14.09.11

Do you qualify?

AUTHOR: Inavate
AV principles can be learnt with formal training and gained through certifications such as InfoComm’s CTS. However, it is also necessary for engineers to gain on-the-job experience

Getting the most out of your workforce isn’t just about pay-rises and promotions. Learning is a vital tool in employee development and should provide a company with as much benefit as the individual.

When you work in the AV industry where do you go to learn? There’s not one obvious badge of excellence in the industry that equates to a chartered engineer, accountant or solicitor. And the qualifications we do have are, in many cases, not recognised by the firms and individuals awarding contracts. Furthermore, what qualifications do you look for when taking on inexperienced staff who are looking for their first job in AV? There aren’t any school level qualifications in AV, there aren’t any foundation courses in AV and there aren’t any degrees in AV. The industry is a mix of numerous disciplines.

So where do you go? Most integrators InAVate spoke to said they relied on one, or a mixture of the following approaches. Firstly the CTS scheme offered by industry association Infocomm. Secondly manufacturer-led training and thirdly in-house and on-the-job training provided by experienced senior staff.

In the most successful cases all three approaches are conducted side-by-side and can complement each other effectively. “The training classes delivered by the projectiondesign academy give AV individuals a certification as sales, product or repair specialist. Our aim is that all, and not only a few of our training classes will give valid InfoComm Renewal Units,” says David Aleksandersen, academy training programme manager at projectiondesign.

Scott Wills, director of international education and member services at Infocomm, says the CTS is not intended to be an all-encompassing qualification and argues that it needs to be undertaken in partnership with manufacturer led training.

“The foundational CTS programme provides a basis or foundation that is intended to built upon. It’s like a pilot’s license that grants you permission to fly but doesn’t mean you’ve experienced everything. You need to go out and get experience in the real world of AV. So much of that is gained by picking up equipment, attempting to interface units and learning from what you do. It takes some manufacturer training to learn how specific equipment is supposed to function and learn what it can and what it cannot do.”

Education can be a costly investment whatever your approach. It’s not just the cost of the course you’re looking at. Employees attending training are not bringing in cash and they’re not working on revenue-generating projects. And, past experience has shown many employers that you can invest heavily in a staff member only to watch them move on and use expensive qualifications to benefit another firm.

“If you think training is expensive, try ignorance,” argues Aleksandersen. “Even with limited resources companies benefit from higher knowledge; more sales with no increase in sales force, skilled pre sales engineers will yield higher quality of project deliveries and lower chance of failure – and we all know mistakes can be expensive.”

“You’ve got two choices really,” adds Mike Backler, head of training at Crestron UK. “You can either not train and you have an average workforce or you develop people and they go and do better things maybe for you or possibly move on, which is always a risk. But, the better trained an installer is the faster he works. There better the programmer is the faster he completes the project and the quicker you can bring the money in.”

It’s a fairly logical step to assume that the better educated your workforce is, the quicker they will complete a project. You can also assume that training has a positive impact on the standard of the work carried out. But what about getting you that work in the first place?

If you are tasked with awarding a tender then one thing you may look at is the qualifications of the applicants. But, if you don’t value or recognise the qualifications they loose all power in this regard. Many of the integrators we spoke to expressed concern that qualifications in the AV industry were either not recognised or not held in high regard by end users. Their concerns were largely targeted at InfoComm’s CTS qualification. Whilst many integrators used and valued the badge they felt it had little sway outside of the AV industry.

Wills says end-user awareness of the CTS scheme varies largely around the world. “It’s one of our goals to get the word out to the end user but that is a broad area and therefore a very difficult task,” he notes. “We have various programmes focused on educating and reaching the end user through sectors such as the building trade. For instance we have our RIBA education programme where we have the opportunity for our members to utilise education materials for architects in the industry.”

Wills argues that region plays a large part in awareness. “In those areas of the world where quality is one of the highest priorities then people tend to look at what qualifications the individuals working on a project hold. There are other areas of the world where cost is more important and then qualification itself is less likely to be considered.”

Looking at InfoComm’s regional breakdown of CTS qualified persons then clear regional trends do emerge but they’re not necessarily the trends you’d expect. InfoComm offers three levels of certification. The general CTS (Certified Technology Specialist) is joined by the CTS-D (Design) and the CTS-I (Integration).

North America is in a completely different league to the rest of the world with 5,641 CTS holders, 436 CTS-D holders and 367 CTS-I holders. Given the global total of certified persons is 7,291 the North America figures demonstrate that the qualification is far more accepted in that region. Europe has a total of 519 CTS holders, the Middle East just 63 and Africa only 27. If you break the European figures down you can see the UK dominates them: 377 CTS-holders, 18 CTS-D holders and 3 CTS-I holders. Surprisingly low results come from Germany with 31 certifications, the Netherlands with 10 and France with just 1. Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Romania join France with less than five certifications in each country.

If the CTS scheme is to be embraced and is to grow as a mark of quality in the AV industry then far more work needs to be done to promote it in regions outside of America. Given the end-user awareness concerns already raised then it’s likely that this is an area where InfoComm should be focusing. The scheme will be far more attractive if there is a better awareness and appreciation of value amongst end-users.

Manufacturers also have a duty to promote their training and its benefit to building contractors and end users. It’s in a manufacturer’s interest to educate users on its equipment as installations will be carried out to a higher standard providing a better advert for the technology. Some manufacturers will even stipulate that training has to be completed before an engineer can install their technology. It’s important that the benefits of this training be communicated to the individuals that award contracts.

“I think we should be doing more to educate the end user,” says Backler. “An investment in education is important and I think that the people who take the time and effort to do the training to be the best should have the recognition that they are at the pinnacle of their industry. When assigning a tender to four or five different quotes you can go by price or you can look at qualifications. But there’s a problem if you can’t spot which are the stand out qualifications in the AV world.”

It’s important for designers, engineers and sales forces to gain specific knowledge on particular equipment but often manufacturers will provide instruction on wider principles to bolster a learner’s basic knowledge base.

“The first training that we developed was about the basics of digital video transmission,” says Tibor Fejes, support engineer at Lightware Visual Engineering. “We explain how the different interfaces work and we show people what problems can occur and what the solutions are when dealing with these interfaces. We have a detailed explanation about DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, EDID and HDCP.”

Matt Czyzewski, vice president of business development at Biamp, explains why it’s important for a manufacturer to provide information on these principles. “Our target is integrators that use our product. Our training is product specific and we have two product lines where it’s required carry out training before you’re allowed to install them.

“Although it is product specific you often find that you’re providing some more basic knowledge. People come into these classes at varying levels of audio knowledge and sometimes we have to augment their knowledge base and go over some principles of audio so they can understand how it applies to the product now.”

Modern building design is encouraging the AV industry to work closer and closer with an ever-growing set of trades. And many of these trades value and expect formal, accepted qualifications. Manufacturer training is vital to provide specific information on the technologies being used and in some cases the certifications awarded are widely recognised. But, if contractors are going to take the AV industry seriously there is a need to promote a more general qualification that provides a reliable mark of quality.