For as long as I’ve been in the systems integration industry, trying to explain our work to non-industry professionals has been a challenge. Over the years, the industry has changed to not only include AV, but also low-voltage communications, life safety and security, nurse call, and IT/network technologies.
Earlier this year, a friend and former colleague of mine, Justin Watts, started a conversation among a group of about 100 integration professionals on Facebook. He said: “I’m often asked what specifically I do for a living. I have a diverse career path that spans multiple segments of the IT/AV universe, so it’s sometimes hard to connect all the dots.” How do we explain what we do to people outside our industry?
Responses to his post ranged from “I work in audio, no homes or cars. No, I can’t fix your home theater system” to “I tell people that I automate big buildings and other fancy places.” The most concise response, at least in my opinion, was, “I simply say, ‘I help people communicate through the use of audiovisual technology.’ ”
This may be an obvious statement, but if it’s confusing to you and me, imagine how confusing it is to those we’re trying to recruit!
This is just one of many challenges we face in bringing new talent into our industry. I’ve been the NSCA Education Foundation director for about six months now, and it’s the No. 1 business concern we hear discussed over and over: “We need skilled technicians. We need design engineers, programmers, and project managers.” And on and on. It doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO, HR director, or manager of technical services, the shortage of skilled workers is affecting everyone. The average NSCA member has at least seven open positions at any given time (nationally, this equals 17,000 open positions). Current industry training programs, such as ESPA, fill only 600 (3.5%) of these positions each year. Yikes.
The million-dollar question: How the heck do we fix it? No one has the silver bullet, but there are things we can do to attract, recruit, and retain skilled, knowledgeable employees. The NSCA Education Foundation is spearheading efforts to help integrators and manufacturers fill these gaps, but there are things you can do on your end, too.
Based on feedback from integrators, manufacturers, consultants, independent reps, and even end-users, I’ve compiled several ways you can contribute.
Align Our Conversations
Let’s start by agreeing on a name. Are we AV? Are we IT? Are we low-voltage electronic systems contractors? How about communications technologies? Within our own industry, we all refer to what we do differently. A good (and basic) first step would be to establish a consensus on how exactly we’re going to refer to ourselves.
Spread the Word About Opportunities
Without question, our industry is one of the best-kept secrets of today’s job market. Post-secondary students interested in technology have no idea how optimistic their career prospects are in our field. They don’t know how hungry we are for talent. They don’t know how what we do lays the foundation for almost every organization’s communication, productivity, efficiency, and safety. And most, as we know, don’t even know our industry exists.
Whenever we have the opportunity, we need to get the word out about what we do and the career paths available in our industry. To do this, we need to educate ourselves – learn how to talk about our industry and the paths we offer to high-paying careers.
The Ignite Initiative
The NSCA Education Foundation’s Ignite program exists for a single purpose: to connect students, young professionals, and schools to our industry. Ignite was first unveiled at NSCA’s Business & Leadership Conference in 2016, and we’ve come a long way since its inception.
Its sole focus is to showcase the industry and its career opportunities to jobseekers, students, and educational institutions. Ignite also provides marketing materials to high schools/tech colleges and Ignite Ambassadors (90+ people who have agreed to support Ignite), and provides materials to industry professionals who want to speak locally about industry career opportunities. Ignite also hosts an industry-specific job board.
In 2018, the Ignite Pilot Internship program launched with 12 participating organizations and 25 interns.
The internship process works like this …
- Phase 1: Onboarding. During this time, interns gain an understanding of your business, spending at least one day in each department to understand its inner workings and how each department impacts the others.
- Phase 2: Ride & Decide. For a five-week period, interns will gain specific skills and knowledge to spark interest in our industry.
- Phase 3: Learn & Earn. Through the use of NSCA’s C-SIP program, interns gain relevant experience and credentials in sales, operations, marketing/social media, or project management.
- Phase 4: Real-World Application. At this point, the intern has chosen a specific area or department that appeals to them most. For two weeks, they spend 80% to 90% of their time on projects in that area. They also craft an essay that documents what they’ve learned in regard to quality, performance, process improvement, and personal growth.
To all who joined in this endeavor last year: Thank you for making it a resounding success! We received excellent feedback from participants and made tremendous progress toward creating not only an internship “best practices guide,” but also a national recruitment pipeline.
We’ve also been updating all Ignite marketing materials, including the creation of a new presentation and collateral that anyone in our industry can share with prospective employees, take to job fairs, refer to during presentations with students about our industry, etc.
Ignite Ambassadors have participated in STEM and technical education career events, and we’re planning Ignite events for 2019 (stay tuned for more!). Our Ambassadors also do things like establish partnerships with their local technical high schools and colleges, give presentations to interested students, and offer co-ops and work studies to students.
And here’s the most exciting news: Ignite will officially launch a new website at the 2019 Business & Leadership Conference. This website will serve as your hub for everything related to talent management and recruitment, including an interactive map to find local education programs in your area, an updated job board, internship information and onboarding, and success stories about firms that used Ignite to grow their talent pipeline.
The Ignite program is bursting with energy – but it’s still a work in progress. Building an onramp to our industry will take some work on everyone’s part. You can help by:
- Presenting at events
- Hosting events for students at a location that shows off your technology
- Demonstrating technology for students and give them hands-on experiences
- Mentoring students
- Facilitating tours of your facility or of clients’ facilities
- Providing informational interviews
- Inviting students to attend industry events
- Sharing any and all Ignite activity to keep the momentum going
- Participating in the Ignite Internship Program
We want to let students know about the great opportunities in this industry. We welcome your ideas, suggestions, praise, criticism, and moral support to get the message out and spur engagement.
To become an Ignite Ambassador, visit https://igniteyourcareer.org/ambassador-signup/ to get the ball rolling. You can also visit https://igniteyourcareer.org to learn more about the Ignite Ambassador program and how you can get involved.
One last thing: If you know of anyone else – within or outside your organization – who’d like to get involved in the Ignite movement, please pass it on! You have the influence and experience to help build a pipeline to success.
Remember, if you steer only one young person to a great career in our industry, you’ve changed a life forever. Jump on board and join the Ignite movement. –Kelly Perkins, NSCA Education Foundation Director