As Good As It Gets….

By Joel Rollins, CTS-R
Crew CallWell, I seem to have hit a nerve with my last column on training programs (or the lack of them) in the Rental and Staging portion of our little industry. And, with only this column left in the current year, it’s been difficult to answer the emails — or, better yet, to answer the questions they brought up.

So I’ll do it here.

For those of you just tuning in, we’ve been talking about the current lack of a formal training and certification program for the AV Rental Technician or Stager. In that article, I said that I’d try to put together a roadmap for where to get the various elements of training for a rental staff. To that end, for the last several weeks, I’ve been talking to trainers and managers from manufacturers and associations, as well as a number of readers by phone and email. I’ve discovered a lot, and still have a number of calls pending, so that subject is going to be continued in the new year.

But those conversations brought up a number of questions I thought should be answered first, so that the people I’m talking to would understand why I’m looking, and what I’m looking for. And so that they would know that I’m not going to find it – or, at least, not yet.

The two most significant issues you brought up were: first, what makes me pick out training as the most important issue to our future, and, second, what exactly do I think would constitute the ideal training and certification program?

The answer to first question, “What makes you pick out training and certification as our most important issue?” is pretty simple.

I’ve seen it happen, and the effect on rental companies and the industry as a whole, before.

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, the ICIA Institute for Professional Development (now known as InfoComm) was pretty much THE place to get training in AV. The semi-annual week-long institutes were all taught by volunteers, and these guys were among the “rock stars” of the industry. Fred Dixon, Duffy Wilbert, Terry Friesenborg, Andre Lejeune, Gary Kayye, Steve Thorburn, Steve Somers, Bill Sharer, Luke Rawls… the list goes on and on, and there are too many to mention here. The year I was asked to join them and write and teach a course in Rental was one of the most exciting of my career because of the people it threw me together with. We were all very active in the industry, coming together (usually, in the case of guys like Andre and I, straight from some show) to teach and collaborate for a couple of manic weeks. It was a bit of a training free-for-all, and needed to become more organized, but that collaboration brought together people who managed to put down on paper (and overheads, and videotapes, and primitive computer-based presentations) the core of much of the knowledge of our industry that is still in use today. Over twenty years, I taught more than 30 Institutes for InfoComm, which tells you how valuable I thought the experience was.
So, the reason I think it is most important: Organized training programs that are specific to our portion of the industry bring us together in one place to share knowledge. I learned as much by teaching as I taught to our students – and we encouraged many of them to go on to become the next generation of teachers, like Chris Gillespie and Tom Stimson, who is today Infocomm’s president-elect. Infocomm (formerly ICIA) has grown up along with the industry, and formalized and improved those early programs to an incredible extent, largely through the patient hard work of Melissa Taggart, Infocomm vice president of education, and her crew.

However, in doing so, we’ve (at least temporarily) eliminated formal rental training and certification – because it wasn’t formalized enough, and had smaller numbers of attendees. But if you look at the leaders of today’s Rental and Staging industry, many of us, both at manufacturers and in staging companies, came up through teaching or attending those Institutes. While they weren’t as formalized as what InfoComm teaches now, they served an important purpose as a place and time for people who shared a craft to come together in a cooperative learning situation. And that is the overriding importance to the future of our industry – specialized, comprehensive training creates a professional community, and future leaders, in a way that nothing else does. And in a way that no collection of courses taken in different places and times can.

The second question, “What do you think would be necessary in a training and certification program for Rental?” would produce an even longer answer than the one above, if I weren’t able to give a model from another part of our industry – but I can. One that I think should be the model for a future rental training and certification program – regardless of which organization does it. One that I consider to be the best organized, documented and thought-out program in our industry.

The CTS-I.

The CTS-I (that’s Certified Technology Specialist – Install) does what I think any program of professional qualification has to do – it addresses both the technical and organizational aspects of the installation portion of the industry. It begins with the basic technical, hands-on skills, ascertaining that the attendees all have a common knowledge of the basics of the craft to begin with, even though everybody who attends is already convinced he or she knows those skills. It does it because in order to go on to the organizational aspects of the craft, and to certify, we must first ascertain that this person has all the basic background of the industry. I don’t believe any professional training program that offers a certification can do so without first establishing these vital basics. Then, the CTS-I goes on to teach the skills of organizing and planning an installation – which produces a certification that has become the most generally accepted in that portion of the industry. The CTS-I actually means something because the basic skills are common to the class, which allows them to learn the planning and organization portion based on common industry knowledge. In doing so, it also prepares the CTS-I designate to LEAD.

Kudos, InfoComm, for producing a truly meaningful industry certification that is valuable to the attendees, to those certified, to HR personnel, and to end-user clients.

So that’s my answer to the question I have been most frequently asked… and a call to the industry in general for what needs to happen for Rental and Staging (again) over the next few years.

For my part,  these are my opinions – finally set down so that the people I’m talking to will understand what it is I am asking about.

In the new year, I’m going to talk to a few more of them, and attempt to draw that temporary “roadmap” for where to acquire all the appropriate training in pieces in the meantime.

Until then, happy holidays – and be sure to return all the camcorders, projectors, and lighting instruments to the inventory when your company’s holiday parties are over.

rAVe Rental [and Staging] contributor Joel R. Rollins, CTS-R, is General Manager of Everett Hall Associates, Inc. and is well known throughout the professional AV industry for his contributions to industry training and his extensive background in AV rental, staging and installation. Joel can be reached at Joel can be reached at joelrollins@mac.com