The Long Road to AV Rental Education

Or “Why Can’t Timmy Program the DSP?”

From Rental & Staging Systems October 2007

By Tom Stimson, CTS

How do I get my people trained? Why can’t I find trained people? Who has time for training? These are three questions that successful companies in mature industries typically do not have to ask because: 1) Employers have training resources available, 2) People can find training that makes them desirable employment candidates, and 3) Employers understand that training yields rewards that far exceed the cost in time and resources. But before they ever got to this point, there needed to be an alignment of four key forces: knowledge, affirmation, proximity, and trust. Audio-Visual Rental & Staging is not there yet. But the cosmic forces are beginning to form and will eventually come together.

Knowledge

The first requirement for Rental & Staging to reach the tipping point for ongoing learning is for a body of knowledge to come together. This is not just all the hundreds of variations on how we do things – there needs to be a conventional wisdom on the best way of doing things. Best practices reduce the number of things we need to teach by allowing us to focus on the most viable ones. The next step is standards – measurable, quantifiable, verifiable standards. Standards can’t apply to everything, but they can narrow what needs to be learned in a particular area because developers, manufacturers, and users are all applying the same principles. InfoComm International is collecting the Rental & Staging body of knowledge and several volumes are posted on the InfoComm website awaiting your comments and additions. Go to www.infocomm.org/education.

Affirmation

Stagers generally like to believe that what they do in their job or at their company is unique. Each shop or even individual develops their own best practices, and many of us consider the methods we have developed to be a true differentiator of our value to customers. As I visit more and more of you, I can honestly say that your best practices are starting to look more and more like each other, which is a GOOD thing and long overdue. Best Practices can be taught – once everyone agrees on them. It is hard enough to get the folks in your company to agree; getting hundreds of companies to see eye to eye is a monumental undertaking. But just imagine the time you could save if you no longer had to argue, wonder, or discover what the right way to do a thing really was? What other things could you  devote your time to? Affirmation won’t come overnight, but the process has started.

Proximity

We also need to share what we know. The Rental & Staging Roadshow combines training and networking. Manufacturers and B2B suppliers have their own road shows to share knowledge. There are also conferences and conventions like InfoComm and LDI. The next step would be true digital sharing and collaboration. Maybe we need an educational MySpace for AV? This is something that is being publicly discussed within InfoComm. Someone needs to provide a platform for specific interests to be discussed. For instance, digital signal processor (DSP) programming is now a critical step in audio reinforcement in both live events and fixed installations. The extreme flexibility inherent in these devices leads to an unlimited number of good options for how to use them. A forum of users might narrow down the best options. One day there may even be standards. But, until there is an open forum – a faster way to foster a closer proximity for all these ideas – consensus will remain a long way off.

Trust

The final piece of the puzzle is a leap of faith. Employers worry that the money and resources spent of training and developing employees will be wasted if a competitor simply hires that employee away. To some folks, sending technicians to classes is the same as posting their resume on the Internet and begging companies to steal them. One solution is to do all the training in-house. Big companies like PSAV and AVW-TELAV have very sophisticated training tools and can take raw recruits and turn out competent AV techs. For 99% of the rest of us – this just is not an option. Don’t forget that training is also a retention tool. If you are losing employees, chances are they are leaving because of better opportunities – like education and career development. Finally, we have to believe that there is something else beyond training. There is. The next step is innovation.

Getting Started

Here are five things you can do to help bring these forces together faster for your company, which in turn will speed things up for the industry.

  • Commit to learning more. It may be that you first need to admit you don’t know it all, but that’s a good start.
  • Hire better freelancers. These folks are the busy bees of the industry who cross-pollinate knowledge. The good ones work with good companies. The best ones work with the best companies. Get it?
  • Make your headquarters smarter. Take advantage of manufacturer training. Don’t just send show techs – send maintenance, operations, and quality control folks. You need some of this knowledge to stay in the shop.
  • Schedule informal in-house training. Don’t wait to create lesson plans – just turn on-the-job training into a ninety minute impromptu warehouse class. Ask any tech who stumbles in to explain how a product works and how to use it on a show.
  • Write down lists of things that your company would like to know. When you or anyone in your company learns something about that topic, put it on the list.
  • When you do send someone to a class, ask them to bring back the handouts and prepare a presentation at your company. It doesn’t have to replicate the class, but it should give other employees a chance to ask questions.

The cosmic forces of Rental & Staging education are starting to form. Get prepared, be involved, and have faith that in the end everyone will benefit. The companies that choose to keep to themselves will have to compete with the companies that will flourish from shared knowledge, industry best practices, and collaborative networking.

Tom (T.R.) Stimson, MBA, CTS, is president of The Stimson Group, a Dallas-based management consulting firm providing strategic planning, market research, and process management services to the AV Industry. Tom is the 2007 Chairman of the InfoComm International Rental & Staging Council, a member of the InfoComm Board of Directors Executive Committee, and a member of the ETCP Certification Council. Contact him at tom@trstimson.com

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