Are Your Employees’ College Degrees Overrated?

Too often this industry assumes that talent recruitment should focus on students with bachelor’s degrees. It’s time to think a little differently.>

Tom LeBlanc

If your company has an employee recruiting pipeline to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), this article is probably not for you.

However, if you’re among the countless AV integration companies struggling to find your next-generation of tech-trained engineers, system designers, project managers, technicians and sales professionals, you might want to think differently when it comes to talent recruitment.

Indeed, recruitment remains a major challenge for the folks who run AV integration firms, said NSCA executive director Chuck Wilson during the recent Integration Business Survival Conference & Technology Showcase in San Francisco. Along with cash flow management he said talent management should be integration firm CEOs’ top priority every day.

Too often, however, the industry assumes that talent recruitment ought to focus on students graduating with bachelor’s degrees, says Jeff Gardner, a board member of the Electronic Systems Professionals Alliance (ESPA).

ESPA’s Electronic Systems Technician (EST) standardized certification program focuses on students that “might not be destined for college but have potential that they can fulfill,” he says. A case can be made that a path that leads to integration firms through an ESPA program at a high school or a technical school, such as Lincoln Tech, already in place in 20 U.S. markets, can create an even richer employee recruitment strategy.

“A lot of kids are computer savvy, tech-savvy, understand mobile devices, but they don’t want to go to college. They don’t want to owe $80K in four years,” says ESPA’s Jeff Gardner.

ESPA’s focus on certifying entry-level technicians provides integrators with a strategy for not limiting their recruitment efforts to young professionals who can afford or are willing to saddle themselves with lofty education costs. While contrary to conventional thinking, not going to college can be a prudent decision for many young people, Gardner says.

“A lot of kids are computer savvy, tech-savvy, understand mobile devices, but they don’t want to go to college. They don’t want to owe $80K in four years. If you show them the kind of work that systems integrators do — in sports bars [for instance] — they see it’s an opportunity for them to work with their hands and their brains. We’re making them aware that there’s a career path [to the integration industry].”

Gardner describes two scenarios. One is a student who emerges from high school or a technical school with ESPA’s EST certification and is promoted by ESPA to integration firms within a certain radius and hired as an entry-level technician. Another is a student who enters a four-year college.

Four years later student No. 1 has gotten a couple of promotions, worked toward industry and manufacturer certifications and identified a career path. He’s already a valuable employee.

Four years later student No. 2 hopefully graduates and looks for his first job while strapped with $80,000 (or more) debt. However, Gardner acknowledges that college graduates make great employees, too. “The industry needs to look at both.”

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