Hire a Kid Already

School_450x300I have seen the future of AV and it’s closer than you think — as close as your local high school. During AV Week last month, I visited North County High School in Glen Burnie, Maryland, to talk to students about the AV industry as you and I know it. North County is considered a strong STEM school (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), rife with young people who don’t have any use for the word “convergence” because they live it. Not surprisingly, high schoolers don’t necessarily think of pro AV when they think of technology — or for that matter when they think of audio engineering, video production, etc.  But when it’s explained to them, they get it.

I showed up with a pretty standard PowerPoint deck, having practiced my pitch on a soccer mom and her son, who told me one weekend on the sidelines that having graduated high school, the son was heading to a local arts college to study audio engineering. I paraphrase:

“Terrific news. Congratulations. It just so happens I work for an association called InfoComm International that counts among its members a lot of leading audio engineers, and acousticians, and video experts, and AV integrators, and equipment makers, and consultants, and…. If you don’t mind me droning on a few more minutes, I can tell you what that audio degree may position you for in the future — and it’s pretty cool.”

This was the tack I took at North County High School, where I waited to give my pitch in my InfoComm-red shirt in a big, impressive career/college counseling center. I’d gotten there before first bell and already there were students at computers working on college application essays. I’d be addressing a multimedia production class. As I set up my slides, they filed in and out of the room. Some were editing video on laptops, others returning in costume from a video shoot on campus.

When we all settled in, there were about 30 students, in various states of alertness (did I mention it was early?). While we raced through the slides, going over the size of the industry, the types of AV professions, certifications and training, etc., we lingered on their interests and how they related to what AV professionals do every day. I was woefully ill-equipped to talk about the latest touring acts, video games, or cool movies, but at one point, to try and get at the type of people who work in pro AV, I asked if anyone knew of Meyer Sound Tour Liaison Manager/sound engineering legend Buford Jones, who teaches live mixing for InfoComm. A hand went up;  a young man who mixes for his church and wanted to do it for a living.

We were off and running.

What did they want to know? One student wanted to know about travel. Do you travel a lot in AV? It depends, I said. Live events pros may travel, and there are large-scale AV projects that need design and installation all over the world. What about musicians? I’m in a band and I’m going to publish my own music, said another student. I had to admit that’s not necessarily in InfoComm’s wheelhouse, but he’d be pleased by the number of musicians, former-and-current roadies, and generally talented music people who work in the AV industry, plus, what he knows about sound and computers would serve him well in many AV-related jobs.

Another student asked about risk, which caught me offguard. Then I realized he was getting at the financial strength of the industry, specifically how it did during the recession. I said the AV industry hadn’t been immune to the downturn, but that overall, it’s a growth industry, and then tried to put it into more terms they’d understand. As high schoolers, they related quickly to live events technology, but light bulbs also went off when we talked about digital signage and videoconferencing — technologies they consume regularly in one form another.

We talked about professionalism. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the student who asked about certifications was a plant. But it allowed me to talk more about CTS, and ANSI, and how AV has evolved into a major professional services industry, alongside IT, architecture, engineering, and more.

Long story short, it was a perfect time in their lives to open these students’ eyes. They’d already embraced a particular passion, but needed help in articulating what it meant for their future. When I think back to that soccer mom and her son, it was clear mom wasn’t so sure her son’s decision to be an audio engineer would pay off. And while the son knew what he wanted to do, he wasn’t sure how’d he’d deflect ongoing questions about his future. (I was an English major; I heard more than my share of, “What are you going to do with that degree?” questions.)

After my presentation at North County High School, after I’d handed out some InfoComm and AV Week souvenirs, several students hung back to chat more. One, the young man who mixed for his church and knew of Buford Jones, had one last question: “How do I get an internship?”

We at InfoComm encourage it every year during AV Week, but you can do it year-round: Visit a local high school or college and meet the young people who want to do what you do. Maybe they don’t even know yet that they want to be in AV. And consider welcoming one or two into the fold. An internship program is a great idea.

Thanks, Mary Davis, school counseling secretary, and Juliann Lorditch, school counselor, at North County High School, for arranging my visit. The future’s in good hands.


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.

One Response to “Hire a Kid Already”

  1. I really enjoyed reading about your experience! Thank you for educating these students about about a possible career path.