Some people are energized and excited being around other people, while others prefer the solitude and complexity of technology. To succeed in A/V, you must be the rare individual who thrives in both environments. A/V specialists need to have a solid technical education plus the people skills to navigate any environment; in the K-12 industry that means any classroom or front office in any school, big or small, public or private.
“A/V is a service-oriented industry. Having a likeable personality is equally important to technical abilities. No matter what facet of A/V you are working in — installing, engineering or sales — your ability to talk with a client with tact and confidence will make you stand out,” says Jeff McDonald, principle and senior account executive at Anderson Audio Visual in Berkeley, Calif.
Of course, being friendly and customer oriented won’t get you very far if you don’t have the technical chops to meet the client’s needs. Organizations in the U.S. almost universally require A/V specialists to have either an associate or bachelor’s degree in audio engineering, electronics, media, or a related field, as well as an InfoComm CTS (Certified Technology Specialist) certification, the number one A/V certification.
To further bolster your credentials, you can earn the CTS-D certification, which proves proficiency in A/V system design, or the CTS-I certification, which shows expertise in A/V system installation and maintenance. It’s critical to have multiple A/V operations skills, but also having a demonstrable specialty can help you stand out among other job candidates.
But, according to Ron Bricker, president of TeamPeople, a media production and staffing firm in Falls Church, VA, these certifications are just the beginning. “There are numerous manufacturer-specific training certifications available, which make the candidate more desirable, especially relating to IT networking, which plays an ever-increasing role in A/V control and system management,” he says.
“With A/V and IT playing increased roles in the enterprise, new and upgraded technologies are constantly emerging,” adds Bricker. “It is important that an A/V specialist be eager and motivated to learn how to use new tools and software.”
In many installations, the line between IT and A/V is heavily blurred. Organizations are using the latest technologies to provide people with increasingly interactive and immersive experiences. So A/V specialists need to understand how new applications, like unified communications, Web and videoconferencing, collaboration tools and social media, intertwine with A/V systems. Staying current with these technologies definitely gives you an edge. Consider this: Many pro-A/V organizations are concerned that skill levels are not keeping pace with technology, according to the 2010 InfoComm Global AV Market Definition and Strategy Study.
A solid foundation in A/V certifications will serve you well in any industry. Bricker points out that “the operational and installation aspects of verticals are similar. Capture, distribution and media management processes and tools are common to all.” But it’s important to be mindful of any industry-specific requirements you might need to fulfill to work in your preferred area. You don’t want to lose an opportunity because you didn’t have the correct security clearance for an elementary school district, for instance, or the right safety gear mandated by OSHA.
A/V specialists should also expect to sometimes keep odd hours, especially when providing A/V services for various venues. McDonald says that the daily routine is very different for each of his employees. “Our installation team starts at 6:00 a.m. and works until 3:00 p.m. For our sales staff, some days are 12-plus hour days working on proposals as the opportunities arise.”
The A/V industry is expected to grow in 2012. InfoComm projects it will be turn into a $91 billion industry this year, up from $68 billion in 2009. However, not all vertical industries offer the same opportunities for A/V specialists.
Education spending is “one of the bright spots” seen by A/V professionals, according to InfoComm’s 2011 State and Future of the AV Industry economic snapshot. Some K-12 school districts have begun to implement classroom A/V systems, which are intended to improve students’ performance at school. These are specific installations, so the K-12 A/V specialist should consider pursuing the manufacturer’s certifications, such as from AMX, Crestron and Extron, which focus on the classroom A/V products.
Because you’re likely to be on-site at schools with young children, city or state safety and security clearances will apply to you. For instance, some elementary schools require all adults on campus to have passed a background check through the local police department.
Sharon Brown, Senior Recruiter for CyberCoders in Austin, Texas, adds, “A professional resume, certifications and industry training, ensuring you have great references—it’s all up to you. Take pride in your industry.”