Tips for Training Your AV Team

One of the continuing challenges that organizations face is building the skills of their team. Whether it is to orient and train newcomers, advance the knowledge and capabilities of existing staff, or provide a path for career advancement, there is a real need for a training strategy with resources that will facilitate growth and keep with the latest industry trends.

For decades, the AV industry has been plagued by the lack of a traditional career path. This begins with the absence of formal schooling and the lack of degree programs specific to learning AV technology. Without defined education tracks or majors specifically geared to the AV industry, the typical AV professional has had to find their own way of learning what is needed to pursue a career, establish their value, fulfill their job responsibilities, and maintain relevance.

Along with the common view that “nobody pursues a career in the AV industry, but rather everyone has ended up in AV accidentally,” the path to career development has been equally random and varied. Most often, AV knowledge has been passed down from one to the next through mentoring, word of mouth, real-world experience, and on-the-job training. In some cases, this can be the best way to learn; however, this undocumented method is difficult to replicate and scale. Additionally, progress will be dependent on the knowledge of those who are more experienced, creating limited opportunity and the potential of a growth ceiling. Moreover, those who have reached the top of the ladder for their role in an organization may find themselves with little opportunity to expand their own knowledge and capabilities. With the lack of formal training and the absence of documentation, organizations run the risk of valuable knowledge being lost as those with the most experience switch jobs, grow older, or leave the industry.

While there are options for learning base knowledge through industry association resources or training in manufacturer-specific solutions, few are comprehensive enough or specifically geared toward preparing someone to be successful in all aspects of their particular job or career. As a result, the onus is on the individual and the organization to pave a path to mutual success.

Some individuals are self-starters and look to obtain the knowledge needed to succeed on their own, but most rely on their organization to guide them through the process of learning what is required for the job. On one hand, this can be thought of as an advantage to an organization as they can start with a blank slate and groom their team members specifically to meet their needs. However, it can also present a real dilemma for small firms or departments within organization where resources are at a premium, and monetary and time investments are not able to be easily absorbed. Aside from the financial aspect of hiring someone and paying them as they train, opportunity cost is also incurred when a seasoned person is tasked with grooming someone new rather than performing their income-generating role. Finally, organizations must bear the risk of having new hires not work out or leave prematurely before the return on their investment of bringing them up to speed can be realized.

What can businesses and organizations do to overcome the obstacles of training new team members and how can experienced AV professionals grow and advance?

Establish detailed job descriptions and an organization chart with specific responsibilities for each role.

While it is true that companies and organizations come in all shapes and sizes with various roles and positions, there is a common set of skills and responsibilities that need to be covered to fulfill needs on projects and conduct business. Many times, these can be found within detailed job descriptions or in an organization chart. Although some use org charts simply to illustrate a hierarchy of roles and direct reports, there is value in expanding this tool to include the key responsibilities that must be covered by one or more positions in order to make the company or team run successfully.

Define and prioritize all the skills required to fulfill the responsibilities of each role and identify corresponding learning resources.

Once the responsibilities of each role have been defined, it is important to dig deeper and identify the specific knowledge or skills required to successfully satisfy those responsibilities. Some skills may apply to general business traits and will be common to several roles, while others are very specific to one particular role and function.

When it comes to business skills, there are many avenues that can be pursued for education and training. Among these are online courses, professional development seminars, group or individual coaching programs, peer-to-peer mentorship, and on-the-job training.

Most roles in the AV industry include a combination of technical, non-technical, and manufacturer-specific knowledge that need to be learned and mastered. For example, a programmer’s role may include interfacing with team members, defining solutions, programming systems, providing documentation, managing projects and schedules, communicating needs and status, organizing information, troubleshooting issues, and supporting clients. This complex blend of responsibilities can only be satisfied through a variety of educational resources and training strategies.

Since learning resources are tougher to come by for specialized technical roles like those specific to the AV industry, the approach to training requires being more resourceful. After diligently defining the skills that correlate to the primary responsibilities of a specific role, sort them in priority order based on prerequisites and their importance in fulfilling requirements of the role. Beginning with the highest priorities, determine a learning resource, such as a subject matter expert, website, or guide, that can serve each educational need. This solution does not have to be perfect nor comprehensive. It just needs to establish a starting point for education and training related to the learning objective.

By understanding the skills and knowledge that are priority needs and having resources for obtaining knowledge, the framework of a robust training program can be established. As it evolves and information is gathered, a continual knowledge base or wiki can be created documenting all the materials, resources, and individual contributions from all those involved in the instruction or learning process. This valuable asset not only provides a central repository to capture and compile relevant information, it also becomes a competitive advantage for the organization. Just as it is impossible for any one person to know everything, it is equally challenging for everyone to remember all that they have learned. Having a mechanism for storing, indexing, and sharing knowledge and experience collected from contributors of all types within an organization can be pivotal in achieving long-term success.

Since there is no magic pill or quick way to master specialized skills, it is important to value and respect all the knowledge and collective experiences that are available. While difficult and daunting, AV organizations and their team members must not only make an investment in themselves by committing to continual learning and training, they must also implement strategies to serve both their immediate and future needs. Without a focus on identifying, documenting, and sharing tribal knowledge, resources, and skills, valuable content will inevitably be lost and businesses will continue to struggle to groom newcomers, establish paths for career growth, and scale their teams efficiently.

Steve Greenblatt, CTS, is president and founder of Control Concepts, a provider of specialized software and services for the audiovisual industry.