Q&A: Dean Nickel and Vernon Kelley

Two experienced institutional locksmiths share there thoughts on their field and the upcoming Institutional Locksmiths Association National Educational Conference and Trade Show, planned Oct. 9-13 in Chicago


The knowledge you come away with will increase your value but also, this knowledge makes your job easier. This would be an investment in you. I've had both kinds of employers - ones who will pay for every ounce of training and employers who would have trouble just giving me the time to do it. I've always paid for classes when I had to because I always saw it as that important.

How long have you been here at the college?

I've worked for the State of New Jersey since 1995 and I transferred here in 1999.

Let's talk a little bit about your responsibilities here at the college, and what you've done with the ILA.

Here at The College of New Jersey I'm the Supervisor of Access Control; if it locks mechanically or electronically, then we're responsible for it. That includes mechanical locksets, master key systems, standalone electronic locks which we have more than 800 of on campus right now as well as a fully networked access control system that controls over 200 locations on campus. Most of those locations are tied into automatic operators that we're also responsible for.

I find that many institutional locksmiths have a substantial amount of control and responsibility, and then there are some who deal with little beyond mechanical locks, some masterkeying and door closers and panic devices. What's the big difference and how can some of these others move in the direction of having as much control and responsibility as the Vernons of the world?

It all comes back to education. You have to present yourself as a knowledgeable professional. I've known some very knowledgeable locksmiths in the 18 years I've been doing this that have presented themselves as less than professional. Some of them just don't want to do the work required to make a better name for themselves within their institution in order to have more responsibility. With that responsibility, I have freedom to do what I need to do in my job without my boss looking over my shoulder the entire time.

And this is because you're trusted to do the right thing?

Because I'm trusted and we've proven here in our shop that we are adults who come to work, handle all of our own work orders, order our own product, write our own specifications and standards. My boss doesn't visit me in my shop more than three or four times a year because he knows we're doing the right thing and that he doesn't need to baby-sit us.

How much of this situation do you attribute to your ILA involvement?

That goes a long way towards it. You meet people who are very good at what they do. When you begin educating yourself, you quickly learn that more education is what you need. For people who are attending their first ILA convention, they'll be around others who have been doing this for two or three decades in some cases and that's a lot of information to tap into. They've learned that if you look and act like a professional, you will be rewarded for it. Sometimes the reward is monetary; sometimes it's being subsidized to go to seminars and conventions and sometimes the reward is simply having the ability to run your operation without being micromanaged.

What's your current role within the ILA?

I'm currently the president of the Delaware Valley Chapter.

At this year's convention, what are you looking forward to?

I think we're going to have a wider range of classes that will appeal to more people. We'll also have a wider breadth of representation from manufacturers and a rather sizeable trade show. We'll have 50 or 60 tables with a wide variety of manufacturers and suppliers.

It's no secret in the industry that food can be a priority among the ranks. Will there be enough to go around?

Most nights will consist of meals provided by various sponsors. At our Awards Banquet, we'll get to mingle in a slightly more formal setting.

How could people find out more? Is there a web site?

Yes, anyone can go to WWW.ILANATIONAL.ORG.

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