If you are considering career paths, there is a lot to be said about exploring the many avenues the audiovisual industry has to offer!
The tsunami wave of new technology and the many segments of the industry may leave candidates feeling dizzy. Live events, which accounts for a considerable chunk of AV, may sing to your inner audiophile. On the other hand, tech-savvy professionals have made their entire careers servicing videoconferencing technologies such as Cisco WebEx and Zoom.
Then there is AV Integration, more like the construction business, or the designing and installing, troubleshooting, and maintaining of these complex audiovisual systems. The demand here for qualified techs is especially high. Every business, big and small is seeing the value in a new conference room complete with videoconferencing, complex sound and lighting, and large format displays. And with software videoconferencing like Webex, they have upped the ante on smart rooms: with network integration so systems can be remotely integrated, controlled and supported.
As our world becomes smaller and the goal of staying connected remains a global imperative, AV integration has experienced the most dynamic growth. AVIXA, the board which handles licensure for the Audiovisual Industry, has marked this trend. AVIXA Board of Director Jeff Day, cited that by 2023 AV Integration (ProAV) will be a “230 Billion Dollar Market..which equates to 3.8% Predicted Compound Annual Growth.” This outpaces our country’s projected GDP rate considerably. So it stands to reason that getting a job as a field engineer or AV Installer in the AV Integration space should be relatively easy with this influx of new business, right?
Here’s the kicker...there seems to be some confusion as to what technical experience hiring managers are looking for in candidates that are applying for the job. AVIXA’s Sean Wargo, Director of Market Intelligence, elaborates:
“The market for AV solutions is consistently strong; the industry must continually grow to meet the demand..the challenge is finding the qualified labor to staff the influx of AV design and integration projects.”
Simply put, there are not enough qualified technicians and designers to step into these roles opening up at the AV Integrators. In fact, many hiring managers at integrators will screen candidates coming from other roles in AV such as Live Events, Acoustics, and Conference Room Support and elect to take a pass.
So what qualifications are in demand for these hiring managers?
For an AV technician, knowing the ins and outs of basic installation such as pulling and terminating cat5 and cat6 cable, soldering, installing LFDs, projectors, and microphones are definitely crucial skills and they have their place. But is it enough to advance past an entry level technician job? Like most technology businesses, AV integrators margins are shrinking when it comes to building and selling hardware systems, and trending more towards software-based solutions. It seems that it is in the best interest for savvy AV technicians to invest in the right vendor certifications to get ahead of the curve. Here’s the issue, there are almost as many industry certifications as there are racks of gear being pumped out of the warehouses of these integrators. You have the AVIXA CTS and its- I, and- D variants, the slew of Crestron certifications, Extron, Biamp, Tesira, and the list goes on. Not to mention, they tend to be on the pricey side. For example, the CTS prep course (highly recommended) is around $1000, and the test itself is $175 so getting them all is an expensive and time-consuming undertaking.
So if you’ve spotted your dream job in AV integration what training should take priority if you want to take your career to the next level?
There are no simple answers. This author’s job involves talking to experienced candidates and hiring managers in the audiovisual industry. So throughout the day, I started asking the question: in your experience, what is the best experience? Over several conversations between candidates and managers alike certain patterns began to emerge. There seems to be a lot of agreement on the AVIXA CTS: it has value and is recognized everywhere. However, it’s value to hiring managers is that it covers broad industry knowledge. In this way, it is more of a ticket to play as opposed to any indication of specific knowledge or experience. More credence might be given to the CTS -I (for AV Installation) and CTS-D (for Design), in that these tests are regarded as more difficult and deal with specific job functions in AV. Still, the CTS certs serve the valuable purpose of helping you gain visibility amongst hiring managers and recruiters. In one manager’s words, a CTS is never required but shows the individual is “self-motivated and passionate about AV.”
The general consensus seems to be that vendor specific training is much more applicable in the field. While every integrator’s process is a little different, there is considerable overlap in the technology being utilized. So certain vendor certs appear to be worth their weight in gold when it comes to getting recognized by hiring managers. As stated earlier, many of these certifications line up with the trend of AV moving from hardware to software business. Crestron, which is the Windows software used to program audiovisual components in smart rooms, is ubiquitous in commercial settings. Installers that possess certifications from Crestron, such as the DCM-E-4k, consistently have an edge up in the marketplace. When a hiring manager asks you: “Your programmer is offsite and sends your files to upload, how do you get it onto the system?” Candidates applying for Field Engineer need to know that the answer is using Crestron Toolbox, and should also know its basic functions. Many techs hear “programming” and want to run for the hills, but the training is not as scary as one might think. According to one candidate with 30 years in ProAV:
“Crestron’s training program is fabulously well run and gives plenty of time for test preparation.”
DSP vendor certs such as Biamp, Dante and Tesira also score high points on the application. Again, integrators will vary in their choices, but Biamp’s offerings in particular thoroughly cover the “audio” in audiovisual. Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC) is one specific area that is covered, to achieve maximum speech quality in audio in a conference room. Many integrators will have at least one key contact on staff that is Biamp certified and serves as a channel partner to the Oregon Based equipment provider. So you can bet engineers that are Biamp certified and can write DSPs programs to improve sound will be highly sought after by many AV integrators.
With all this said it may come as no surprise that to hiring managers, experience trumps most anything. Still, if you’re not yet working on the complex AV systems of your dreams, it may be smart to get exposure to the technology hiring managers are looking for by seeking out these certifications early on. It is true that many firms will pay for training, but what if you are not currently employed or climbing the ranks at an integrator? If coming out of pocket yourself is not an option, many of these vendors have free online training to get you started (links to crestron and Biamp page). Targeting AV integration projects that are using these technologies and seeking an entry-level spot is also a strategy worth considering.
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