Pro AV Logo Originally published as a Consultant's Connection
column in Pro AV Magazine
  November 2004

Is Pro AV Turning Gray?

While we have plenty of interesting work to do in pro AV, we still struggle to attract more young job-seekers to the industry.

By Tim Cape, CTS-D

I’ve been in pro AV since 1981 when I got my first job as a consultant. And like many of us who have been in the business for a long time, I’ve seen a lot of changes from the advent of new technologies to the rise and fall of grand business plans. In the 90s when there were lots of opportunities in pro AV work, we tried to get people into the industry to help us get the work done, and we did.

The problem was that they weren’t necessarily trained to do the job, and sometimes a long and painful learning curve ensued. Some of those brought into the industry stuck around, while others didn’t. Those who did still had quite a bit to learn, but had few choices for getting the education they needed other than on-the-job training

In response, some manufacturers offered pro AV education to benefit themselves and the industry, and many still do this today. Several pro AV associations also developed educational programs to pull together the multi-faceted resources needed to provide a one-stop-shop training solution. These were hefty undertakings, but over the years the programs have come together quite well, propelled by the need for pure professional development along with the emergence of certifications that require a significant amount of education and experience to attain.

Despite these efforts, we still need more qualified pro AV help, including professionals with experience and knowledge as well as eager, young professionals trained to perform our work. But are we getting them? The answer is — perhaps most accurately — only sometimes.

The Accidental Career

We all need people with experience, and our success in finding those people varies with the pro AV market’s activity and stability. But we also need younger people coming into the field that have the desire to do what we do, and hopefully a little training, too.

It’s often easy to attract younger salespeople into the industry, but it’s the techs that ultimately get the job done, and we don’t really seem to have the pipeline populated with many potential digital field techs and systems/facilities design engineers. As the industry continues to grow, new entrants into these areas may become scarce if we don’t increase awareness.

Traditionally, we’ve obtained these people through the backwaters of other related work. And to a large degree we still do, but it’s not enough. Roadies, electrical engineering grads, audio geeks, recording engineers, broadcast video engineers, and now, even IT types sometimes find their way into pro AV, although often by accident. They didn’t start out wanting to become pro AV professionals, but somewhere along the way stumbled upon an AV company, an AV installation project, or an ad for a job that sounded intriguing.

The fundamental problem here is two-fold. First, while music stores, hi-fi shops, and live sound are in-your-face occupational options to the mainstream culture, pro AV remains hidden in the background. Secondly, kids and adults who have a penchant for technology and are interested in a related career often overlook pro AV as an option. This is because they don’t either know pro AV exists, think it’s the same as working at a music store, or truly prefer the delivery of bits and bytes over the manipulation of lumens and decibels. But if they have a chance to experience what we do under the right circumstances, they often come to love it as much as many of us do.

What You Can Do

Pro AV and related associations are doing their part to include pro AV in traditional educational programs — mostly at the high school and vocational college levels. One thing we can do is support these efforts from within the organizations. Both the ICIA (www.infocomm.org) and NSCA (www.nsca.org) have active programs to expand awareness and opportunity for interested young people with an aptitude for AV-related skills. Each organization has student membership options as well as scholarship programs to help high school kids through related degree programs. ICIA provides course material and support to colleges that want to teach courses in pro AV fundamentals and applications. NSCA University offers career planning and outreach to high schools, colleges, and universities.

One notable program that has been supported by the ICIA is SkillsUSA (www.skillsusa.org), which promotes the involvement of high school and post-secondary school students in a wide range of occupations by hosting competitions in various trades. States have their own competitions in each field and the state winner then compete in the annual gathering in Kansas City. The event brings thousands of kids together to compete in everything from nail care, commercial baking, and advertising design, to masonry, electrical work, and diesel engine repair, to video production, electronics repair, and as of 2001, AV systems integration. However, more AV teams are needed at this event to keep us there.

Pro AV professionals need to educate students and teachers to see our world as an interesting, exciting, and challenging career option. How can you help? Arrange field trips (perhaps through your own kid’s school) to tour your office, your shop, or better yet, one of your facilities under construction/installation or in use. Participate in career days and show off the cool stuff we get to play with every day. Hire an intern for the summer. There are a multitude of things we can do to help our individual firms as well as the industry as a whole by educating younger people about what they could be doing that might be more fun than the average IT job.

While we can see people working in music stores and working the sound and light boards at concerts, most people don’t typically have an opportunity to see anything but the results of pro AV design, installation, and operations. We need to plant the seed early that these jobs are in demand and that the pro AV industry has great to offer.

 

 

 
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