We’ve written many times about the need for more young people in the AV industry in an effort not to wipe out the Baby Boomers or Generation X, but as a way of making sure the companies those people or their families started won’t go away when they do.
We’re starting to see some real progress now when it comes to incorporating young people into the mix at AV integration firms, thanks to programs like NSCA’s Ignite internship program, which is modeled similarly to the AVIXA Foundation’s grant program in that it splits the cost of internship between the employer and the school the intern attends.
Recently, AVIXA launched a mentorship program that helps employees who are already on the job get a little more familiar with those who came before them in an effort to carry on the company’s legacy and, in most cases, create a two-way education exchange about life in the workplace and sometimes much more.
AV Internships & Mentorship
NSCA Education Foundation program director Kelly Perkins has been charged with building Ignite since joining the association last year.
Although she’s still on the young side of her career, she knows AV has a reputation as a haven for proverbial old white guys and understands the importance of changing that.
“If we don’t find people to replace us, we won’t have an industry anymore,” she said during a panel discussion at the NSCA Business & Leadership Conference.
Not calling it “AV” might be a good first step
Perkins has taken to calling the industry in which she works “communications technology” in part to address that younger generations don’t always have a sense of what “AV” is.
“It’s always a challenge to explain what we do, because it’s so many different things,” she says.
More on the IGNITE internship for hiring AV companies
Ignite will officially launch its eight-to-12-week internship program this summer after a pilot program last year. The offering is first come, first served, says Perkins, and the number of interns will be capped as necessary.
This sort of program is needed because the average AV integrator has seven open positions at any given time, according to Commercial Integrator’s 2019 State of the Industry Report, and current training programs are equipped to fill only about 600 of 17,000 openings, about 3.5 percent, says Perkins.
“Most of us in this industry have more gray hair than black hair so I need to make sure I already have the next great leader in the building.” — Brian van der Hagen, AVI Systems
Interns should experience all parts of the company during their time working with you, says Perkins.
“You want to get their hands on a little bit of everything,” she says.
“Our companies are complex so you don’t want them to just feel like a cog in the machine. People are so much better at what they really like to do.”
Ignite interns should experience job shadowing and can watch training videos related to sales, marketing, operations and project management.
Ignite also teaches soft skills, including the importance of being on time for work every day and what they should wear on the job.
It worked for AVI Systems
AVI Systems area VP Brian van der Hagen has fully embraced the Ignite program.
“Most of us in this industry have more gray hair than black hair so I need to make sure I already have the next great leader in the building,” he says. “I love bringing in open-minded curious people and helping them find their paths.”
AVI-SPL’s own AV hiring internship program
AVI-SPL is working with Columbia College in Chicago to develop the curriculum for its internship program, says HR director Neil Williams.
“A lot of students who have a genuine interest in AV don’t know there’s a career in it,” he says.
“It’s more than just posting internships on job boards. It’s about creating relationships. That’s how you set the foundation. Interns are going to go to a company they trust.”
AVI-SPL interns follow learning plans with entry-level paths that are also available to current employees who want to do something different in their careers. AVI-SPL pays for most training and certifications, says Williams.
AVIXA Hiring AV Program
Meanwhile, AVIXA’s mentor program had a light launch at InfoComm 2018 in June and its official kickoff in January.
AVIXA hosted an opening session at a Women’s Council meeting in Los Angeles in February and will host similar networking and training events at InfoComm 2019 in Orlando in June, in Toronto in July and in Dallas in October.
The interesting dynamic so far has been seeing the mentorship going both ways, says senior director of member services Amanda Eberle Boyer.
AVIXA is working with the Young AV Professionals Council on the mentor program and will highlight it during Student Day at InfoComm 2019, she says.
“Sometimes you can be both a mentor and a mentee,” says Eberle Boyer.
In the mentorship action guide, AVIXA asks mentors and mentees to pair up for at least six months and to meet twice a week for about an hour, whether in person or on a video conference.
During those meetings, they develop goals for the relationship and track their progress toward meeting those goals.
AVIXA is helping to make connections as needed, says Eberle Boyer, but the program likely will work best if the mentor and mentee find each other organically.
“There are some people who are interested in starting these kinds of relationships, but don’t know how,” she says. “A lot of people have that fear. We want it to be a match for both parties or you won’t see the benefit.”
About 100 people have expressed interest in the mentor program so far, says Eberle Boyer, and “that’s only going to grow at the [InfoComm] show.We want to provide a vehicle for people to get involved.”
Two Millennials Learn the Trade
Marianna Deibler, AVI Systems
Marianna Deibler is a senior at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson, Minn., who’ll graduate in May with a degree in AV systems technology.
She spent last summer as an intern at AVI Systems splitting her time between project management, service, programming and design engineering thanks to the Ignite pilot program.
Deibler, who’ll start full-time at AVI Systems after graduation, is surprised more people her age aren’t intrigued by a career in AV, saying she’s one of a handful with her major who’ll graduate this spring.
“Most people take these systems for granted,” she says. “They don’t understand people need to put them together.”
Deibler fell in love with programming during her internship, even though she went into it thinking she’d be heading down the design engineer path.
“I like the creativity of [programming],” she says. “You can pretty much do anything you want.”
Deibler encouraged a friend who’s pursuing a marketing degree to apply for Ignite. She’s ready for the industry-wide shift from old white guys to young talent like herself.
“The new generation needs to move in at some point,” says Deibler.
Nikki Jurik, Tierney Brothers
Nikki Jurik, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, who’s set to graduate in May as a double major in business administration and economics.
Jurik spent her internship last summer in sales support at Tierney Brothers, splitting her time between pre-sale, post-sale and office management.
She stayed on as apart-time remote intern through the fall semester, then joined Tierney in January as a part-time bid and quote coordinator as she closed in on graduation.
She’ll be a full-time employee after earning her diploma and will be a mentor for Tierney’s incoming sales support intern this summer.
“A challenge for me was working for three different areas of operations. Because my mentors didn’t always know what I had on my plate from the others, it was up to me to balance everything, continue to communicate with them, and be able to say ‘no, I can’t take that on,’ when I had enough to take care of.
“This allowed me to further develop my timemanagement skills, as well as learn to ask how high-importance the projects I was receiving were.”
During her internship, Jurik created jobs for installations and quote proposals for customers, created and updated instructions for various processes, helped to coordinate company events and helped to create the new Tierney letterhead.
In addition to her work as a bid and quote coordinator, sales coordinator and office manager, she shadowed Tierney staff in the accounting, tech service, purchasing and marketing departments.
“My mentors told me in my interview how much they relied on this position, especially in the summer,” says Jurik.
“They said I would get a lot of different experience and be able to shadow. This was exactly what my internship was. I was treated as a full-time employee and worked on roughly 40 projects outside of my given job function.”
Jurik was looking for a job with a company that features a strong team culture, offers the ability to work remotely as needed, gives her a suitable work-life balance and has opportunities for her to continue to develop her knowledge and advance in her career.
“The AV industry is exciting to work in because it is constantly changing. Even if my job is relatively similar from day-to-day, the products we get to sell to our customers are continuously changing. At Tierney, our headquarters is also our show floor, so we get to see these innovative products every day,” she says.
Why Signet Temporarily Shelved Its Internship Program
Signet Electronic Systems scrapped its internship program after struggling to make it work for the students and the existing workforce, says director of human capital management Kelly Clasby.
The offering included one student who worked in various departments during the seven-week stint, one student in the operations department and one student in the IT department.
That IT internship has been in place at Signet for years and continues this summer, thanks to a partnership with a nearby vocational high school.
That internship goes through the life cycle of a job, includes pairing with a mentor and is punctuated by social events with other Signet employees.
“We got a sense right away that [one of the interns] wanted to be out in the field [rather than in the office]. That’s where the level of engagement was definitely stronger,” says Clasby.
Signet wasn’t prepared for the initial pilot phase of Ignite, she says, noting the seven-week time frame was a double-edged sword.
“We ran into a challenge with the length of time to get someone ramped up,” says Clasby.
“We can always use the second set of hands but we want them to be able to help and by the time they were able to do that, it was time for them to leave. It’s a combination of providing them with a baseline education and the hands-on exposure while also hoping to gain some additional help during one of our busiest seasons.”
Signet also struggled getting more people on the management level to buy into the idea of continuing the internship program in its current format, she says. The idea is to have the interns do meaningful work that helps them develop an interest in the industry, says Clasby.
“We probably started too late,” says Clasby, noting Signet is working with management to develop a more comprehensive curriculum for interns, including industry basics, specific projects in the hopes of finding interns in the spring to start in January.
This summer, in addition to the IT intern, one student will shadow someone in the marketing department, an offering Signet didn’t have last year.
Signet is building an apprenticeship program aimed at college-age students that’s structured similar to a co-op “so it’s beneficial for Signet and the students,” says Clasby.
She expects Signet to get involved with Ignite again in the summer of 2020.
“If we start planning early enough, it’ll be looked at as a benefit, not another stress point,” says Clasby.