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Q+A: Graeme Massey on how to retain the best talent

Graeme Massey, managing director of specialist AV recruitment agency JacobsMassey, talks about skills, flexibility and retaining talent.

How did you get in to the AV industry?

I began my career in recruitment within the construction industry, specifically with regard to mechanical and electrical (M&E) engineering. From on-site electrical corporate installation projects I identified the potential need for on-site audiovisual support. There began my route to specialising in AV recruitment. Today that AV provision extends across corporate, government, education and retail, as well as health sectors.

How has the AV recruitment industry changed in the last five years?

I think the biggest fundamental change is that AV departments are now largely run by IT managers. It is a trend that directly marks the fusion of AV with IT. The AV sector is no longer an island; it is embedded within what many now term to be unified communications. With convergence comes multiple interfaces across many AV products and services. That’s why the skills sought by many AV employers today are very different from those specified five years ago.

Where are the key skills shortages in the industry?

It’s a good question. One answer would conventionally cite field service engineering, programming and design. In many respects this is still true, but I think the real answer lies in finding candidates that have a wider ‘toolkit’ at their disposal. The candidate with AV as well as proven IT know-how is in demand. That’s the key area of shortage.

How important are industry certifications in the selection process?

JacobsMassey has been a corporate member and sponsor of InfoComm International for many years. We have always directed candidates of all levels to pursue formal accreditation. In terms of selection when recruiting, that is dependent upon the client brief. Some companies and organisations require related academic qualifications, some specifically ask for CTS, others look for manufacturer accreditations.

Overwhelmingly though, I would say that employers still rely on employment history to determine whether to move to interview and subsequent hire. However my view is that industry certifications will become increasingly important as we grow alongside and within the IT sector. Recognised certification in the long run elevates salaries!

The skills sought by many AV employers today are very different from those specified five years ago

Are companies leaning more towards an on-demand, freelance workforce?

Yes, without question. We have seen a significant marked increase in the demand for freelancers over the past five years. Our operations division has doubled and the number of freelancers has trebled. The flexibility that it affords end-users and AV companies, especially in the area of live events, is the principal driver. That said, the permanent job market at the present time is equally strong. The trend there, though, is that there are lots and lots of jobs but it’s very much a candidate-driven market.

What do companies need to do to attract and retain the best talent?

Tell stories! The best advert for any AV company is to highlight individuals that have successfully grown their career within the organisation. In a candidate driven-market, people have many choices. Their decision to move into a new job is not just salary dependent. They want to understand in detail what the company offers in terms of career progression, working environment, training, as well as location. Then there is the company’s ethos and reputation to consider.

I attended an InfoComm roundtable event recently and one of the most interesting facts that came to light from an independent PR agency was that millennials no longer talk about ‘a job’ but aspire to ‘a lifestyle’. The idea of holding multiple jobs or interests is common. Being a musician, a designer or a blogger can all be mixed with the day job – especially if you work in AV! If you want to appeal to new talent then align your company with flexibility, progression, and above all an openness to embrace new ideas, not shut them down.

Overall it’s a bigger topic than I can cover here but safe to say, if you are hiring and you want to attract and retain the best AV talent – and new talent for that matter – you should be constantly promoting your the achievements of your company and those who work for you, not just your products and services.