Regulating training for AV pros

Peter Hunt, group CEO at Hewshott International tells Tim Kridel that he wants to see a more formal and regulated approach to professional AV education and training programmes.

TK: In your experience, how do people find out that the pro AV industry exists and decide that they should consider a career in it. For example, are some people joining pro AV because they work in IT, and with AV-IT convergence, they learn about pro AV and decide to switch careers? Are some, particularly young people, coming into the profession through vendor or integrator apprenticeships/internships?

PH: This is a tricky question to answer. I think that there are some courses that are relevant to the AV market. However, these are not as ‘front and centre’ as other related disciplines. The closest I have seen in the UK is some sort of audio engineering with acoustics. No doubt there are video engineering courses, too, but as I expect these are derived from electronic engineering primarily. I suspect this is where the seeds are sown.  

There is no doubt that InfoComm is seeking to push the CTS certification hard, and rightly so. However, it would gain a wider audience if it could be linked to, or form a part of, a relevant tertiary qualification. I think that generally people ‘stumble’ into AV and a lot of people do it to ‘try their hand and turn a few quid,’ but ultimately that doesn’t help promote the industry at a credible level it deserves.  

As it becomes increasingly intertwined with IT, that generates another avenue to explore.  What worries me, and I might be an old ‘analogue’ hack, but the skills around looking and listening to the output of an engineering process are still very important, so I really do hope that any development of AV as a tertiary awarded qualification includes some of the subjective matter that is essential to retain. For this reason, we need to be attractive to people that want to work in the performing arts, music, film and television, too.

TK: Some people say many customers haven’t heard of pro AV accreditations such as CTS, so they don’t carry much weight when they’re choosing an integrator, consultant, etc. Some AV firms have responded by trying to educate potential customers about CTS, etc., and why they should hire a firm whose staff has such accreditations. What are you hearing?

PH: Unfortunately, I fear these people are right. The ‘weight’ that CTS has is not enough. It’s not in demand universally across the world, and most integrators we work with see it as an investment that’s not going to add anything to their ability. The vast majority of projects that are led by consultants hand-pick the integrators that compete for the work, and that’s usually based on reputation, staff and previous experience. Having CTS isn’t a differentiator at the moment, but one day I hope it, or a derivative of it, will be.

TK: What can pro AV learn from IT in terms of accreditations?

PH: Lots and lots and lots. The IT market is streets ahead of AV when it comes to accreditation. However, the IT world has always been around software and programming. Their ‘boxes’ are (albeit complex) facilitators of this. Our AV world is migrating into the same space, but don’t forget that for the last 30 or so years, we’ve been bespoke: equipment that only connects to baseband video, balanced audio, high frequency graphics, dedicated (expensive) cable and so on.  

Today, AV is a network device, so arguably we can only function if we ‘speak their language.’ The IT world exists on skills and service. The AV world used to exist on products and proprietary ways to connect them up. The future is in the IT space, so AV has to have skills and deliver service in the software space, as well as make things look and sound nice. This is a challenge but also a fantastic opportunity.  

With one or two exceptions, I firmly believe that the AV of the future is going to be higher volume, plug and play, probably centrally sourced products where the choice of equipment is largely immaterial, but the programming and services will dominate. Integrators and consultants that recognise this now and adapt will bode well in the years to come as the rate of market change accelerates. 

TK: With AV-IT convergence, are IT accreditations such as CCNA now as important, or maybe even more important, than CTS when it comes to career opportunities and advancement?

PH: Not necessarily. Whilst IT accreditations are important, the good thing about the dominance of the IT industry is that there are lots of people out there that have this qualification, and more. AV still needs core video and audio skills, but it needs network skills, too. Although I know I’ve been vocal about the lack of strength of CTS (apologies to InfoComm – I’d love to work with you guys to build on what’s been done), it is essential for an AV qualification to sit alongside (not under) IT so there is a recognition of an allied technology that has its own specialist qualifications.  To do this, it must have strength so people with CTS are revered.

TK: Does our industry have enough types of accreditations, or do we need more? If so, what should InfoComm and/or other organisations considering adding?

PH: I think there’s a case for manufacturers to collaborate a bit more. I’d love to see the main audio DSP manufacturers come up with a course that covers off audio within the DSP domain, independent of their product.  All of them can run it (for the same fee) but with the right policing, it would provide a solid grounding for someone to go onto more specialist training, perhaps with a manufacturer of their choice.  The same would apply to a number of similar areas.

TK: How can vendor-led training/certification be improved?

PH: I believe that most of the training should be vendor led, but it should be regulated. If I was to go to one company for a course, I would want to be confident that one of my colleagues in a different part of the world attended the same course with a different vendor and came out of it with the same knowledge.  This is a model that could also be strapped into some of the existing coursework undertaken by tertiary colleges and universities. InfoComm would achieve their prominence by association and certification, thereby raising the profile and driving standards.  

We need to find a way of not certifying ‘just anyone’ because they’ve attended a manufacturer course focused on their product I am aware that some of the main players do offer ‘AV101’ or equivalent, especially in the audio space which is the least understood, and they are to be commended. However, this should be a fundamental pre-requisite, not a ‘favour.’

Peter Hunt also contributes to a wider feature on training and certification that you can read now. And you can learn more on the topic from Jon Dew-Stanley, director of Midwich Technical, Graeme Massey, managing director of AV recruiter JacobsMassey and David Willie, head of communication and collaboration technologies at UK integrator Saville Audio Visual.
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