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AV career development: changing perceptions

The pro AV industry occupies an odd hinterland between the technology and IT industries, which impacts the attraction and retention of talent. Duncan Proctor looks at what is being done to improve this situation.

The health of the professional AV industry, as with any, is dependent upon the pool of talent at its disposal. However, AV is often overshadowed by or lumped in with the broader technology and IT industries, which boast greater brand recognition and sheer market size. How can more people be attracted to a career in pro AV and how can the industry as a whole establish better career paths?

On the frontline are the recruiters that specialise in AV, such as JacobsMassey, and on the topic of attracting potential recruits “We can all help with this,” says managing director, Graeme Massey. “Every AV company, organisation or institution involved in our industry can spread the word via respective social media channels and direct marketing. Our view at JM is that we could also extend this to higher education establishments, colleges and universities. Put simply, appeal to students studying a related course or degree by informing them that there is a career to be made in professional AV post-graduation. We have had proven success in doing this by working with postgraduates coming into the industry by starting out as freelance technicians.”

Comments from last year’s Install Awards Rising Star finalists reaffirms the point about a lack of awareness. The finalists are made up of promising newcomers either under 30 or with less than three years’ experience.

“I found that I saw a lot of potential in terms of the ever changing needs and advancements in AV technology” 

Alice Binney, Pioneer Group

Growing industry
“I honestly didn’t know a lot about the AV industry previously,” states Alice Binney, internal sales executive at Pioneer Group. “I was looking for roles where I could do something new that really challenged me and I happened to come across an AV job advertisement online which sparked my interest. I started to do a little research and familiarised myself with the industry in more depth. I found that I saw a lot of potential in terms of the ever changing needs and advancements in AV technology and I was attracted to the idea of being part of a growing and successful industry, which has now increasingly enhanced my personal and professional growth.”

So is it simply an issue of self-promotion for the industry?

“I feel that the AV Industry is getting better year by year at promoting itself, however the majority of people who I interact with outside of the industry still question what AV actually is!” comments Adam Gathercole, AV testing and commissioning engineer at Focus 21, and InstallAwards Rising Star for 2017.

Binney is in agreement: “I believe there could be more visibility around the AV industry. Most people who don’t work within it, often view the tech industry as a whole in many ways, without realising there are plenty of varied roles and areas within AV alone. I also don’t think many people are aware that it’s a billion-pound industry and perhaps we might have more people training and applying for roles in AV if they were!”

In addition to a need to get the word out, Gathercole and Binney have ideas about what has deterred people from working in AV and where there is room for improvement. “The biggest area that could be improved on is the education of school leavers and young people looking to start a career,” explains Gathercole. “As it stands there are no dedicated audiovisual apprenticeships available, I had to take the route of an Electrical Installation course. I feel this detracts young people from taking the step towards a career in AV as there are no officially recognised trade qualifications to be gained through an apprenticeship scheme.”

“The industry itself is a little under the radar but definitely growing in prominence”

Denise Hughes, Woop Jobs

“I also think there has been a stigma surrounding women in the AV sector in the past,” adds Binney. “It was a very male-dominated industry, and we still tend to see more men pursuing careers in AV than women, but with the help of organisations like WAVE (Women in AV), opportunities for women to advance within the industry are becoming a lot more visible.”

While the first task is getting talent into the industry, that’s only half the job; retaining that talent requires the development of routes for progression, which is far from easy, but for other reasons than recruitment. “The very nature of the AV industry is that it is driven by technology which is constantly evolving,” comments Massey. “To map out a career path is therefore a little trickier when compared with related industries. One suggestion is that AV companies would benefit from offering more training opportunities via their links with manufacturers. Enabling staff to gain more product certification affords them greater technical know-how – therefore potentially creating more options for career development and progression.”

“The AV industry is still a pretty young one, with entrepreneurial businesses, often with close-knit teams,” states Denise Hughes, director at Woop Jobs. “This means a lot of the learning has been on the job and formal career progression has been slow in the development. However bodies like AVIXA have been instrumental in creating formal training and standards over the last few years, which is starting to filter through manufacturers, integrators and consultant businesses. There is still more to be done, but with such a fast-paced industry, knowledge sharing among peers is important to stay ahead of the curve and attract the best talent.”

This year at ISE, AVIXA and CEDIA once again organised the ISE Future AV Professionals Programme – aimed at those in their late teens to early 20s attending or about to attend university of college. The programme is designed to show them the possibilities the AV industry offers and the career potential.

Joseph Valerio, director of workforce development at AVIXA, comments: “The faculty always loves it that their students go back home fired up and engaged and ready to pursue their careers. I’m sure you’ve met with a lot of other people in our industry that were simply unaware that it’s an option for a career as it is.”

While it is encouraging that industry bodies are taking steps to increase the supply of talent, Hughes believes that individual companies with in the world of AV have a responsibility to nurture that talent once they have it. “I would say that the industry bodies have stepped up and are doing the best they can to develop training paths for technical and sales people as well as specialist roles. The impetus to use these must be on the businesses, to invest in training and to feed back about what training they need for their businesses.”

And what of industry certifications? “As a benchmark we believe they provide people coming into the AV industry important guidelines to best practice and technical accreditation,” notes Massey. “Equally this extends to those already working within the industry by offering advanced courses such as CTS-I and CTS-D. Certification does not replace experience but it does provide a recognised mark of attainment. That can only be good for everyone.”

Forward thinking
While there is still work to be done, the industry is clearly aware of the issues and being proactive in tackling them. The nature of problems such as a lack of awareness is that they are not solved overnight and to change perceptions in a meaningful way takes time and resources. The fact that young and driven individuals such as Binney and Gathercole have been attracted to careers in AV proves the industry is moving in the right direction and the word is getting out.

Going forward, what can be done to improve the situation further? “The key is the willingness of companies to look at candidates with transferable skills,” explains Hughes. “As the industry is growing rapidly, it’s vital that we bring new talent from complementary industries and enable them to learn the specialist skills. The industry itself is a little under the radar but definitely growing in prominence as it becomes vital to the IT ecosystem, and household brands are starting to move into the space.”

“I think it’s a great time to join AV,” summarises Binney. “It’s a pretty complicated business, with a lot of moving parts behind the end product. Whether that’s installation, sales, technologies, design or distribution, it’s a fascinating and fast-paced environment to work in.”