Are you certifiable?

Take a look at what it takes to become a certified maintenance and reliability professional.

By Paul Studebaker, editor in chief

One time-honored way to lay claim to proficiency in a body of knowledge and the respect that comes with it is certification. From doctors and lawyers to real estate agents and pest-control specialists, earning or buying impressed pieces of faux parchment suitable for framing, the right to add a string of initials after one’s name and the pleasure of regular renewal obligations has been beneficial to career success, if not an outright requirement of doing business in a given profession.

Among industrial maintenance practitioners, we accredit craftspeople of every stripe, we tag qualifying engineers with “P.E.” and the Society of Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP) offers Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP) recognition to individuals who want to demonstrate their ability as maintenance and reliability managers.

I wondered if my speckled education and experience would be sufficient to earn CMRP status, so I signed up to take the certifying exam at the December International Maintenance Conference in Bonita Springs, Fla.

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For reference, I have a master’s degree in metallurgical engineering and about a decade of experience in each of three careers: first as a motorcycle mechanic, then as a process engineer for a magnet manufacturer, and now as an editor. I came to the exam with what little I remember from school, what I picked up first-hand in the bike shops and magnet factory, and I think most importantly, what has seeped in from reading, writing and editing magazine articles for Plant Services.

The test consists of 110 multiple-choice questions, and examinees are given two hours to complete it. The SMRP certifying organization (SMRPCO) supplies a calculator, and no electronic devices, reference books or materials are allowed.

SMRPCO puts forth no formal education or experience requirements to take the exam, saying that maintenance and reliability leaders gain their capabilities through a mix of work experience, education and mentoring. But it also asserts that candidates will not pass the exam unless they have some combination of applied experience and education in maintenance and reliability technical fundamentals, work management and reliability engineering skills, as well as several years’ experience as a maintenance and/or reliability leader with responsibilities for process improvement, management and people development.

The prerequisites sounded like quite a stretch for me, but hey – multiple choice – how hard could it be?

While emphasizing the importance of real-world experience, SMRPCO offers a comprehensive study guide and list of references that might prove valuable (you can learn a lot more about the exam and order the guide at www.smrp.org). To prepare for the exam, I read a book on the airplane that I thought might help bolster some particularly egregious weaknesses, spent a couple hours the night before the exam reading papers on the conference CD, and went to bed early.

Pearl Harbor Day dawned warm and bright in Bonita Springs, and by 7 a.m. about 30 of us were gathered and properly spaced apart at white-clothed tables in the hotel examination room. We ranged from sharply dressed young men to bearded, work-stained, plant-floor veterans, and from obvious industry professionals to trainers, consultants and, uh, at least one magazine editor.

After we showed photo identification matching our registration forms, we all signed our names to the SMRPCO code of ethics, which prohibits divulging any portion of the examination content. But I believe I will not be censured for saying that, multiple-choice or not, it’s a tough exam. Be prepared to read every question carefully and plan to try to understand critical differences among choices that, on the surface, all seem perfectly reasonable and equally right.

As a student, I was always among the first to finish an exam, and this time I was about the third one to turn in my booklet and walk out. But it was with only 10 minutes to spare. I’ve spoken with several others who have taken the CMRP exam, and none of us finished it with confidence that we did well.

Pass or fail, in a few weeks the SMRPCO sends a report rating your relative strengths in five areas: business and management, manufacturing process reliability, equipment reliability, people skills and work management. It was no surprise to my boss that my weakest area is people skills.

 But he is impressed by my CMRP certification, and I’m in the market for a suitable frame.

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