“How strong is the supply of the next generation’s AV/IT talent?”
Reflecting on my days serving on the InfoComm Board of Directors nearly 10 year ago, we asked this very question. We received hundreds of responses from integrators across the world. The general response came back that we integrators are constantly struggling to find new employees with any commercial AV background. We also recognized that the IT talent, while still in limited supply, was much greater. This was consistent with the reality of the way that AV was being supported in most organizations.
Specifically, most organizations (then and now) do not have dedicated AV staff any longer, but delegate all AV responsibility to IT. Certainly, IT professionals are very smart and hardworking, but we find that most have little background knowledge about how AV equipment works, especially the audio side. So how strong is the supply of the next-generation AV/IT talent?
Today, little has changed relative to our education system producing AV professionals. AVIXA (formerly InfoComm) invested heavily to make an impact with this challenge by using resources to create curricula that could serve as a foundation for institutions of higher education, and some of the school systems took advantage and started associate degree programs, but they are still very low in number.
Apprentice programs with large AV integrators were put in place with support from then Infocomm, but with very little net gain. At the same time, almost every school system ramped up their IT education programs, and they continue to produce IT professionals to very positive effect. Still, there are too few new IT talents entering the market.
So what is our current reality as AV/IT integrators relative to talent? This question can be best answered by the larger integration companies, which have dedicated human resource departments. These professionals struggle every day to find new qualified candidates for the growth the industry is seeing right now. They have to regularly engage professional recruiting companies to help and pay employee’s finder fees to find needed qualified AV/IT professionals. Professional recruiters, commonly called Head Hunters, are constantly reaching out to existing AV/IT professionals and trying to motivate them to consider a change (incentivized by money). It is commonplace for those of us in the industry to get an email, a phone call or a LinkedIn request to talk about opportunities for change.
So while the future is bright, the resources especially on the AV side are scarce. Most companies end up seeking quality people from other professions and provide them training, which takes years to get to an expert level. AV/IT is rightly combined since the future of AV is all over IT infrastructure and the Cloud resources. So today. AV/IT integrators are more often than not, in the tech areas, hiring IT talent and teaching them AV and in the sales area, hiring salespeople from totally unrelated disciplines and teaching them AV and IT – a process that requires at least one year.
Because the supply of AV/IT talent is so low, and of no real significance (my opinion) for improvement based on our education system for the AV side of the business, new talent will likely continue most often to be a person that stumbles into our industry and invests a year or two to find their place in our specialized industry.
Our industry is filled with opportunity, but not for the faint of heart. This industry is tough, not only for the newbie to learn all of the stuff (technical term for AV and IT basics), but for the many companies in the AV/IT world selling very technical equipment and services in a world where decision makers either see this purely as a box sale or other decision-makers see this as a “just good enough” decision, the latter being the most troublesome.