While we love sharing the Pro AV industry’s good news — hires, career advancements, and business acumen — we often don’t cover how those stories simply wouldn’t be possible without the teams of technicians, supervisors, engineers, salespeople, and industry partners who are responsible for each job in their own particular way.
For this article, I wanted to provide a 5,000-foot-view of the industry from the perspective of what it’s like to start from scratch. How do you find careers in pro AV, and is the industry welcoming to newbies?
I’ll cover both the integration firm and the tech manufacturer career paths.
“Falling into” your career
Charmaine Torruella, Chair of AVIXA Diversity Council & Global Services Manager at Verrex, is not the only person who’s told me that they just kind of “fell into” AV. I hear such expressions used to describe someone’s entrance to their pro AV career all the time.
But if you’re a young, tech-enthused person competing for a job, “falling into something” doesn’t sound like a reliable path to employment.
The reality is that these young, tech-enthused individuals are going to have to be incredibly proactive and understanding of the “old guard’s mindset.
“AV is such a niche industry, so in order to keep oneself ‘golden,’ you need to hold the knowledge other people need and not share it,” explains Torruella. “The problem we’re seeing is that those experts aren’t sharing information, and as they retire, the knowledge goes away with them.”
In order to get around this, young people need to find a company that supports — even flaunts — a strong mentoring program.
Whether that means you’re shadowing someone on the job; a part-time internship; or even a fully-fledged apprenticeship: companies that operate on the assumption that newbies are willing to learn are the ones worth pursuing.
“Integrators tend to be holistic, not corporate,” Torruella advises. “They have homegrown structures, meaning they hire people they know. A young person needs to find a way to build trust and a rapport.”
Another way to do that: go to industry events and ask people questions. Get to know the integrator environment. Most of the integration firms who attend these events tend to be higher up in their companies, so if they see someone willing to learn asking them questions, they may take interest, Torruella says.
Craig Bonner, senior vice president at global integration firm Kinly, moved to England from South Africa and fell into the space via an advert in the London Underground.
“It’s an industry that relies on experience so it can sometimes feel a bit guarded,” he says. “We are opening up though, especially as the technology broadens and starts to interconnect with massively popular platforms like Zoom & Teams.”
“It’s important that people demonstrate their interest in learning. Some think this is a technical industry, but it’s more the enthusiasm to learn that’s important. If you demonstrate the enthusiasm to learn new technologies, you will succeed eventually.”
Bonner recommends AVIXA’s certification and education forums — much of which might not be suitable for newbies, but can help them advance their careers. For those interested in integration business leadership, there’s always the National Systems Contractors Association.
University not always necessary but depends on the region. In NY, there are some great recommendations like CUNY NY Technical College has an AV program. But elsewhere in the country and the world, that might not be the case. See if you can intern or entry level work for an actual integrator, get the direction you need to pursue next steps.
Moving up at AV integration firms
Torruella says she already had a technological background when she came to pro AV — but she still would have done one thing differently.
“I would have mapped out the kind of AV career much earlier. When I first stumbled into it, I just was happy to be there. I didn’t map out a logical career path for myself or have long term goal, and that’s something I would advise young people do as soon as they figure it out.”
Bonner, who has 20 years of experience in pro AV, mirrors her thoughts:
“Spending enough time with each area of a business to understand what they do is something I wish I’d have done a bit more. I do think I could have spent a bit more time learning each department’s role. It’s important to understand the part you play in the success of both your department and others’.”
What about AV tech manufacturing jobs?
According to Adam Bowers, and TR Hoffman — both young product engineers at MSE Audio — a similar passion for technology will attract employers.
There’s not a lot of formal education that teaches you have to design a loudspeaker, so most employees in the manufacturing space learn as they go.
“There’s lots of innate trial and error,” Bowers says. “Don’t be apprehensive about that.”
Hoffman, a music enthusiast whose passion brought him into the speaker design space, says spending the time to critically listen to music was important for him.
“Following frequency ranges and being able to listen to something and analyze how a pair of headphones stacks up against another was helpful. I do think that knowledge helped get my job.”