LAVNCH WEEK ProAV Panel: “AV Careers, Workforce Development and Pivoting Your Products and Services” — The Blog Version

ProAV Panel

The ProAV Panel of LAVNCH WEEK yesterday covered something that’s been on many of our minds. The title of the talk will give it away: “AV Careers, Workforce Development and Pivoting Your Products and Services.” In other words, how can you, and your business, pivot in this “new normal” and keep your head above water?

Alexis La Broi, director of sales at VER, was our moderator; she kicked things off by introducing the panelists. Those included Clint Hoffman of Kramer, Marika Aquino of TierPM and Kelly Perkins, an AV marketing consultant who I learned yesterday got her start in advertising agencies, like me! All our panelists explained how they got into AV, and they were all interesting stories. For all you reading this — was your career in AV deliberate or accidental? I don’t know about you but, like Alexis La Broi said in the panel, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that someone just “fell into” AV. 

La Broi transitioned into some uplifting words about how this time can, and will, lead to innovation. And then the panel commenced.

Here are some of the great discussions that came out of it.

Alexis La Broi: The first thing we want to talk about is the people. Job loss or reduced hours or furloughs are quite commonplace these days. What advice do you have for these folks, or what are some things they can do now to help with careers going forward?

Kelly Perkins: I can jump in. It’s been a pretty close topic, because I’ve been pretty involved in the Ignite program with the NSCA over the past couple of years. If you’re not familiar with the Ignite program, it’s raising awareness and bringing talent into the audiovisual industry specifically …. I think it needs to pivot. Talking just about workforce development and professional development, we had talked about the online trainings that are available — I’ve been lucky enough not to have been let go, but I’ve also taken the opportunity as well to take some digital marketing online classes that are free, to take some SINAD classes because I need to learn more about audio; things of that nature. And then, just, typical stuff that people don’t really think about — like how do I polish up my resume?

Marika Aquino: Coming from a small business, it was critical for us that if these types of impacts happen to our business that, number one, we’re diversified in our products and services. So while we were impacted on the AV side for our recruiting and staffing, we have our IT side where we’re doing a lot of application development, data visualization. You see, as an industry we’re going toward cloud- and software based. We work IT projects. What we had to do is [ask] how do we retain our employees, versus furlough? So we had to get creative, and this is something that, you know, may be easier for a smaller or midsize business to pivot to. Your current workers — can they move into another role? …. It was really important for us to retain our people and put them into another role that they could maybe grow in and learn additional skills from and continue to be valuable and effective in the company. So those are some things that might be something to take a look at.

Clint Hoffman: Certainly we hope it’s furlough and not permanent …. When I started off in this industry, there were, like, three main companies to work with and then a couple dozen accessory companies; there’s hundreds of manufacturers now. If you’ve got some time on your hands, call your sales rep from your manufacturer and catch up on the product line, catch up on what that company is up to. You can make numerous of those calls. And when things get back to normal, you hit the ground running.

Alexis La Broi: I agree that diversification is a huge part of the way a company, the way an organization, should be moving forward and thinking about the different product lines, but [it’s] also the same thing for individuals: Diversify some of the things that you know, that you’re an expert on, so that you can maybe have a better opportunity going forward …. I’ve seen a ton of people online on LinkedIn who are sharing different certifications that they’ve earned over the course of the last several weeks; I’ve seen the AVIXA project management certification … I’ve seen a bunch of the Dante certifications, level one, two and—. I haven’t seen a lot of level threes, but I’ve seen a lot of level one and twos! So, that’s a goal, maybe, for some people.

With that, a question came in from the audience.

“My primary job is in IT, and as the AV world becomes more IT-integrated, I find myself in more AV roles … Aside from certification, what advice can you offer AV people seeking more IT-focused AV work? I am, for example, am Dante Level III.”

Alexis La Broi: Okay! We got one!

Clint Hoffman: There’s so many different things to talk about with this headline …. I’m hoping it’s an opportunity; sometimes opportunities are found within challenges. As an industry, we’re project-based. So, people go to work every day in our industry at integrators, and they’ve got to have enough projects in the pipeline every other Friday to make that payroll. It would be great if we had recurring revenue instead, or at least in addition to, so that, when they make their budgets, [integrators] at the beginning of the year could say, “I know this much is coming” and, “Now I know I only need this many projects.” But because we chase projects all the time, we do the same thing over and over and over again, because we know that will work. Maybe there’s an opportunity here to look at things a little differently when we come out of this. Maybe there’s an opportunity to bring a new skill set to the table, to become more IT-centric. I’m hoping that that’s the case. I think that the industry is moving toward more software-based solutions, more cloud solutions …. And the beautiful part about that is, if you get the right cloud solution, you don’t actually have to go to the customer’s location once the equipment’s installed to change something, to fix something, to troubleshoot something: You can do it from wherever you want, you can do it from your home, like we’re doing this call right now. 

Alexis La Broi: What you need to be able to do is speak that person’s language, so that you can make sure that what it is they are trying to accomplish with that project … that you translate it properly in the statement of work, that you translate it properly in the bill of materials, that it all comes together — so what you’re hearing them say is what actually is delivered all the way to the last, you know, whatever it is you install in that room …. So, really important to be able to speak their language. And I think the way to do that is to have an increased knowledge of the networking side of the business. It’s all one business at this point. It’s all one side at this point.

Alexis La Broi: What should organizations do to pivot their products and services going forward, and how should they do this? What are some new ways to reach customers or provide services that you already have?

Marika Aquino: This is the time to try to be creative. Is there a product or service that maybe you thought about launching, and, you know, didn’t have time to do it? Or is there a product or service that could be complementary…?  Maybe that’s a great service to offer your client when they’re active again. Look into that now and start negotiations or discussions …. What opportunities are out there? …. It feels scary with the unknown … but let’s look at where we could do something and figure out where maybe we can have some potential partnerships.

Alexis La Broi: If I’m a person who’s not in charge and I’m worried about getting laid off, what’s one tip, or one nugget of information you can give me today, to make me more valuable to my organization?

Kelly Perkins: I’ll harp on the education piece — learn something new. Expand and diversify yourself. And again, polish up that resume. Start getting out there and marketing yourself. Hop on social media … learn some social media basics. Get certified in something like that. We all know that, in the industry, just providing content, providing thought-leadership … is a great way to get yourself out there and make yourself more valuable. That’s huge, and you can do it sitting behind your computer, right? And take advantage of some of these other outlets that are springing up and popping up during times like this. If you’re furloughed or you’re not employed anymore, reach out to organizations in the industry and offer help: I’m working with a gentleman who just started this organization called AV Hero, which is like Uber for AV technicians .… Even beyond that, just reach out to friends and say, Do you need a little help with [whatever it may be]? … We all have what we’re good at, right? Chances are, there are organizations out there that need your help.

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