Training doesn’t have a standard model

With the massive expansion of the AV industry and the ever growing convergence between AV and IT, the demand for suitably qualified (and experienced) staff has never been higher, George Cole reports.

Where does the AV industry need suitably qualified staff – what skills and qualifications are most in-demand and how can training and standards bodies underpin this? How is training viewed and how is it delivered – in-house or through external bodies or courses? And just how much training should be delivered by integrators and manufacturers?

With the massive expansion of the AV industry and the ever growing convergence between AV and IT, the demand for suitably qualified (and experienced) staff has never been higher. But the results from our online survey suggest that the industry is struggling to attract the recruits it needs. Answers included: “The rapid expansion of AV complexity in projects and increasing number of projects with extensive AV is leading to a shortage of experienced and knowledgeable staff…we require experience and qualifications and there is a shortage of qualified staff.” One respondent noted that on the whole, their company was able to find staff, but added: “They need some training to cover gaps we need them to cover.”

Says Creative Personnel’s recruitment director, Mina Machacek: “The AV/VC and UC industry is booming right now with all signs pointing towards a strong job market in 2018. Over the past few years, the AV recruitment industry has seen an increase in demand for qualified staff at all levels. However, despite a lot of work available out there at the moment, there is a severe lack of capable candidates to fulfil the needs and requirements that AV clients are searching for.

“Our clients are looking for candidates with a strong work ethic, desire to learn the trade, and willingness to put in the time and effort to learn and understand how the industry works. They want people who have the basic hands-on skills, knowledge of programming languages, the ability to design and fault finding services that allow them to be out on-site from day one – they value practical experience along with the relevant qualifications.”

Deborah Jones, AV/IT sales manager, Queen Elizabeth II Centre finds suitably qualified staff through word of mouth, recruitment agencies and a freelance list that has been compiled over the years. Abdul Rafique, who manages AV in Bloomberg’s London HQ, says: “We find staff through relevant recruitment sites, and reach out to colleges and universities, as well as through recommendations.”

Which qualifications do you value the most?

Top of the list were InfoComm (now AVIXA) CTS and CTS-D, but others mentioned included, City and Guilds AV Technician Certificate – Advanced; CTS-D/I and Apex; College Degree and Electronics Certification 1. Pat Deeley, managing director AV Jobs & Lavajobs, says her clients particularly value CTS; Prince2 and a relevant degree. “Network and integration skills are being asked for more and more.” Rafique adds: “AVIXA CTS is valued highly, as is relevant experience.”  Jones notes: “We value qualifications in all AV disciplines and match IT training to our needs.  Network training has always been important.  We value CTS-qualified staff, particularly for integrators during bid situations.  We also look at electrical and electronic qualifications, software applications and programming.  We supplement with the normal live event requirements – IOSH [Institution of Occupational Safety and Health], intensive rigging courses, security/vigilance and fire training.”

Machacek adds: “Candidates with experience in engineering, video/data, installation, programming, design and project management are also highly sought after. Additionally, candidates with manufacturing/programming qualifications such as Control4, Lutron, Cisco, Extron, and Crestron, as well as those with ECS cards, are more highly desired by our clients. AV integrators want to hire the best people available to program these systems as well as install them.”

Not surprisingly, training is highly valued, although there is some debate on the best way of delivering it, and as Deeley notes: “Training is important but experience is more so.”

“Training is necessary to ensure our staff have the right knowledge and skills to support our spaces and ensure our end users receive world class service each time, every time,” says Rafique. Jones also thinks that training “is really important, although we also take people with experience and then invest in them.”

The QEII Centre supports external training. “I’m CTS-qualified and I get funding to maintain that qualification,” adds Jones. “Staff development has always been encouraged at Bloomberg,” notes Rafique. “A key mandate for our team on the development of the Bloomberg Global AV Team was for each team member to study and acquire the CTS as a base standard. Education is valued and encouraged for each team member.” Rafique adds that the courses considered worth investing in are all CTS (D + I) and networking. “As AV overlaps IT more and more, it is important for AV to stay on top of this change.”

Machacek notes that: “Over the last eighteen years we’ve been in the AV recruitment industry we’ve found that companies who offer training and development plans for junior staff tend to attract the best candidates who are prepared to be there for the long haul as they offer appealing packages/future career progression. Rather than waiting for those fixed skilled candidates to come along, those who are willing to invest in their staff to become experienced and qualified reap the long-term benefits and rewards in the future. Therefore, investment in training and an industry recognised level of best practice would help support this lack of suitable candidates.”

Amanda Beckner, CTS, vice-president of learning for AVIXA notes how training is changing. “Personalisation is a huge trend in adult learning.  It is challenging to personalise the learning experience for each of professional disciplines, competency levels, and geographic regions AVIXA serves.”

Audio training

Our online survey also revealed that many believe that audio training is important. “Audio is a huge component of what we do daily,” said one respondent.  “Most AV installations have relatively poor audio quality and most DSPs are either configured incorrectly or are just used as a router,” said another.

Other responses included: “It’s essential. Many people working in AV do not have a basic knowledge of acoustics or analogue signal paths.” “Audio is a very specialised subject and often overlooked,” and “Audio setup is hard to get the right balance, good training is very hard to find.” One respondent noted: “It is vitally important to the live event industry. Audio is undergoing great change as mobile operators buy up bandwidth, reducing the space for the live events industry.”

We also wanted to know how much training should be delivered by integrators and manufacturers? Says Beckner: “I view the industry’s sources of professional development as complementary, not competitive in supporting the AV workforce. Integrators and manufacturers need not re-create the wheel though. Time and again, I meet a marketing or AV operations professional working for an integrator or manufacturer who has been tasked to create a training programme from scratch.   Why? The company could just license AVIXA’s vendor-neutral, industry-validated content and work from that.”

Vendor support 

Our online survey revealed that many people consider vendor-supported training to be useful. Responses included: “Vendors are a vital partner. We train at vendor sites and invite them to train on-site. We provide freelancer places at this training…I think support from vendors is excellent. We appreciate their collaboration with bodies such as AVIXA. It would be great if they could combine it with sponsorship as the AV User Group does…There are excellent training programmes at both InfoComm and ISE, for example, the TIDE conference.”

“As someone who develops and delivers it I believe it’s very important,” said another.

Others said it was: “Extremely important…very important,” and “vital.” But another respondent noted: “It is beneficial, but not as beneficial as platform/brand agnostic training. There is a reasonable understanding of the latest trends and products but not the underlying fundamentals and basics.”

One respondent said: “There are so many manufacturers/distributors out there that information on products can easily be diluted or forgotten,” while another felt that vendor-supported training was “Essential, but there is a risk that somebody spends one week in a vendor classroom and then considers themselves a programmer. You can’t learn fundamentals and good practice in one week.”

Jones adds: “I think integrators and manufacturers provide an excellent source of training and it benefits everyone.  The most valuable are those that attract RU points at AVIXA events.  However, we often invite them in to train us on newly purchased products and we invite our freelancers in at the same time.  We supplement this with training by internal staff and AVIXA courses.” Rafique notes: “It is very important to ensure all operators/end users utilise the tools at their disposal in the best possible way. To that point, providing training – whether from integrators or manufacturers – is key to ensuring the operators can deliver the best service and thus ensure great user experiences, whether operating or absorbing (through guest experience).”

Neil Walton, training manager, Crestron EMEA, says: “Crestron offers full training paths for designers, technicians, engineers and programmers. These courses are regularly updated to accommodate the release of new products and the development of existing ones. In this way Crestron provides a continuing education path keeping our customers up to speed with all the changes in technology.” He adds that: “With the growing trend of AV and IT convergence, networking competences such as CompTIA, Cisco and Microsoft are becoming more and more valued along with the CEDIA and AVIXA audio visual qualifications.”

Certification of competency

Walton says that certification reflects attainment of established criteria for proficiency or competency in a profession or occupation, and is granted upon an assessment of an individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities. “Being a Crestron-certified DigitalMedia designer, technician or engineer provides assurance of these capabilities.” Crestron has released two new training courses, NVX Design and Application and Crestron DigitalMedia Networking. Completion of these courses along with the exam provides trainees with DM-NVX-N certification.

Beckner agrees: “Individuals, companies and customers have always recognised the CTS certification for its credibility and integrity. Certification is evidence of technical proficiency and professionalism, and shows commitment to continual professional development. Because the CTS credential is respected worldwide and is the only AV certification with ISO/IEC 17024:2012 accreditation, many architects, general contractors and others who engage AV professionals require their AV designers and/or systems integrators to employ AV professionals who hold the CTS credential. Others give preference to AV companies that employ CTS holders.”

But according to Machacek, regardless of how desirable these qualifications are within the AV industry, courses are not readily accessible and only available in limited places around the UK. “They are also very expensive which often deters people from going down this route. If these skilled courses were more readily available for individuals, it would allow more candidates to achieve these qualifications and get into the industry – and in turn, shore up the talent shortage the industry is experiencing and open up more employment opportunities.”

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