Plight of an Invisible Industry: Battle to Recruit Students Who Don’t Know AV

AV integration has ‘a serious industry problem’ in that appealing, tech-educated students have no idea it exists. The search is on for the next generation of industry talent.

Ask anybody who works in it about the AV integration industry and they’ll describe a rewarding market in which business and technology converge to provide creative, tech-educated professionals with fulfilling career opportunities.

Ask anybody who does not work in it about the AV integration industry and they’ll likely say, “What the heck are you talking about?”

Few outside of the broad but close-knit AV integration community seems to know that the industry exists. That can be great for jumping from job to job and company to company, but it can be lousy for finding the next generations of talent to take companies and the industry to the next level.

“We have a serious industry problem that we all need to address,” says Rob Simopoulos, president of Scarborough, Maine-based integration firm Advance Technology. “We are not attracting enough talented people into the industry. 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 security or AV industry. The majority of them have tunnel vision toward the traditional IT space.”

Simopoulos is far from alone on this.

“No doubt the most common problem that Verrex experiences as well as most integrators is finding qualified talent,” says Tom Berry Jr., president, CEO and chairman of the Mountainside, N.J.-based firm. He adds that it’s a problem locally as integration firms look to grow amid an improving U.S. economy and globally as firms such as Verrex seek to capitalize on international demand for AV solutions.

Related: The ‘AV Geek’ Is Cool Now, Someone Just Has To Tell the Kids

The AV integration industry’s personnel challenge is a “big topic,” says Chris Miller, executive director of Professional Systems Network International (PSNI). “Not a new topic. But a big topic.” The industry has been battling the recruitment issue for a couple of decades, Miller says. “The result has been a recycling of known individuals that have a tendency to move from company to company.”

The problem, acknowledges Whitlock executive VP Julian Phillips, is that AV integration just isn’t on the radar of most universities. NSCA in its works with Electronic Systems Professional Alliance is making strides targeting two-year technical schools with its Electronic Systems Technician (EST) standardized certification program and developing potential entry-level integration firm employees.

The industry, however, would like more traction in terms of getting on the radar of four-year universities. Phillips is seeing it now and he saw it in his former life as a CEO of a U.K.-based integration firm.

“The problem is AV today as an industry is not institutionalized into the education system, so it’s very difficult to find people who are actually going to school and actually finding their way to us through education,” he says. “So, some of the traditional methods are difficult.”

They’re Not Kidding

Jennifer Landon is a career consultant at University of New Hampshire – Manchester. She is familiar with the AV integration industry because hers is among the universities that Advance Technology has tapped to launch its internship program. Landon was game for a little experiment. She emailed 17 students — 14 computer information systems majors, two communications majors and one communication arts major — and asked them three questions:

  1. What is AV integration?
  2. Do you know what InfoComm is?
  3. Would you be interested in a career in which you use IT and engineering skills to design things like video walls or collaborative communication solutions for companies?

First consider that the term “AV integration” has some built-in context clues. Still, seven students answered along the lines of “no clue.” The other 10 took their best cracks at responding, some getting close and some touching upon aspects of AV integration:

“AV integration involves implementing audio/video services within a network.”

“I think AV integration has to do with working with audio visual tools.”

“Using video technology in order to improve business aspects.”

“Audio Visual Integration are essentially network systems that provide a targeted audience the view of specific ads placed by companies. These systems are typically placed in high traffic areas where folks are looking to advertise a variety of matters/ideas.”

“Audio visual integration.”

“AV integration occurs when a room’s lighting, furniture, and relevant technology fit well with one another. If someone has a small study room that requires a TV and USB hookups, one must think of where to manage the cables and the placement of the interface for easy access. The same applies for larger meeting rooms. ”

“Integrating audio visuals into the classroom.”

“Audio Visual integration is a custom conference room that can be used for something simple like slides to present to employees or can be used for worldwide video conferencing.”

The InfoComm question was tougher. Fifteen respondents basically said “never heard of it.” The final two either came close or pretty much nailed it — either because they know InfoComm or they Googled it.

When it comes to the third question and whether or not they’re attracted to a career in AV integration, having been told a little bit about it, they absolutely are. Eight said yes. Five said, more or less, maybe. Four said no. Specifically, one of the “yes” respondents wrote, “Yes, I would be interested in almost any career involving IT.” Another adds, “That actually sounds pretty awesome.”