Getting students interested in AV

This year’s ISE saw CEDIA teaming up with AVIXA again to bring around 200 students from across Europe to the trade show to introduce them to a potential career in AV.

HiddenWires editor, Amy Wallington spoke to integrator, Oliver Hall from Ultamation about his involvement in the AV Career Day. 

Recruiting young people into the industry is not only necessary to replace those who are retiring, but it is needed to bring new ideas and innovations in order to drive the industry. CEDIA and AVIXA, among other professionals in the industry, have recognised this and are now introducing schemes such as the ISE career day to educate young people about the industry and potentially encourage them to follow this career path. 

Ultamation is one of the companies that are actively helping students enter the industry. Hall explains: “I was invited to do The Integrated Home Podcast with Jeff Hayward, the director of Wildwood PR who looks after CEDIA. We discussed recruitment and how to bring new blood into the industry. 

“As part of it, we discussed Ultamation’s relationship with the University of Liverpool. We recruit through the university and I have recently become more involved by being invited onto the Industrial Advisory Board, which means sitting in on final year presentations and giving feedback from a prospective employer’s point of view.”

Due to this involvement with the university, CEDIA wanted to get Hall involved in the Career Day. “CEDIA wanted to fly 10 students over to join 160 others from all over Europe for the Career Day. We were asked to get in touch with the university, who were delighted with the opportunity. As you would expect, a lot more than ten students wanted to go so they were asked to send in a video application and the university then made a selection.”

He continues: “A week before the event we did a ‘bootcamp’ session with the lucky students to give them an overview of ISE and to select which stands to visit so they would have a better understanding of the industry and get to see their specific areas of interest.”

Taking place on Thursday 13 February, the AV Career Day ran from 9:30am until 4:30pm, and involved guided tours of the show floor. Hall recounts: “The day began with a welcome and introduction explaining what they were going to see. We then proceeded to visit various stands starting with Crestron, Sony, Trinnov (including Kaleidescape) and finishing with Meridian Audio and Barco. On the stands I let the experts talk to the students and made myself available for any questions.”

Bringing students to a place like ISE where they can interact with real people in the industry and see the technology first hand proves to be a lot more beneficial than just learning about it in a classroom, as Hall experiences: “The students were very impressed, particularly with the demos and it opened their eyes to the different career paths they hadn’t appreciated before. 

“The main comment from the staff was that it allowed the students to get to speak to the people who do the actual job which was much more valuable than traditional career fairs where large companies often send someone from HR. As a result, they are now reconsidering how they usually run their career fairs. 

Liverpool Uni Students at ISE

“It also made the staff more aware of the career paths available and introduced them to some the SME’s rather than just concentrating on the large companies.”

As Hall pointed out, these events are crucial to change the perception of this industry in the eyes of the education system. Bodies like CEDIA are beginning to play an important role in this change to introduce young people to the idea of home automation. 

“When we started Ultamation 12 years ago, hardly anyone knew what home automation was,” indicates Hall. “That’s no longer the case with the likes of Alexa, Nest and Sonos making the technology more accessible to the masses, but I think from a career’s perspective, there is still plenty to be done.

“If you speak to students about programming, they usually seem more interested in writing an app which they think will turn them into an overnight millionaire – they don’t always appreciate that it’s a lot harder than they think!”

Hall continues: “I came from a computer science background and I think that helps with the formal side of programming and, in particular, improving the quality of the solutions that we offer our clients. It would be great to get more computer science, electronic engineering and software development students involved in the industry with that kind of perspective, reliability and quality.”

With technology constantly changing and evolving, opportunities are growing for young people in the AV sector. “The industry is always changing, which is a good thing,” says Hall. “We do a lot of work with Crestron and in residential, there is significant change there with the introduction of Crestron Home. Our business model is always adapting and we’re looking to capitalise on Creston Home. 
“Custom is still very important at the high-end but there are new opportunities here for us too. We are building more modules and tools to support our own projects, but also benefit other integrators by providing them with software products they can rely on.”

It is now more important than ever that young people are bringing fresh ideas to industries, and Hall explains how it can benefit the AV sector. He says: “Specifically in the area we’re passionate about, technology and software are constantly evolving, and new techniques are constantly being developed. They’re not always successful or suitable, but the influx of graduates bubbling over with enthusiasm and fresh ideas is essential to keeping the industry agile. 

“There’s a real mix of companies in home automation and AV at the moment, and sadly, there’s still too much of an old school attitude in some of the established brands. We often come up against a stubbornness to look critically at product performance and reliability and if those attitudes don’t evolve, they’ll be the AV dinosaurs we’re talking about in years to come.”

Hall concludes: “Bringing in young new blood, with appropriate mentoring and direction, is a good way to shake things up a little!”