After having spent the better part of twenty years in the audio visual industry, I hope to do my part to ensure that it continues to thrive and grow, but what I’ve seen in recent years gives me pause. Jobs in our industry have been buried under a sea of available positions in more traditional fields. I hope that someday AV becomes an industry that young people look to first when considering career options.

My start in this industry was almost by accident. I found an open position as an entry-level AV Technician at a hotel while attending college. I fell in love with it and never looked back. And while I’ve heard similar stories about others joining this space, I don’t know of many that ended up here by intent.

I remember a time when the AV industry was sexy (and in many ways it still is)! The idea of learning, selling, and playing with high-tech toys- all while hob knobbing with CEOs, celebrities, and dignitaries. That’s what attracted me to staying in the biz while working in the rental & staging / show services side of things back in the day. But that was then…

So what do we as an industry do to attract and retain top talent today? I’d like to offer a few suggestions.

I think it begins with educating high school and college students about our industry and the growth opportunities that exist. We are in the business of change. Technology is changing faster than it ever has in history. The need for expertise in the services that we provide still exist. This remains to be the case across the board (integration, broadcast, post production, unified communications, rental & staging, SaaS, home theater, etc.)

Maybe it’s me, but I think there should be more options for higher education courses that help develop skill sets for the many specialties that we have across our space. The related degree programs I’m most familiar with are at Full Sail College (i.e. Show Production Bachelors, Digital Cinematography Bachelors) and The Arts Institute (i.e. Bachelor of Science in Audio Production).

But let’s not forget the IT positions. Since we are heavily married to IT, network-centric roles are in higher demand. But how many graduates with that knowledge base are aware of our existence? The reality is, we need to do a better job of explaining what we’re about and the great opportunities that exist for young people still.

Jesse Scarborough, Chairman of InfoComm International’s Young AV Professionals Council, summed it up nicely in a recent interview by Commercial Integrator when he said, “A lot of people don’t seem to be interested, but I think that’s because they don’t really know about it.”

After writing the draft of this post, I stumbled upon the following two articles that renewed my faith in our efforts as an industry to attract and retain young folks.

New Ignite Program Focuses on Educating Students
It talks about NSCAs initiative to educate students in an effort to spark interest in our industry.

AV Magazine, The AVers of Tomorrow.
It sheds some light on the additional degrees available today that six students were able to take advantage of.

Next time you’re at InfoComm or other trade shows take a look around. We have a lot of older (40+) folks that make up a large percentage of our industry. Now, before you get upset with me- I count myself as one too.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. BUT, we do tend to get a little set in our ways. If AV folks adapted to change as fast as the technology we work with, we’d have no problem attracting the next generation. Which brings me to my next point.

In order for us to attract younger talent, we need to speak their language. That language is “digital”. If you’re a digital dinosaur, it’s time to evolve. The younger crowd is always online, so we should be hanging out where they hang out. They’re not just online, they’re actively engaged on social media.

Snapchat and Instagram are chock full of the younger demographic we are looking to hire, but are we taking advantage of these platforms to start conversations or engage with them? If you’re anything like me then you’re probably thinking, “I don’t know where to start or what to say.”

You’ll be glad to know that you’re not alone. Believe it or not, my 21 year old son can run circles around me on Snapchat, but guess who I reach out to when I need to quickly get up to speed on the newest apps or find out where his age group hangs out? You got it!

If you don’t have access to a twenty-something son or daughter then you can borrow mine. But seriously, we have to adapt the way we market to the younger generation if we ever expect them to consider our industry over and above traditional job opportunities.

What is the culture of your company? What is the environment like? What vibe do you give off? These are all important to attracting young talent.

One of the things that can contribute to a positive culture in the workplace is truly valuing the suggestions and feedback of every person and helping employees feel like their contributions to key decisions matter. Employees (at any age) want to be heard. But if you have a culture of discounting the ideas of the millennial generation, they will likely take their talent elsewhere without giving it a second thought.

Create a fun environment that makes it enjoyable to be in the office. As students graduate college, many are looking for the Googles, Amazons, and Facebooks of the world, when it comes to the office environment. Now I’m not saying to put a bowling alley in your break room, but do something different that makes the atmosphere less “corporate-y”. Is that even a word? Anyhow, Entrepreneur’s Rose Leadem gets it right in her article, 12 Reasons You Should Let Your Employees Play Games.

Aside from games, themed days can be just as fun. I’ve heard of Costume Tuesdays, Beer Thursdays, and even Ice Cream Fridays. HR may not like the second idea but at least now you’re thinking outside the box. Trust me, younger talent will appreciate the new vibe your creativity brings.

These are just a few of my thoughts but I’m more interested in what you have to say. Let’s keep the conversation going. What else do you think we can do as an industry to attract and retain younger talent?