An effort to immerse up to 20 college students in a crash course in the life of an AV integration company hasn’t attracted the attention from InfoComm member companies that organizers had hoped for, but officials say those who participate can serve as examples of why the offering is a worthwhile effort.
The International Communications Industries Foundation (ICIF) grant program will help about 11 students spend a year working in all aspects of the business at five companies who’ve signed up for the 2015-2016 academic year, and board members hope a second effort to get other companies interested will mean all 20 spots are filled before the end of the month, when students and their families must submit financial aid applications.
“For us, it’s a force multiplier,” says ICIF executive director Duffy Wilbert. “We’re trying to engage companies to work with their local schools and expand their reach to get more students involved with the industry. Once we get a couple of companies going, I think we’ll get more interest.”
Board president Ron Camden of Biamp Systems passed along information about the grant program to fellow PSNI members and says he believes companies who signed up will be happy they did.
“It’s a pretty complete package for someone interested in the industry and workforce development,” says Camden. “There’s definitely room for bringing more students and young people into the industry. I’m excited to see how it unfolds.”
Fellow board member Barry Goldin, who will host one student at Unified AV under the grant program, is excited to get it off the ground.
“You get work out of them and they’re learning about the industry,” he says. At Unified, a senior staffer will work with the student, says Goldin, but he sees many ways companies can utilize the students, whether that means working in one department during their tenures or getting a flavor of several.
“It’s whatever that company thinks they need to do to succeed,” he says. “It really can be customized by the grant sponsor and what they need.”
Under the ICIF grant program, which will replace the general scholarship awards of past years, companies will pay a $2,000 tuition reimbursement to participate, with the other $2,000 coming through the foundation. The companies will work with their local colleges and universities to pick the students they think will best fit their needs for a paid part-time job, mentoring, attendance at InfoComm 2015 in Orlando and InfoComm education and certification.
InfoComm will continue to award the $5,000 Michael Vergauwen Fund scholarship to students who are children of men or women already in the industry.
“The scholarships we had been giving out, there was really no connection with the students at the end of that,” says Wilbert, noting the foundation has awarded hundreds of scholarships in the past. “We tried to develop a program that still has funding and also integrated the recipients into the industry.”
Camden believes the first year will go a long way toward determining interest in the grant program in future years.
“It’s not going to grow if we don’t do this first year right,” he says. “But if this comes off well, it’s going to keep getting bigger. There’s lots of room for growth. We just want the first year to be successful.”
There are many reasons why the first year of this program hasn’t attracted as much interest as the board had hoped, says Wilbert. Each board member called five people to let them know about the new program in an effort to get the offering off the ground for this year.
“It takes some time and dedication,” he says. “It’s not just writing a check. You have to put some effort into it as far as keeping the student involved. It may a case where there are some companies who we have to train how to do this.”
Goldin sees the first year of the program as a learning process for all involved.
“The marketing may not have been what it could’ve been or maybe it could’ve been the timing and we didn’t give people enough time to evaluate it,” he says.
Camden emphasized the importance of integrating youth into companies across the industry.
“Every one of us in the industry should be working on workforce development and showing young people how dynamic this industry is,” he says. “There’s an opportunity to take somebody and help them get started in our industry.”