Mommy, Where Do AV Pros Come From?

stork_450x300Astute question. And almost as difficult to answer as that other question children eventually unleash on their parents (to which the answer, of course, is “storks”). But that hasn’t stopped InfoComm’s Senior Market Research Analyst Matt Robbins from trying to get to the bottom of what’s a fairly existential issue for the AV industry: Where exactly will the next generation of technology-savvy, IT-versed, AV professionals come from?

“With such a small amount of 18- to 24-year-olds working in the profession,” Matt told me, “the industry could have a hard time finding enough qualified candidates to fill positions that will be vacated by the 45- to 64-year olds over the next 10 to 20 years.”

He can surmise; he’s seen the numbers. Because Matt’s a research pro and really knows how to mine data for insights, we have a representative snapshot of current AV technicians. We know the level of eduation they’ve attained and roughly the advanced schooling they bring to their jobs. Half don’t have a college degree, which probably says less about the technicians themselves than it may about the opportunities for them to pursue their passion at the college level.

InfoComm’s concise Audio and Video Equipment Technicians Education Report is part of a new series called Market Research Fast Facts. These Fast Facts are short analyses (a page or so) of trends and demographics in the AV industry. The Education Report is the result, in part, of a common topic of conversation among AV professionals who attend InfoComm Roundtable sessions throughout the world. Namely, “Where do we find young, enthusiastic, qualified talent?”

Frankly, it can be hard to find all three in a new AV hire, due partly to what I’ll call The Chasm. The Chasm is, in a nutshell, college. You may recall a conversation I had last fall with West Potomac Academy’s Nancy Mantelli and Fairfax Academy’s Dave Ruby. They oversee a TV production program for high school students in InfoComm’s backyard. I watched some of the students. Young? Check. Enthusiastic? Check. (Think about it: Looking back over your life, where did you first encounter an organized AV Club? High school? Me, too.)

Many of these enthusiastic AV lovers then go to college. What happens there? We’re not totally sure, but we have our suspicions. Absent a course of study that expands on and nurtures their love of AV and AV-related pursuits, they do something else and fall into The Chasm.

But back to Matt’s research. For the Education Report, he started with a Standard Occupational Classification from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in this case SOC 27-4011, Audio and Video Equipment Technicians. He then crossed that SOC with other data sources to build a profile of such professionals. Is the resulting picture representative of our entire industry, including, say, AV consultants or manufacturers? Probably not, but based on this group’s skills, it is representative of a baseline AV professional around whom to build a thriving industry.

“The majority of people working as audio and video equipment technicians come into the industry without acquiring a four-year degree,” Matt says.

But some do get a degree. In fact, Matt was able to figure out the top 10 schools to confer degrees on AV technicians (as defined by SOC 27-4011) in 2011. The top spot went to the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences. Many others on the list are also specialty schools (the whole list is in the report [PDF]).

The top degree programs:

  • Recording arts technology
  • Digital communication and media/multimedia
  • Photographic and film/video technology
  • Agricultural communication/journalism

(Me: “Agricultural what?” Matt: “It’s basically a communications degree that focuses mainly on outdoor events. One of the main components is learning how to set up AV equipment outdoors and do production work.”)

Of course, there’s no degree called “Audiovisual systems and technology” or “Audiovisual systems design and integration” or “Management of audiovisual information systems–MAIS.” (Let’s hear from you: What would you call a college-level AV degree program? Use the Comments section below.)

The programs listed above certainly cover some of what a well-rounded young AV professional would need, but they’re not like what an MIS degree represents for building a legion of qualified IT managers. Ultimately, many college-age techies who might otherwise make great AV pros, fall into The Chasm — that place where their love of AV goes unnourished and they look elsewhere.

“AV techs who come into the industry with at least a Bachelor’s Degree typically focused on technology as their main area of study in college,” Matt says. “But with many technology-focused jobs expected to see over 20-percent growth by 2020, the AV industry could find itself in a fierce competition to retain or entice new college-educated employees.”

In other words, they may have arrived at college jonesing for AV, but they leave chasing IT or other  jobs.

The message in all this? Workforce development needs to be an important part of the AV industry going forward. “A technical track for high school graduates or a two-year degree program may be a good way for the AV industry to keep up a highly specialized labor force,” Matt says.

But it’s going to take all of us. To date, colleges haven’t been rushing to develop AV curricula, and those that have shown interest in curricula, in some cases based on InfoComm training, need people to teach it. Building those bridges between pro AV and higher education should be an ongoing effort.

At the end of the day, though, AV companies need to be ready and willing to hire qualified, highly educated AV professionals. For some, that’s a catch-22. With more AV projects these days going to the lowest bidder, costs–including labor costs–are under pressure. On the other hand, to be able to charge more, companies need to be able to demonstrate that they do a better job than the lowest bidders, which takes skilled, educated AV professionals.

Industry training and certification are part of the answer, but workforce development is about more than that. It’s about establishing pro AV as a profession worthy of advanced education. For now, IT holds sway in The Chasm — those formative years where young people are thinking about their futures. Why not us?

About Brad Grimes

Brad Grimes is the Director of Communications for InfoComm International and the former editor of Pro AV magazine. He has been writing about technology for more than 25 years.

6 Responses to “Mommy, Where Do AV Pros Come From?”

  1. This piece points out the basic facts that relate to the formal teaching that falls under the umbrella of “Higher Education”. Let’s face it, the majority of A-V Technicians come searching for a job without a college degree and the ones that come from the “Conservatory” and places like Full Sail and Collins College are ill prepared for our industry. They learn to use a few specific pieces of software in a very controlled environment. As the Director of Training for a national A-V company that provides services for both corporate clients and the Hotel and Resort industry it is tough to find younger applicants with any useful experience. My organization has a robust training system that tried to focus on basic A-V skills for new hires and advanced skills for more seasoned technicians. All of our team members have a thirst for new technology and the skills they need to advance in the industry.
    I would love to see the college system offer degrees in Video Engineering, Audio Engineering and Lighting Design that relate to the “Live” conference and convention world we live and work in.

  2. Thomas Gay, CTS-I Reply May 2, 2013 at 8:11 am

    This is definitely a great article. We need educated individuals. I myself did not go to college to learn my trade. I have supplemented that by attending Infocomm training and manufacturers training, but most of my other training has come from doing it on-the-job.

    Such a big component of what we do comes from hands on experience and on-the-job training. You can have someone that has read all the books and knows how to do it on paper. But unless they have been in the field and in different real-world scenarios that book knowledge goes out the window. You need people who can think on their feet. So you need to find a way to give them the classroom knowledge, but also let them work in the field for a year.

    One idea for this would be an apprenticeship program like the electrical workers have. Let them go to classes in the evening to learn the theory and then have them work with an AV integrator during the day.

  3. Frankly, should I design a program that would be teaching this technology to students, it would be called Communication Technology. I would be looking to schools that have a good broadcast program like Arizona State University if I were to keep it in a traditional setting. However, do students need a traditional set-up or more of a conservatory program that is offered by one of the for-profit schools? One of the biggest challenges that the schools will ultimately face is keeping up with technology. The reason that the conservatory schools are so expensive is that they have to keep their programs cutting edge to stay viable. On the other hand, programs such as Full Sail and the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences can be a hit or miss to the employer. There really isn’t the same level of “quality control” over what the students are coming away with from the program. For instance, I worked for an employer that regularly hired from CRAS and, during my time there, only one of the three students had enough knowledge to fill an entry level position. I have heard the same from employers and Full Sail. Honestly, we need to go back to the apprenticeship days of old. That way, the old dogs have more opportunity to train their eventual replacements.

  4. My experience has been some of it comes from the top down when it comes to AV. Generally speaking companies want it cheap, fast forsaking quality in the process.

    To keep the high quality AV guy around the companies can’t afford the person or keep the needed supplies in stock.

    Most of what an AV person does is skill based and years of training.

  5. Came across a great article about Generation Y architects, written by Gen-Y architect. It shows the frustration these young people have in advancing to their career–and they have the schooling.
    http://www.di.net/articles/generation-y-unfolding/

    This may be another source of professionals, but we also need to consider how we really integrate young, digital natives into our environment.

  6. Brad – This is THE topic that deserves to be at the forefront of our industry. The survival of our profession is not “what’s next?” but “who’s next?”.

    Who is the keynote speaker at the opening session of InfoComm13? Whoever he/she is, this is worthy of working into that talk and every conversation going forward.