Workforce development should be an important initiative at every AV company.
In a high school classroom outside Baltimore MD not too long ago, I glimpsed the future of commercial AV. It was in a media arts class and I’d been invited to speak to students about InfoComm and the AV industry. Before my presentation, the students were milling about in groups, working on videos they’d shot around campus. When I launched into my spiel, it was clear that most had never realized their passion for media arts might translate into a career in what you and I know as commercial AV. One young man was especially inquisitive. He volunteered at his local church, running the mixing console every Sunday. I explained the various jobs in commercial AV, opportunities for training and certification, and hooked him up with a CTS Exam Guide.
What happens next for high school students such as these, with an interest in audiovisual experiences, will help determine the future of the AV workforce. Some will go to college where, by and large, their AV interests will be relegated to hobby status and they’ll pursue liberal arts, computer science or engineering. Others will chase their passion at arts schools. Being active in youth sports, I’ve met several high school students who want to be sound engineers, for example, and musicians. (Sound like anyone in today’s AV industry?) And some will finish high school and look for jobs that excite them and maybe, if we’re lucky (or sufficiently engaged), they may make their way to an integration firm, design house, vendor or AV/IT department at a big or small organization.
As we know, the path from youthful interest in AV to trained AV professional is not as clearly defined as it is for people pursuing medicine, or law, or even management of information systems. For the commercial AV industry to remain vibrant, workforce development should be part of every company’s strategic plan.
Maru Gaitán, CEO of Niza Alta Tecnología en Comunicación Visual, has seen the future of commercial AV. In 2013, she approached the engineering school of Mexico’s National Polytechnic Institute to help educate students about opportunities in the country’s growing AV industry. “Mexico lacks experienced AV professionals,” she told me. “Companies are growing, but not always professionally, because there is no school or technical university that teaches [commercial AV].”
In 2014, Niza and InfoComm hosted more than 100 students at the TecnoMultimedia InfoComm show in Mexico City. Dozens have studied for and earned InfoComm’s AV Technologist certificate, which was created to be a stepping stone toward becoming a Certified Technology Specialist (CTS).
Jeremy Caldera, CTS-D, CTS-I, of integration firm Zdi Inc. in Normal IL, has spent considerable time working with the future of commercial AV. He teaches an advanced audiovisual design class at Columbia College in Chicago, where he himself earned a degree in audio arts and acoustics. “My students are typically seniors, so they are serious about finding the right technology career,” Caldera said. “Many of them never realized they could have a career in video system design or control systems.”
Last June, students from the Columbia College program had a chance to visit the InfoComm show in Orlando to see firsthand the technology and people who make up the industry.
Zdi is also one of the first participants in a grant program established by the International Communications Industries Foundation (ICIF), the charitable arm of InfoComm International, which is committed to workforce development. The ICIF is guided by a board of directors, led by Board President Ron Camden, Vice President of Worldwide Sales for Biamp Systems, and is responsible for awarding the Michael Vergauwen Scholarship, among other initiatives. Michael Vergauwen was Chief Operating Officer of AVI Systems and a longtime board member of InfoComm and the ICIF before his untimely death in 2009. The 2015 recipient of Michael Vergauwen Scholarship was Dean Philip, a junior at the University of South Carolina, who studies electrical engineering and plans to pursue a career in AV.
The new ICIF Grant Program supports internship opportunities at participating AV companies, such as Zdi. In all, the Grant Program offers tuition reimbursement, paid industry work, InfoComm online education and certification, mentoring programs and InfoComm show attendance. The goal is to help AV companies create internship opportunities that benefit both the companies and aspiring young or transitioning individuals.
Zdi sponsors a 13-year telecommunications veteran who is studying live and installed sound at Columbia College in his effort to join the AV industry. Other 2015 grant sponsors include Atlanta GA-based Unified AV and Electronics & Engineering Pte. Ltd., based in Singapore.
The ICIF is currently accepting applications for 2016 grants. It is also accepting applications for the 2016 Michael Vergauwen Scholarship until February 29, 2016.
Finally, the ICIF is accepting donations in memory of the late Mackey Barron, founder of HB Communications, former InfoComm board member and industry pioneer. The ICIF plans to honor Barron’s many contributions to the industry through education and other initiatives that ensure future growth. To contribute or learn more about ICIF workforce grants and scholarships, go to www.infocomm.org/ICIF.
Whatever you do, find the time to meet this industry’s future. Seek out career days sponsored by local colleges or labor organizations. Host open houses and invite job hunters to see what you do. And visit a high school. You’d be surprised how eager many schools are to welcome career presenters, especially from technology fields. Not to slip into clichés, but the future of AV really is now.