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Who Got You Excited About This Industry?

There’s a difference between taking a job and embracing a career. How can we instill passion for the AV industry in today’s sharp young minds?

There’s a difference between taking a job and embracing a career, and therein lies a big problem for the AV integration industry.

Not a lot of young, technically trained professionals envision a “career” in AV integration — and that needs to change.

That is not my original thought. I’ve heard this concern from several industry leaders, including NSCA‘s Chuck Wilson and InfoComm‘s David Labuskes.

In many ways it falls on the industry’s elder statesmen — a term I use loosely — to flip the script and convince sharp young minds that the AV industry is where they can be inspired, successful and happy.

That’s what happened with Jay McArdle, the 35-year-old CIO of Normal, Ill.-based Zdi (a 2014 Higher Ed Industry Leader). Jay and his brother Aaron, CEO, have roots in IT and electrical contracting. A few years ago they explored breaking off a low-voltage AV integration division from parent company Zeller Electric. My read is that, at the time, AV integration reflected more of an opportunity than a passion.

Related: Generation IT: Zdi Reinvents AV Integration

That was before Jay had extensive conversations about the AV integration industry with Dan Doolen, chief instructional media engineer at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“I was young and naïve,” Jay recalls of his first meeting with Doolen. “I asked him how I can do work as a union contractor for the University of Illinois. He told me about all these certifications, a whole list of credentials for me and my company to have. I was too young to realize he was essentially telling me to buzz off.”

A couple of years later Jay returned to Doolen’s surprise with all the credentials they had discussed. “He looked at me like I had three heads.”

That exchange kicked off a decade-long professional relationship in which Doolen, a tech decision maker for a highly-sought Zdi customer, challenged Jay to create an integration firm that serves clients better than status quo.

Related: Zdi, Other Families in the Business of AV Integration

As an InfoComm standardization task group member, Doolen emphasized the value of company and individual credentials as well as industry standards. That resonated. The biggest difference in moving from IT to AV, for Jay, was how credentials are valued differently. Doolen pushed Jay and Zdi to attach more metrics to systems, giving customers more con- crete measures of return on investment.

“He really made me try to quantify very subjective things in AV.”

Zdi has found success with a unique approach to articulating value of the systems it designs for its clients, and Jay sees the needle moving slowly but surely in AV industry.

“We’re starting to get to that point, and it’s because we have guys like Dan out there saying this is where we need to go.”

Doolen retired from the University of Illinois on July 1, but Jay expects their relationship to continue. “I’ll still ask him for advice from the perspective of a client. What are they really asking me? What is a reasonable expectation?”

The answers to those questions will provide challenges for Zdi, and that’s what seems to get Jay excited about the AV industry. That’s the passion upon which careers are built, and the key to this industry’s sustained success.

What got YOU excited about AV integration? Leave us a comment to tell your story!

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