NSCA Ambassadors’ Recruiting Efforts Ignite Interest in AV Among Students

NSCA Ignite program aimed at increasing awareness in AV integration for next generation through outreach at high schools and colleges.

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NSCA Ambassadors’ Recruiting Efforts Ignite Interest in AV Among Students

What topic could bring out the passion in AV integration leaders enough to make them stand up in front of a class full of high schoolers or college students? Their jobs and their industry, of course, and they’re finding some encouraging results in their early days as ambassadors for the NSCA Ignite program.

The students knew “AV” referred to something related to technology, but thought it only had to do with things like TVs, smartphones and apps.

Some of the 80 Ignite ambassadors have started making their in-person pitches, visiting local schools, colleges and universities in an effort to increase awareness about the AV integration world and why young people might be more interested in joining it than they actually realize.

“Instead of people talking about needing new blood in the industry and new education programs, I saw [Ignite] as doing instead of complaining,” says Gina Sansivero, director of business development in education for FSR, who recently did a presentation on Ignite at her local high school on Long Island.

The students knew “AV” referred to something related to technology, but thought it only had to do with things like TVs, smartphones and apps and hadn’t given much thought to the commercial applications they see every day in malls, their own school or sports arenas, for example.

“That’s not the way we think about in the commercial space, so that’s something we have to consider if we want to make it something kids will be interested in as a career,” says Sansivero. “AV isn’t necessarily a term that resonates with them.”

For the second year in a row, the Drunk Unkles will raise money for the NSCA Ignite program at its InfoComm 2017 concert, set for June 14 at B.B. King’s in Orlando.

Lauren Simmen, regional sales manager at SurgeX and a board member for the NSCA Education Foundation, says she’s excited to see Ignite ambassadors “starting to get more traction,” noting it’s important to “raise awareness outside the channel about the channel.”

“People either fall into this industry or were born into it,” says Simmen. “Everyone seems to stay in the industry until they retire. AV has completely changed since I was in high school. There are schools today that have their own broadcast studios. A lot of them want to go to Silicon Valley and build apps or work for Google or Apple. We do a bad job of talking about all the cool stuff we do.”

Advanced AV human resources manager Angela Johnson has worked hard to make in-roads at high schools and colleges in the Philadelphia and New Jersey area, both through Ignite and as part of the company’s internship program. Johnson finds out about many of the career days in middle and high schools from AAV employees, who have students in those grades. They try to also target local vocational schools, says Johnson.

“You have to start by educating the educators,” she says. “We’ll ask the kids what AV stands for, what AV is, what are some examples of AV they see today, then go from there. At some point during the conversation, one of the kids usually comes up with ‘projector’ as something they know in AV. We’re trying to create partnerships with the educators and the schools.

“The main goal is to let the students know there’s a whole world out there they’re using every day. We can get a fire lit for five or 10 years down the road, when they’re ready to come to work for us. It’s a long-term plan. It’s a way to open their eyes and start them down a career path,” says Johnson.

Crafting a Recruiting Message

AAV VP of sales and marketing John Greene recently spoke for about 20 minutes each to seven classes during a career day at a local high school. He noticed the students expressed major interest in social media and virtual reality goggles, which were used as part of one of the career day demos.

“We shape it to whatever the school needs,” says Greene, noting he’s sometimes accompanied by someone from AAV’s sales departments and often talks about drafting and computer-aided design (CAD) if that’s something the students might enjoy. “If you speak the language they understand, that certainly helps. It’s about taking a holistic approach.”

AAV has employees on several area college advisory boards as part of its 12-week college internship program that includes time working in the sales, engineering, fabrication, commissioning drafting and estimation departments along with being part of an install team in the field.

Advanced is also creating an internal career path program modeled on the internship offering.

“You can’t expect to see results unless we’re continually doing this,” says Greene. “Finding talent to help us grow is mandatory.”

Chet Neal, co-owner of Sound Stage Inc., says he’s been helping young people understand the marvel of a career in AV through his work with the theater, drama and technical departments at the high school where his kids graduated.

Last year, Sound Stage had three interns, two high schoolers and one from the University of Central Florida. Neal understands the struggle he and the industry face in making sure young people understand why a career in AV is something they should consider.

Neal is talking to a local high school teacher about creating a course on AV, he says, noting much of what AV pros do every day is in the course catalog but as part of disparate offerings. He’s also working with Seminole Community College and meeting with students there about working in the industry.

“Nobody grows up wanting to do AV,” says Neal. “I grew up doing AV but it was more about TV and show production. There’s a whole industry that isn’t taught in schools at all. I’m a big fan of ‘growing your own.’” Perhaps the ultimate example of that: Neal’s Sound Stage partner’s son started with the company in high school and is still working there today.

“There’s some personal satisfaction of being able to give back. If I can train students to run a show, that’s a huge win. Once they see they can make money doing it too, it’s a kick,” says Neal.

Michael Shinn, director of global managed services at Verrex and member of the NSCA Education Foundation board, says NSCA Ignite is “definitely getting legs” a little more than a year after NSCA launched it at the 2016 Business & Leadership Conference.

“Some of our ambassadors are struggling to get to the right people within the schools, but most are finding wide-open arms,” he says. “We’re seeing more and more people getting out into the communities. We’re no longer having to poke and prod people to do this anymore.”

Although Shinn hasn’t done any formal Ignite presentations yet, his advice is: a picture is worth 1,000 words. Ignite provides a boilerplate presentation that includes details of the industry and program to its ambassadors then advises them to start with photos of big events like the Super Bowl, Olympics opening ceremonies and Times Square, then whittling it down to malls, auditoriums and board rooms and keep the conversation going from there.

Verrex is developing its plans to meet with students in the New York and Boston areas, with possible plans to take it overseas, says Shinn. They also had a local high school student work as an intern this year.

Shinn has long been passionate about bringing more young people into the industry, since he found himself among the youngest in the space when he started out.

“It’s definitely been a passion of mine in my career,” he says. “For a lot of the existing generations in the workforce today, it’s something they’re coming to terms with. The most important thing is to focus on the attitude of the candidate versus the skill set they bring.”

The Future of NSCA Ignite

Sansivero created a feedback form that she handed out after her NSCA Ignite presentation and says a handful of the students she met expressed some interest in keeping the conversation going. She sent them information about NSCA, InfoComm International and industry training programs and scholarships.

“I came away so energized,” says Sansivero. “The whole experience speaks to the need to keep doing this, outside the industry and inside our industry too.”

“Nobody grows up wanting to do AV,” says Chet Neal, co-owner of Sound Stage Inc. “There’s a whole industry that isn’t taught in schools at all.”

Many high schools are emphasizing “workforce readiness” these days, says Sansivero, and NSCA Ignite helps with that by exposing young people to the industry, and in some cases, bringing them on as interns or temporary employees.

“We need to take the feedback we’re getting from the students and from the ambassadors and continue to develop [Ignite],” says Sansivero.

NSCA Ignite leadership is developing plans for a structured internship program, says Simmen. She believes the increased awareness about the AV integration world will, to borrow a word, spark more interest in it among young people who don’t realize what it entails.

“Millennials have become known as job hoppers,” says Simmen. “Some of that is a result of the fact there’s nowhere for them to move up in the job they have now.”

Neal remains surprised there’s no official training program to help students get into the AV integration space.

“It’d be nice to see our industry become more recognized,” says Neal. “As our industry has matured, the technology is becoming so much more complex.”