginning level riggers. We just believe that the needs of those levels are better served through a training and certificate program.”

Not to make your head spin more, but certificate and certification are not the same thing, and the terms can't just be changed. These are legal clarifications of skill levels as defined by ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and NOCA (National Organization of Competency Assurance). “There is going to be confusion between certificate and certification,” Sapsis says. “We don't have a terribly regimented industry, and as a group personality, we are a like a bunch of lone wolves crying in the distance. Some of us are academically oriented, and some of us aren't. I think those who are academically oriented will probably understand the difference a little better, because they have run into it. Those of us, myself included, who are not so academically oriented, will have some confusion in the beginning.”

Raymond agrees. “Someone who goes to Tomcat school for two weeks comes back with a certificate,” says Raymond. “The ESTA Foundation is working on an essential skills program right now, which is starting at the other end of the spectrum — the very beginning levels — in many different crafts in the theatre industry and defining basic skill levels. Hopefully, that will continue to grow so eventually they can offer different certificates at different levels, but that is still not certification.”

Understanding the thinking behind certification, many of the riggers in the industry are starting the process of applying for the inaugural exams, according to Geraghty. “We have already sent out at least 700 handbooks,” she says, “and someone going on the website can download the application and handbook as well. Everything is also available on the web under candidate information at http://etcp.esta.org/candidateinfo/riggingexams.html. The deadline for applications is August 1, and there is no limit on number of candidates for this examination. People will be able to take the exam if the application is accepted. If you cannot take the exam at the ETS-LDI show, there will be opportunities to take it starting early in 2006. After the November ETS-LDI exams, future examinations will be offered at over 100 computer centers across the US. Someone will be able to apply to the ETCP office, and if their application is accepted, they will get a note explaining how to schedule the exam.”

Since there are two different exams, one for arena and one for theatre, Geraghty wants riggers to know that they can be certified in both exams. “If you take both exams within one year, you get a fee discount, as well,” she says. “People will be able to apply and take both exams at ETS-LDI, because they will be given at different times. They are two different exams.”

The bottom line on certification is that it is intended to be good for the whole industry. As ETCP envisions, its certification is designed to promote safety for technicians, performers, and audiences; stimulate training; and provide validation as well as public recognition of the professional skills of entertainment technicians. Now, really, who among us couldn't use a little recognition?

If you have further questions about the ETCP Rigging Certification, inquiries can be made directly to Geraghty at 212-244-1505 or kgeraghty@esta.org. Her only request is that inquiries are made to her first. “If they contact me, I can, for the most part, give them an answer without everyone tracking down Bill or Eddie; they are volunteering their time, so if people start here at the office looking for information first, it would help.” For more information about ETCP, in general, the website is www.etcp.esta.org.