Targeting Future Talent For The Smart Home Industry

As part of the CEDIA NextGen initiative, James Ratcliffe, Managing Director of Homeplay, has visited two colleges to generate excitement about the smart home industry and encourage students to consider the career opportunities that are available within this market.

“I became aware of CEDIA NextGen when I attended the CEDIA EMEA Awards in 2022,” comments James. “CEDIA Global President and CEO, Daryl Friedman, announced the launch of the programme at the event and it was enthusiastically received by the audience. As we all know, recruitment is tough in our industry. There’s a real shortage of skilled engineers, so it is vital that we bring in as much new blood as we can and equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. I was excited to hear from Daryl that this had become a key focus for CEDIA and was interested in how I could support the initiative.”

As company owners know too well, they are extremely busy with many different business and project challenges to manage every day. Organising a visit to a college probably falls to the bottom of their long to-do list. However, as an industry, it’s important for everyone to play their part in finding the future industry stars. James recognised the need and made a point of putting this job to the top of his list – contacting local education providers to see if he could get a foot in the door.

James Ratcliffe

Creating CEDIA NextGen Tech Kits

At the same time, James decided that if he was going to go into a school or college, he needed to show exciting technology that would bring our industry to life and inspire the students.

“What we do is pretty cool, and we need to allow students to experience some of the tech that we work with on a daily basis to share that excitement. In an ideal world, we’d take them to a showroom, but we know that this is simply not possible. So, working on behalf of CEDIA, I pushed forward with the idea of creating NextGen Tech Kits.”

Thanks to the support of Habitech, Lutron, Ring, and Sonos who kindly contributed over £10,000 worth of equipment, James created four kits. Stored in easy to carry Pelican cases, these kits allow students to get the feel for how technology can be integrated together.

Users are able to push the Ring Doorbell and hear it play a tune through the Sonos speaker, speak to Alexa for the Triathlon blind to close, or push a button on a keypad for the Lutron lighting to switch on.  

First Presentation at Brooklands Innovation Academy

Armed with the NextGen Tech Kits, James visited a Careers Day at Brooklands Innovation Academy in Weybridge with Steve Carter, CEDIA Senior Manager Business Development EMEA. It was James’s first presentation to students, and it was the first outing for the kits.

“I was really pleased with how the presentation went. I started by playing the video from the NextGen Toolkit, which is a powerful introduction to our industry. I then worked through the PowerPoint and invited the students to come and have a play with the NextGen Kits. Steve was on hand and helped run this part of the day. The students at this College are 13 – 14 years old, so they are very young, but I could sense the interest and genuine excitement that they felt. I also learnt a lot from this first visit, enabling me to refine my approach for the future.  

Career Day at Salesian College

The next visit was to Salesian College in Chertsey. These students are the perfect target age at 17 – 18 years old. My contact was Lorraine Petheram, the Careers Lead at the college, and she emphasised how important it is to provide students with a hands-on experience to make them sit up and take notice. They are visited by many companies who give presentations, but they get easily bored and distracted.

“This trip was a big step up from the previous one, as I was now presenting to over 170 students in a lecture theatre, and I knew that I had to make it engaging. I made the presentation element short and snappy and focussed on points that I knew would pique their interest. I drove home the point about no student debt, which really seemed to chime with them. I then invited the kids down to the front in groups to have a play. I wrote set tasks for the NextGen Tech Kits and the students worked through these independently. I had several attendees talking to me afterwards, with many expressing an interest in organising a group visit to our showroom to find out more.”

At the end of the presentation, James asked the students to answer poll questions. When asked if they were aware of the career opportunities in the smart home industry prior to the presentation, 69% said no. It’s encouraging that over a quarter of the group where aware of it, but it shows how much work still needs to be done in targeting this age group.

Following the visit, Lorraine Petheram commented: “The students enjoyed the talk. I caught up with a few afterwards and they commented on how down-to-earth and engaging James was and how cool the products were. It also gave them a good insight into careers of the future and what they should be doing now if they want to get into the smart home industry.” 

What’s Next

James and the CEDIA team have also joined meetings with representatives from University Technical Colleges (UTC). There are 44 colleges around the UK in this group and the idea is to set up CEDIA-led presentations for each one.

Off the back of a meeting in November, dates have been agreed for visits to colleges in the Midlands and Teesside. CEDIA will reach out to local members and match up integrators with colleges. This is the start of a process to make visiting education providers much easier for members.

“We are really pleased with how the conversations with the UTC’s went,” adds James. “We also pitched the idea of loaning them the NextGen Tech Kits for a week or two after the initial presentation to allow the teachers to base some classroom activities around them. This is an exciting step forward for this programme.”

Advice to Other Integrators on This Journey

“I’ve only done these two presentations, but it’s been a learning curve and with every one I do, I know it will become easier. The CEDIA Toolkit is there for members to use and adapt accordingly, depending on who they are presenting to. Be aware that we are talking to kids, so integrators who do take part in this programme need to speak in their language and add their own personality into the presentation.”

This activity does not by itself solve the recruitment issue that we all face now – it’s a slow burn – but we are sowing the seeds for future talent.

For more information on the CEDIA NextGen Initiative, visit To book out the NextGen Tech Kit, contact

Article Categories

Most Viewed