Invariably, when an AV integration firm executive is asked about business challenges they bring up that it’s hard to find good help these days.
They’re not trying to be folksy. They’re saying that they can’t find their next generation of technicians, system designers and programmers, because young, technical minds aren’t envisioning a career in AV.
Instead, those prospective employees are focused on IT. They prefer IT because they grew up with computers and without the passion for audio and video that once drove the integration industry.
That’s the conventional wisdom, but it’s not necessarily correct. AV integration firms might not be finding good help because they’re not looking in the right places.
“I think we have a serious industry problem that we all need to address,” says Rob Simopoulos, president of Scarborough, Maine-based Advance Technology. “We are not attracting enough talented people into the industry.”
Chuck Wilson, chairman of Electronic Systems Professional Alliance (ESPA), is among those trying to change that. There are 400 students at 22 schools across North America currently enrolled in training programs to become certified as entry level Electronic Systems Technicians, according to NSCA executive director Wilson. ESPA administers EST certification, working with members like CEA, CEDIA, ESA, CompTIA and CABA.
Related: NSCA Courts Tech Students
“Our goal is to get as many certified Electronic Systems Technicians into the workforce as possible,” said Wilson during NSCA’s Integration Business Survival Conference and Technology Showcase in Atlanta, September 15-16, where 18 students from EST program participant Lincoln Technical Institute were hosted.
Being at the NSCA event and meeting manufacturers and integration firms was eye-opening for the Lincoln Tech contingent, according to student Crystal Coleman. “We don’t know about all these different companies,” she told Wilson. “For us students, we need to know the jobs video and sound. We don’t get that. If we don’t know, we can’t apply for them.”
Once students earn EST certification, “the hope is that they’d go to one of our member companies and get a job right away,” Wilson said to Coleman and a small group from Lincoln Tech.
“That’s our goal. Whether you’re interested in voice, video, data, security, fire, pro AV, IT networking, whatever the electronic system is, we hope you take a look at some of the companies represented here for your future career. We’re trying to give you a gateway into our industry.”
Squandering Career-Making Opportunities
That gateway is precisely what is lacking for most technology students, according to Simopoulos. “If you look at students specifically, there are no clear paths for them to follow in order to join the integration industry. I’ve spoken to a number of IT students at colleges in Canada and the U.S., and most of them have no idea that they can gain a career in the security or AV industry. The majority of them have tunnel vision toward the traditional IT space.”
That’s true, says Kristina Johnson, a customer satisfaction specialist at Advance Technology who was a student herself a year ago. The integration firm now goes right to the source recruiting and educating students directly through an internship program it launched this fall semester.
As a senior at University of New Hampshire at Manchester, Johnson took a computer information systems class that included business majors like herself and CIS majors. “I’d say 99 percent of those CIS majors thought that when they graduated they’d have to get a data entry job,” she says.
“They have no idea about these industries. It’s a really unique field so unless somebody is exposed to it it’s not something you’d fall into.”