Training can be the secret to success in a rapidly changing technology landscape

In such a rapidly developing industry, it is important that integrators keep up to date with training. Amy Stoneham looks at how the focus on training and staff development is changing and what is on offer.

Smart home installations require a skilled professional to deliver a solution that is high-quality, installed correctly and tailored to the needs of the customer. Often to try to save money, some customers believe an electrician can do as good a job installing a smart home, but without the specific knowledge and training undertaken by a professional integrator, this is not the case.

In a rapidly evolving market, it is crucial that integration companies partake in regular training and staff development to keep up with the latest technologies, solutions and trends to ensure they are providing the best solutions for their customers.

It can be hard to find the time for training, especially if it’s something that requires multiple days or weeks and lots of studying. Many integration companies are small and cannot always afford to take time from a job to fulfil their training needs. In recent years, mainly due to the Covid pandemic, a lot of training courses and resources have been made more accessible online that participants can do in their own time, making it slightly easier to complete in break times and quieter periods.

Training is consumed in various ways to cater to many needs and abilities. But however training is taken, it is imperative to take part regularly to keep ahead of the curve in such a demanding and growing industry.

“I consider training an important use of my time in such a rapidly evolving industry,” agrees Mike Ranpura, director of Smart Life AV. “I participate in different types of training through the year, every year. I would say in our industry, the word ‘training’ can encompass many things. The first could be literal training courses in a traditional classroom format. Bitesize training is offered through online webinars. Many companies now have online learning platforms that allow you to learn in your own time and modularise content to focus on specific topics. Attending open days and industry events offer me even more opportunities to learn and stay up to date.”

Mandy Beckner is the vice president of education and training at CEDIA and says that professional development is critical at every level. “For new technicians, it’s important to establish a solid foundation and understanding of the basics, like the content found within the CIT,” she says. “We want to set the next generation up for success and provide them with a clear path forward in their careers.”

It’s not just smart home specific training that integration companies need to complete, as Beckner continues: “It’s also important for those working within mid- and senior-level positions to engage in technical and business education. The industry is constantly evolving, and this group has a responsibility to remain ahead of these changes. We have online courses and in-person sessions collocated with our events around the world. For experienced industry leaders, consider volunteering for a standards development project. The peer-to-peer engagement working through complicated industry challenges is valuable professional development.”

This is echoed by Lucy Kavanagh, director at Lake Home AV, an integration company based in the UK who ensures that all of its staff go through a thorough training process on various business as well as smart home areas to ensure they are fit to work in this industry.

“Training is something we feel really passionate about at Lake AV & Automation,” admits Kavanagh. “We participate in training as often as possible. We complete various types of training, including a mandatory health and safety based training which each employee has to complete before having access to sites and existing employees update this annually. It’s really important to us that our engineers are up to date with current site practices and know how to work safely and to a high standard, something which can be overlooked when solely working in domestic properties.”

Kavanagh continues: “We undertake manufacturer training for as many of the products we work with as we can. We normally look to our main supplier, Habitech, for the majority of this as they offer a really high standard of training and excellent aftercare. We also have a comprehensive CPD programme for our team and always update this, looking for exciting and innovative ways to improve it to keep it current and interesting.”

Looking to the next generation

With the rapidly growing market is also the challenge of attracting fresh, young talent. CEDIA has made it one of its focus points following conversations with multiple integration companies in the industry who say they are struggling to recruit new people, especially young aspiring integrators. In response to this, CEDIA has released its NextGen initiative, providing integrators with toolkits to go out to schools and colleges to spread the word about smart homes and how to pursue it as a career. They have also provided tools for recruitment, apprenticeships, and more to help the lack of new skilled talent entering the industry.

“CEDIA has a vested interest in ensuring industry companies can efficiently and effectively attract, develop, and retain skilled talent,” Beckner says. “Workforce development is a core component of CEDIA’s operating strategy – the goal being to ensure industry stakeholders have a sustainable pipeline of skilled talent that meets or exceeds industry needs. CEDIA members around the world have identified a glaring need for skilled talent within our industry. They’ve also said they would be willing to set up to help bridge the gap if given the appropriate tools. That’s where the idea for CEDIA NextGen was born.

“We already have an incredible network of local member champions working to build awareness of the industry and its opportunities in their regions. These tools help make those critical volunteer efforts easier and more effective – and encourage even more members to speak out on behalf of the industry.”

Encouraging young people to enter the industry without having to spend years in extra education learning the trade, many companies now offer apprenticeships, allowing young people to actively earn money learning and training to become a professional integrator.

“We recently hired a member of staff with zero experience in our industry,” recalls Ranpura. “We have developed our own apprenticeship style approach. Their time is split between working days and study days. The flexibility allows us to focus on business operations when we need to, but still have the benefit of extra hands whilst on site. They still gain the benefit of a traditional apprenticeship where they are applying the knowledge they learn on study days to the days we are working on site.”

Similarly, Lake Home AV is also looking to the younger generation to grow their business further. “This is something we are starting to explore for the future and will be investing in,” adds Kavanagh. “It’s essential that we capture the enthusiasm of the younger generation. We have recently attended our first careers fair for 2023 where we presented to pupils from the age of 11 to 16 with a view to raising awareness of careers in the AV and automation industry.”

Jani Hirvonen, founder and CEO of Finnish integration company, Digisähkö, says that they have not experienced any challenges finding employees interested in the industry. “We have three apprentices at the moment,” he says. “I think it’s a good way to get motivated people into a field for which, at least in Finland, there is no direct qualification for. With us, you learn to become an electrician with an apprenticeship contract because we also do electrical work on our own sites.”

CEDIA’s NextGen programme is working with integrators to encourage young people and individuals looking for a new occupation to consider a career in this industry, as Beckner reveals: “Our NextGen toolkit is a multi-faceted approach to professional development with community awareness and recruitment resources. CEDIA NextGen: Smart Home Career Toolkit is designed to help integrators forge connections with local talent pipelines. The kit includes ready-to-use resources employers can present to colleges, trade schools, government agencies, community centres, and more. Individuals looking to begin a career in the smart home industry can explore general industry information, salary guides, career pathways, education opportunities, and more.

“In addition to general community outreach, CEDIA NextGen: Smart Home Career Toolkit includes tools to expedite hiring and recruitment, like job descriptions, email and social correspondence examples, and phone interview scripts. As part of the NextGen initiative, CEDIA is waiving the fee for job postings in its Career Centre. For a limited time, CEDIA members and non-members may list full time, internship and apprenticeship opportunities for free with the code: NextGen23.”

Workforce development

It’s not just initial training for new employees that is important. Existing workforces must keep up to date with new trends, products and the evolving industry in general to keep ahead of the curve.

“We’ve witnessed tremendous shifts in the adoption of smart home technology over recent years,” illustrates Beckner. “Research conducted through CEDIA’s Smart Home Market Analysis indicates this growth is only going to continue in the years ahead. To prepare for more widespread adoption, businesses need everyone on staff to be operating at their full potential. They simply cannot afford to have one or two reliable people who can tackle every type of project or they’ll risk losing business.”

With a responsibility to support those seeking professional development, CEDIA offers over 150 courses, which are free to its members, covering various business and technical topics available to professionals of different levels and budgets. The courses are also made accessible by offering them online as well as in-person, often collocating with industry trade shows such as ISE, CEDIA Expo and CEDIA Tech Summits.

When looking to develop a workforce development strategy for their workers, Beckner encourages integration companies to reflect on their strengths, weaknesses and interests. She says: “It’s also important to understand how you learn best. Do you need a study session and the opportunity to ask questions? Do you prefer self-paced learning or a group setting? Would hands-on training be beneficial? Once you have the answers to those questions, you will be able to devise a strong professional development plan that is unique to your needs.”

Experience centres

Some manufacturers have a dedicated space, such as an experience centre, where they can invite integrators and customers to have hands-on experience with the products, as well as host training on their specific products. Control4 is one such company that has opened a number of these spaces over the last few years.

Wim De Vos, co-founder of Genesis Home Technology Architects, shares his experience of running the Control4 Authorised Education Centre (AEC) in Barcelona: “The potential of the smart home industry is clear as we see every home of tomorrow being equipped with integrated technology, and this represents a big business opportunity especially for engineering and installation companies. This is especially true in less mature markets such as Spain, Portugal, France and Italy where we serve Control4 integrators. Aside from the opportunity to build a profitable business, it is clear too that the industry needs to grow its skilled workforce if it is to take advantage.

“This is where the concept of Control4 AEC comes in, providing integrators in markets indirectly served by Snap One through distribution with the same level of education available to those in direct markets like the UK. Situated in Barcelona and offering training in English, Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese, the Genesis AEC has three main aims: to train our partners to guarantee, maintain and raise the level of projects being delivered with Control4 systems, to help existing partners to on-board new engineers by ensuring they are fully up to speed with best practice from the start, and crucially, to introduce newcomers to the smart home industry.”

Matej Kastelic /

As the training is localised, it also takes into account local market elements, such as building regulations and market maturity. De Vos adds: “This means that we will have a particular focus on system design and documentation and on service contracts, which are essential to ensure the customer gets as much value out of the system for as long as possible, as these are yet to be adopted at scale in all markets.”

Training brings multiple benefits to workforces and the industry as a whole, making it essential to keep on top of. There are more and more resources being built all the time to help grow the industry and keep it a highly-skilled market that delivers the best possible solutions to homeowners and end users.

Top image credit: Life and Times /

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