How to Get Students With Technical Skills Into Pro AV Careers

technology students group in computer lab classroom

 
The AV industry is incredibly dynamic, interesting and rewarding to work for. Young people who pursue a pro AV career do so passionately and with pride.

For example, take Alesia Hendley, author of the blog The Smooth Factor. Hendley found her passion for the AV industry at a young age, recognized what it was and worked to pursue it. She’s turned that passion into a multifaceted career as an AV operator, multimedia journalist and volunteer.

Unfortunately, Hendley is the exception, not the rule. The fact is young professionals simply aren’t pursuing pro AV careers, leaving many companies understaffed, and concerning many about the future of the industry.

As Commercial Integrator’s Tom LeBlanc points out, only 9 percent of our industry’s professionals are younger than 34. And actually, a majority are over the age of 50.

Why is there such an age gap in pro AV? And more importantly, how do we combat this?

What’s the Problem?

As Jill Silman of Insperity Recruiting Services once put it, “We are in a war for talent.”

While that might be a bit of an exaggeration, it cannot be ignored that young people with the technical expertise to get the job done are looking to build careers in other industries. And the more technical a pro AV job is, the harder it is to find someone who knows how to do it.

The problems starts, as you might imagine, in technical schools themselves. There simply aren’t enough students in them to begin with.

One reason why: People aren’t studying specialized fields as much as they used to. As D. Craig MacCormack touches on, trade schools have become stigmatized in recent years. Many people who might find a passion in AV never get the chance to because they feel pushed to go to a university instead to pursue their educations.

A gender bias is also at play from a young age. Jo Saull states that young women in particular are often discouraged from working in tech.

So then, after all of that is taken into account, there are the students who do go to tech schools, but who don’t pursue a pro AV career. And why? The answer is simple: They don’t know that a pro AV career is even an option.

The first step in getting more young professionals into pro AV careers, then, is to make sure they know that it’s an option.

technology students group in computer lab classroom

Getting on the Radar

As Biamp VP of Global Sales Ron Camden states: “No one knows where to go to get the education. They don’t know how exciting it is.” So, making sure students know just how rewarding a pro AV career can be will absolutely help to improve the number of young professionals who pursue one.

You can make an impression early, as EngageLDN did in 2015 by making a studio for young students to access. This helps to combat the aforementioned stigmatization of trade schools and gender biases. By getting to students early, you’re able to offer a different viewpoint before these biases become subconscious. You’re also able to ignite passion early on.

But, of course, creating an entire studio takes a lot of resources, and isn’t the right path for everyone. If you’re looking to start a bit smaller, you can still take some simple steps to reach out to college-aged students who are pursuing an education in technical schools.

Apprenticeships and internships, for example, can be key. Young professional Adam Gathercole stressed the importance of apprenticeships in a recent Installation article. These simply aren’t available, which is part of what keeps a pro AV career off of so many students’ radars. Most students are going to seek whatever job is available to them.

Recruiter Pat Deely seconds this, and also stresses the importance of paying talented people what they’re worth. Unpaid internships won’t attract people to the industry who aren’t already incredibly passionate about it, but making an internship paid may make you stand out as an employer.

Most university students find internships with the help of their university. So, get in touch with career services, or go to a job fair if you know there’s going to be one. Remember, the students of today are the young professionals of tomorrow. And if you instill an interest in AV now, many of those students will continue to pursue a job in it after graduating.

Building a Relationship

Making sure pro AV careers are on student’s radars is an important first step. But it is far from the last.

Even if a student pursues a job in AV after graduating from school, encouraging young professionals to be a part of the AV industry doesn’t stop at recruitment. As studies show, young people are prone to switching jobs. It’s not enough to simply make them aware of pro AV jobs — you have to foster a relationship with them and encourage passion for the industry. This will ensure that they stick with the industry in the years to come.

A sense of community is key when it comes to this. Groups like the Young AV Professionals Council help connect and encourage young professionals to grow. Consider doing what you can to make young professionals aware of this group. You can also start a smaller, local group of your own to make the sense of community more immediate.

Tim Kridel at InAVate also suggests encouraging young professionals to get certified. This shows them that you have a vested interest in their professional development, and that you want them to move forward in the industry. This will help encourage feelings of loyalty and passion, and will also help them improve their skill sets.

Further, the fact that young professionals frequently switch jobs is not always a bad thing. In fact, it can be used to your advantage.

As Jim Harwood at Focus 21 Visual Communications notes, it’s important to recognize that not all technical young professionals start out that way. So, even if you know a young professional in marketing or recruitment, encourage them to go out to experience the technical aspects of the job. This may spark a passion they didn’t even realize they had, and could put them on a career path they hadn’t even considered.

These future employees will have to be trained, of course. This can be difficult, since, as  George Cole states, there’s no standard way to do it. But starting the relationship-building process early at least helps ensure that these candidates are conversant in such a technical field.

job fair

Paving the Way

In many ways, the AV industry is already changing to accommodate young professionals. Concepts like mobile first and digital integration appeal to them, and Daniel Newman at Commercial Integrators notes how both of these things are on the horizon.

Furthermore, the AV industry has come so far in the past few decades. Technological advancements like AV over IP have been exciting, and it’s easy to imagine that this culture of innovation is perfect for young professionals who are looking to make a lasting impression on the tech world.

Young professionals don’t just keep the AV industry going for another generation — they also bring a fresh outlook on things. For our AV industry, this is especially important because for all of the ways the industry has grown and changed technologically, it hasn’t quite made the same strides in its demographics.

In addition to the gender gap mentioned earlier, Wallace Johnson notes that there’s also a lack of racial diversity in the industry. And when young people see this, they may find it off-putting and could be discouraged from pursuing a pro AV career.

Tackling these hard issues can be tough, but it can ultimately be rewarding. After all, a workforce that is diverse — in age, but also in gender and race — is a workforce that’s full of differing viewpoints that can tackle problems from different angles and find the best solution for a client.

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