Continuing Education on a budget
I have less than a year until my family and I relocate to California from Central Florida. There is so much planning and saving money to transport 3 people across the US, that I understand why people don't do this extreme move. Not to give too many personal reasons, but I have basically been stuck here until my oldest daughter graduates high school. Now that I have a timetable ( June 2014 ) I have started to take a serious look at myself and what my real worth is to an employer or a staffing company. I posted in ProlightingSpace the question, "What does the lighting resume look like today?" back in April, because I haven't had to do a resume in almost 20 years. I got some great responses from Nook Schoenfeld and J Palmer and decided to head to the library and grab a 'resume for dummies' book. Man how things have changed with wording, playing to your strengths, and guides to beef up a lack-luster resume. 20 years ago, it was all about how long you worked somewhere and how you really wanted to document a path of steady jobs, because it didn't look good if you jumped around in technical disciplines. This attitude kept you working with a small group of employers often, and this was great if your boss was working all the time. Now days with the internet, smart phones, and great ways to communicate, travel has no boundaries and employers could be calling you from South Africa.
One insight, J. Palmer ( from my post ) gave me, was the need to be certified in certain safety procedures and prove what equipment I can operate ( lifts, trucks, and forklifts). This got me thinking about my current full time gig, and how I'm certified in several things that I never found value in. I am pyro certified with a full updated ATF background check, but have never worked those gigs of loading fireworks. I have most lift certifications, get constant re-certifications, and am happy I didn't have to shell out the dough for those classes.
I started attending technical trade shows ( this year ) that I could go to for free ( thru my job ). This meant I was actively seeking out and asking for time off from work to attend these shows. I'm not talking about LDI or E3, but I did get to go to InfoComm 13 and PLASA earlier this year. I looked into getting some additional education at these events, and my mouth dropped when I saw the price tags on some of these courses. I can't afford to spend 2,000 in 3 days going to classes, and this made me freeze with fear that I may have been left behind. What I mean is, everyone has a time in their life when they realize that they have rested on their butts and enjoyed the easy gigs for too many years. It was time to make an accurate assessment of my skills, and how that would translate to an area where no one knows me ( Cali ). OK analysis complete, I'm 2 years behind in networking and education, and now what do I do?? First thing I got stuck into my head was maybe I should start learning Java Script, Linux, and SDK for writing and understanding applications and IOS platforms. I chose this line of continuing education because it had free tutorials on Youtube and I could apply some of this knowledge to IPad/lighting console uses. This is just to see if I have the capacity to pick up a planned learning schedule with real homework, and if I can stay focused. Needless to say, this is tough because I don't know what else I can use this skill for ( besides the IPad applications), but again I want to start 'mixing it up'.
I started to focus more on online courses to flesh out some areas I'm not particularly considered an expert. I'll give you an example, back in the day when I worked as an electrician on film sets, I could run power, calculate the loads ( in amperage ) per leg, service the generators and tie-in power at almost any outside locations. Today it is highly unlikely that I can walk up to a business and do a live power tie-in with bare wires and a makeshift on/off master panel. Yea, that was me stealing power everywhere we went ( back in the day ), and those were decent size productions. I can't remember the equations today because we never had to worry about voltage drop ( never had ballasts or sensitive computer parts ), and now I really need to go to a power distribution class so I don't burn a location down. My hunt is on for a power distro class, so please keep me posted.
I decided that I also need to approach areas that I leave to the experts-like rigging. I have known some of the best riggers of all time, and then times changed ( like they always do ) I have seen how the riggers that are coming up thru the ranks ( in the last 4 years specifically ) have no idea what they are doing compared to the old rigger dogs we all know and depend on. These new young riggers are loud personalities that will ridicule you on site if you ask them about their choices in safety. I have seen fellow lighting techs get hurt and no one seems to be held accountable anymore. I need to be more aware of what others are doing with my lighting rig, and I need not to be afraid to get a calculator out to double check some of their math.
Fortune was good to me and I came across a free rigging class hosted by 'The Crosby Group'. The Crosby Group is an industry standard for equipment that is safe, reliable, and has high standards of quality. They have every shackle, sling, hook, eye bolt, wedge socket, and many more toys a rigger could drool over. This does NOT mean I am a rigger, but I do know what is needed on a gig, and this was a great class to attend. When I 1st came across the info for the class, I kept looking for a fee, but couldn't find one. This was a 4 hours class with free lunch. As I walked into the conference room I was surprised at several tables of wire/ synthetic cable, fasteners, and a large van full of gear to touch and ask questions about. I sat down and was very happy with the amount of swag they had for me including the coolest foldable 'User Guide Lifting' to take in my backpack on future gigs. There was a huge product application seminar book with the ASME/OSHA based fundamentals. OK, now I'm happy, this book is huge and I knew there was no way we were going to get thru the whole thing in 4 hours, but it was mine to take home. This specific class only talked about what Crosby products can guarantee, but it was never a sales pitch to only buy their products. This was evident after 10 minutes the main speaker took to catch everyone up with the basics. ASME stands for American Society of Mechanical Engineers and OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Now anyone can google this, but where does one organization start and the other end? The workbook they gave us advised us on what is expected from both and how a technician can double check themselves with both standards. There was a basic definition of what is considered an 'overhead load'? The answer might surprise you, it means when a load is lifted off the ground ( think as high as your ankle ), because it is defined by the ability to be a 'special event risk'. When the main speaker started to talk about slings, the terminology included 'Working Load Limit" ( WLL ) which is the maximum mass or force the product is authorized to support in a particular service. The product ( slings, shackles, etc... ) must pass a proof test to make sure there are no defects in the design. Then the 'Ultimate Strength" test pushes the product to the point of failure or it can no longer support its load. Finally there is a Design Factor which is an industrial term denoting a product's theoretical reserve capacity, and this is usually calculating by the ultimate load divided by the working load. In other words they give you a small weight cushion for additional safety. I have worked with some rigging ( truss, electrics, hardware, and safety's) but have never been the person calculating weight loads on the truss, or I have just been given the gear and was told to go hang. There was never a 101 class I could participate, because I'm not a rigger at my full time job. Lighting geeks stay over 'there' away from the chain motors and picks, and we are not held accountable if something falls out of the ceiling on a guest. This class afforded me the paradigm shift I needed. I need a reasonable amount of confidence to assure that everyone is safe in my club or at my event. The most important thing I took away from the class is that rigging doesn't have to be a mystery anymore. I'm talking about the more complicated equations of 'what angle does your sling lose at least 40% capability to safely carry a load'. I also know how important it is to have a basic rigging plan. I have a workbook that will take me a few months to get thru, but I am really excited about NOW paying for a class to get certified in a rigging capacity.
This brings me back to the title of this blog, how to continue my education on a budget. This class was exactly what I was looking for, but I still can't figure out how to find more of these opportunities. I would love to hear some of the tricks my fellow technicians ran across that got them the additional information they needed. Some of this information can't just get pulled off the internet ( or I'm too ADD to be patient enough to find it ) and I'm a classroom kind of person, BUT regular college courses aren't detailed enough for what I am wanting to do with my career. You can say that my experience has outpaced anything I could learn in college, except maybe the more complicated mixed theatre degrees.
Bravado is a huge part of our industry, but I want to know my gear, instead of trying to fake my way onto a job. Tell me your stories, everyone can learn from another's experience, and reach out to make sure safety is priority 1 on your next gig!