Ain’t No Cure for the Job Huntin’ Blues By Joshua Stackhouse
I realize many salty AV veterans either didn’t go to college at all but instead learned on the job or went to school for something not related to AV at all. However, as some of you will know, this “kid” is probably the only person you have ever heard of who has a degree in AV. Yes, you heard me right. Let me say that again. I have an actual college degree in audio/visual systems and electronics.
Here, don’t take my word for it. Check out this video here of my graduation commencement.
See that right there, yeah, that’s me walking across that stage receiving an actual academic degree in audio visual systems. Your eyes are not playing tricks on you. Degrees in A/V actually exist, and I am one of only a handful of people in all of our industry to have one. That makes me special…and highly unemployable.
If the that statement seems odd, let me explain by plainly telling you that just having a degree in A/V doesn’t get you jobs. In fact, it has only served to make things harder in some ways. While you might think that I have the holy grail of education for our industry, many employers do not even really recognize my degree as a valid alternative to experience in the field. This is something in the industry which I am hoping to reconcile. As you read this, if you are an employer, consider that just because degrees in A/V are relatively new, it doesn’t mean that I’m not every bit as capable as doing the job as the guys who have been doing it for years.
Now as I stated, finding employment after graduation wasn’t necessarily easier just because I held an AV degree. I faced many challenges but we’ll just focus the big five. A pseudo sixth problem which I won’t discuss, but deserves mention is that I had to teach myself through research who the players in each market segment are in my local area and the industry at large.
The first obstacle I had to overcome in searching for a job was understanding what exactly employers call each job and what that job entails. It is a disservice to our entire industry that we still have so many job titles out there and no standards. For example, some companies have dedicated “Structured Cabling Technicians”, whereas another may very well employ someone whose sole job is to install cabling but instead is only called an “Installation Technician”.
Figuring out what each job is called is really minor in comparison to the big two insurmountable obstacles of consistent employer demand for several years experience and the desire for employees with specializations. While I have years of IT and technical support experience behind me, I only possess the experience I gained from two years of school when it comes to AV. Well, that’s sort of true, I’ve been dealing with AV my entire life off and on as a technician, though from an employer perspective that doesn’t really count. Employers consistently asked me about my level of experience during interviews, and each time I had to defend the validity of hands on trade school training.
While not quite as restricting as lack of experience, not having a specialty also made finding a job difficult. My academic studies were blanket program covering home theater systems, fire and life safety, surveillance, live sound, building automation, and more. Time after time I would be drilled on in my interviews about how deep my training went in each area. Without fail, I almost always didn’t have enough knowledge in one or two areas to satisfy them. It was constantly a “close but no cigar” situation.
Normally our personal networks provide us opportunities to interview with a company. Even if you lack a job skill or two knowing someone who can vouch for you helps employers overlook things like not having enough experience or a specialty. In my case, having no industry contacts made this door opening technique unavailable to me. Of course my professors had their contacts, but I am a significantly better designer than I am an installer, and sadly design jobs are rare. While I actively use social media and regularly attend networking events locally, the opportunity to meet A/V professionals is far and few in between.
Perhaps the biggest impediment to employment was that as a whole the A/V industry just doesn’t understand what a degree in A/V entails. Since Madison Media Institute is currently one of a kind, most of the industry has only begun to hear of academic A/V training. As the industry grows to become aware that formal education exists in our field, I believe that employment opportunities will start to open up more readily. Indeed, employers are beating the door down at my Alma Mater asking when our next crop of graduates will be ripe and ready. Each graduating class becomes more refined and better trained as the curriculum matures.
As a rapidly expanding industry that is heavily concerned with gaining recognition, we must concern ourselves with the challenges formal education creates. Certifications will not take us all the way; we must develop academic programs that deal with specialties such as video conferencing or building automation. We should not be content to continue business as usual and be merely a trade, but instead a valid career field that colleges will find appetizing. We must embrace this change, and do whatever we can to help those entering our industry with solid education find their place in the great electron sea of A/V. The only question left at this point is what part will you play in helping that change to happen? This guy, well, I’m “Mr. AV Education” and will continue to push for formal education in AV for years to come. Will you become an agent of change and actively help or will you sit by on the sidelines as things fly past you? Which side will you be on?