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ESPA Focused on Workforce Development, Taps Gardner as Executive Director

Gardner will focus on expanding Electronic Systems Technician (EST) certification and rekindling “pride in craftsmanship.”

Tom LeBlanc

There are a lot of moving parts in the integration industry’s battle to somehow get on the career path radars of young tech-enthused employment candidates. It’s an uphill battle for an industry that students simply aren’t aware of, as demonstrated by a recent survey of college students.

NSCA hopes its Ignite program, which will officially launch at its 2016 Business & Leadership Conference, will serve to educate and “ignite” excitement about the industry’s career opportunities. If successful, the organization sees Electronic Systems Professional Alliance (ESPA) training as a critical next step for young professionals looking to enter the integration industry.

In anticipation of that demand, ESPA named Jeff Gardner as its first executive director. Gardner, a long time CEDIA executive who has served on ESPA’s board had already been ESPA’s leading voice and driver behind its training initiatives.

Gardner will focus on managing the certification process, bringing in schools as Authorized Training Partners and raising awareness of the EST career path.

“I am very excited about this opportunity,” said Gardner in the press release.

“Finding qualified people is the number one challenge facing systems integrators today, and ESPA can play a key role in addressing that problem.”

Related: NSCA’s Plan to Reach Students and Ignite Fire on Recruitment

Meanwhile, ESPA sees an opportunity for the integration industry to provide rewarding career paths for students that aren’t necessarily on the four-year college plan. With college tuition skyrocketing, Gardner says there are a lot of promising employment candidates that simply need more options.

The ability to learn isn’t limited to students fortunate enough to attend our nation’s top technical schools or four year colleges in general, he recently told CI. ESPA’s Electronic Systems Technician (EST) standardized certification program provides a pipeline to students that “might not be destined for college but have potential that they can fulfill,” he said. 

A case can be made that a path that leads to integration firms through an ESPA program at a high school or technical schools already in place in 20 U.S. markets, can create an even richer employee recruitment strategy.

While contrary to conventional thinking, not to go to college can be a good decision for many young people, Gardner said.

“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 system integrator 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].”

“What we have lost in this country is pride in craftsmanship—the pride in learning a trade,” Gardner said. “It used to be that people recognized the value of being a carpenter, plumber or electrician—building things. We’ve been telling kids for years that you don’t want to do that; you want to go to college.”

That thinking, he added, steers young people away from careers that can be extremely satisfying, particularly in AV integration. “Let’s train them to do things and get to work. This is an opportunity to do that in an area that is dynamic and ever-changing and where there’s always something to learn.”

As much as Gardner makes the case for recruiting certified entry-level employees, he acknowledged that college graduates make great employees, too. “The industry needs to look at both.”