Hardaway and Livingston sitting together at a table

Certification systems managers work behind the scenes to help SMART members succeed

Charlett Hardaway and Sheila Livingston, certification systems managers at the National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC), have been an ever-present force guiding members of the International Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) workers through the certification process, arranging certification examinations and setting up the annual conferences for the International Certification Board (ICB)/Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB). Under the guidance of Director of Certification Duane Smith, Hardaway and Livingston wear many hats and work with the ICB’s small, nimble staff to meet a rotating list of needs.

Hardaway came to NEMIC in 2006 fresh out of college, hiring on as an administrative assistant/certification systems coordinator before earning her current title of certification systems manager in 2014. From an early age, she was surrounded by the culture of unionized sheet metal, as her father was the business manager of Sheet Metal Workers Local 100 in Suitland, Maryland.

It’s difficult to pin down an “average day” for Hardaway, as she handles certifications for supervisors and contractors, reviewing applications and shepherding applicants through exams; sets up new NEMIC staffers and meets the needs of the field staff; coordinates all trade shows NEMIC attends, such as the International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo), the National Fire Protection Association conference, and SMART and Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) conferences; organizes the ICB/TABB conference; and stays on top of myriad administrative duties.

“We’re running a lot of different aspects of ICB,” said Livingston, who also has her hands in many of the same duties. “We both cover each other really well, so we can get the job done. The number of technicians that apply for certification is such a high volume, it’s numerous applications, exams and certifications on a day-to-day basis.”

In 2013, Livingston was hired as an administrative assistant/certification systems coordinator, then a year later earned the title of executive assistant, and in 2021 took on her current role as certification systems manager. Along with Hardaway, she handles applications for certifications and renewals and many administrative duties, as well as making sure all the requirements are met and documented to maintain third-party accreditation through the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB), a subsidiary of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Each year, ANAB requires a surveillance cycle application to see how standards are upheld. In order to maintain impartiality, every five years a new set of assessors is assigned to audit forms and policies required for accreditation. Livingston gathers all the necessary documentation and sends them to ANAB’s personnel certification accreditation committee (PCAC).

Each spring, in addition to their many other duties, both Hardaway and Livingston shift gears and focus on planning the conference. This year marked ICB/TABB’s 19th annual conference, held April 25-27 in Anaheim, California, with around 170 attendees, vendors and staff members. Hardaway has been attending since 2014 but helped organize for years before that; likewise, Livingston worked behind the scenes for a while before attending her first ICB/TABB conference in 2016.

The conference has evolved over the years to have a business track, with classes and guidance on running a business, and a certifications track, offering the entire training and exam process for several of ICB’s most popular certifications. In years past, the conference was spread out over a week, and more recently it shifted to a three-day format. Hardaway noted that for 2023 they plan to increase the conference to four days so members can have that extra day to prepare for exams.

Attendees see Hardaway and Livingston first, as they work the registration table where members check in and ask questions. But their efforts begin long beforehand — Hardaway books the rooms, coordinates vendors, ships supplies, makes sure classes are set up and arranges for any audio-visual needs.

“It’s a lot of work putting on the conference, but it’s great meeting all the attendees every year, especially after COVID,” Hardaway said.

After the meet-and-greet reception, attendees enjoy a recognition dinner during which the previous year’s TABB Hall of Famer is celebrated. Hardaway coordinates each step of the way, right down to ordering and engraving their name onto the plaque. The 2021 Hall of Fame honoree, Lance Clark, was presented his plaque during the 2022 conference.

Flexibility is the name of the game for the ICB/TABB conference. Any large event will have moving parts, but it’s another layer of complexity to add in exams that last around two and a half hours and run concurrently and back-to-back. Upon arrival, some participants might drop a planned exam or sign up for a different one on the fly, or even entirely switch out what track they chose. Some go through a course at the conference but choose to take the test back at their home local. On exam day, Livingston often serves as a proctor for exams, along with other NEMIC staff members and permitted instructors.

“We listen. Whatever anyone needs, we take care of it,” Livingston said. “We help them maneuver through the conference; we want it to be the best experience it can be for them. We couldn’t do it without the whole NEMIC team.”

The conference brings together many coordinators, contractors and journeypersons who attend year after year, along with a mix of new faces who are there to get certified. Hardaway and Livingston work to ensure each conference improves upon the last one.

“It has such a level of camaraderie and networking and just putting a face with a name — and it’s grown over the years and changed since I’ve been going,” Livingston noted. “We learn as a team every year what can make it better, and we listen to the feedback that comes in from everyone that participates.”

For more information on NEMIC, visit the website at nemiconline.org.

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