Where Are All the Mentors?


After 20 years in the audiovisual and control industry, I got to thinking: How did I get here? I’m sure we’ve all wondered that at some point or another in our careers. Let me be clear: I don’t mean in some existential way. More so, I mean who helped along the way, who kept the passion alive, who or what was the catalyst to stay in the industry for an entire working career thus far? There were maybe six to 10 defining moments or people that lit the fire.

That’s a painfully small number of instances I feel, so, it naturally led me to ask — how many things have held me back in this industry? Made me fall or feel like I was failing? Or pushed me to the brink of my already frail sanity. Honestly, I laughed — fairly hard too, because I’ve been doing this long enough to know — nothing goes according to plan. Plan for perfection and expect a disaster. The walls are crooked, the model changed, the upload failed or network glitched, our tech quit … I could go on. Needless to say, it takes a special type to take on the AV and controls industry. Because, let’s face it, we’re still a new trade to a lot of people. In the earliest days of “integration,” we didn’t even get the consideration for site time from any general contractor or developer/builder. (Oh, and, if you’re still fighting that battle while reading this, I am truly sorry; that sucks.)

Alas, what does this all mean? No wonder it’s getting harder and harder to find young, energetic people who are excited about becoming lead technicians within an integration firm, let alone designers and engineers. With the push of “smart home” hardware into every home and the push for coding and the need for young programmers, it’s no wonder the oscilloscope and spectrum analyzers are all collecting dust in the now defunct electronics classroom.

Now compound that issue with trying to find older, more established people with the patience levels needed, hands-on field experience needed, tool knowledge and troubleshooting knowledge with a glowing CV based on their outstanding years of experience. Do a hand count on that question and the room will have tumbleweeds. Yeah, older lead technicians are becoming more and more of a rare find.

To further compound matters, we now have the 2020 world pandemic. We’re seeing leading voices in AV take packages and buyouts, or just flat out retire and focus on golf swings and garage studios. So it’s no wonder I’m constantly being asked for referrals for reputable lead technicians from companies across North America and the United Kingdom. Ironically, the jobs are there, but no one’s sending resumes or CVs. So where are the technicians? Or, maybe, where’s the knowledge or path getting lost?

So here we are, my point: Where are the mentors?

As I mentioned, I had maybe six to 10 key moments of true inspiration that kept me invested in this industry for 20 years and counting. Only about three of those experiences being people that, at this phase in my life, I truly consider mentors because these people invited me in and didn’t push me out. These people would answer the phone when I was hunched behind a rack troubleshooting, they guided and promoted within, they showed up. These people, by no shape or form, got designated as mentors at the time, they were just doing their jobs.

So, I’ll say it again, it takes a special breed of person to get involved in our industry. It’s stressful and hectic. It requires broad-reaching skill sets; it’s male-dominated with a lot of “old farts” (which I am painfully becoming). It’s dusty, dirty and it lacks a lot of the awareness, support and guidance of accredited educational institutes. The reality is the field is moving and evolving faster than the classroom can. Associations can barely keep up; it’s the price of innovation I suspect.

So how do we close some of these gaps? How do we ensure the programmers have hardware to program? How do we ensure hardware goes in properly and is functioning to even accept code? Most importantly, how do we ensure a younger, more diverse population of young people gets excited about our industry?

I think we can answer a lot, if not all these questions by adopting more mentors and mentorship programs into the AV and control industry, ideally with the support of associations and educational institutions. And don’t get me mixed up here; I don’t mean more propeller heads and knob-tweakers bestowing virtues of frequency knowledge and their unwavering impossible amounts of hands-on skills that we, the common folk, can only be so lucky to ever have. No more “salty dog” cutting remarks to force the pedestal under your butt and make the newbie feel like garbage. It’s stressful enough — unless you’ve forgotten. It’s time to invite people in and show them the tricks of the trade. We need to inspire new minds with the dream of what this skill set can enable. Let them see behind the curtain of Oz, and open up the door for them. This is my call to action to all the established talent out there: It’s time. Don’t wait for some young newbie to ask — offer your talent now; it could keep someone in this industry for years to come.