Corporate South Africa’s demand for audio-visual solutions is growing at a rapid pace, but training and professional standards are not keeping up with the expansion of the market. The result is that the industry is still largely dominated by companies who don’t have the technical skills to deliver the complex solutions that clients are looking for today.
This is hardly surprising. The industry is fiercely competitive, so training often falls by the wayside in the scramble to win new business and keep customers happy. The fact that retrenchments are forcing more people to create their own businesses means that there are many more unqualified companies trying to get a piece of the pie. And for clients, it’s hard to sort the credible players from the fly-by-nights.
Complicating the picture is the fact that our business is a multidisciplinary one, which also needs some understanding of IT, environmental design and more. But for the long term health of our industry, we need to place more of a focus in professional standards, based on the latest international best practices.
Even though the industry is largely unregulated, international standards and certifications are a good place to start. For example, InfoComm provides a range of best practices and training courses to the industry. InfoComm is the trade association representing the professional audiovisual and information communications industries worldwide. Its university offers a range of courses covering management, design and installation of AV solutions.
Though they are somewhat North-America centric, these courses are a good way to benchmark basic proficiency. Someone with the InfoComm Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) certification has demonstrated his or her audiovisual knowledge and skills in an exam. At Corporate AV, we use this as our basic benchmark.
The Southern African Communications Industries Association (SACIA) - a trade association that promotes adoption of professional standards and ethical business practice in the communications industry - has partnered with InfoComm.
Executive director Kevan Jones says that he hopes that government and universities will back the work SACIA and InfoComm are doing to bring relevant AV qualifications to South Africa. SACIA members get a discount on InfoComm Training. In addition, suppliers such as TID and Electrosonic offer free training to help build the local skills base.
In addition to this industry training, there is certainly no shortage of manufacturer-based training. Good AV solutions providers will invest in keeping their staff certified to work on the latest products from the leading vendors, in addition to encouraging them to get certified with InfoComm.
This is, as I mentioned earlier, just a starting point. As an industry, we should start looking at what we can do to create solid base of skills for the future as well as to further professionalise our industry.
It is in our interests to lift standards so that we can improve customer satisfaction and demonstrate the value of services for which we charge good money. SACIA can offer some independent guidance to recruiters in the AV industry as they look for skills.
Perhaps we need to initiate discussions with universities and technical colleges, with a view to getting AV courses on the curriculum alongside traditional IT courses. We should almost certainly start thinking more about career paths that we can offer young people entering the industry.
Given the wide and often technical skill sets required by the AV industry - IT skills as well as electrical, sound and electronic engineering skills - practical apprenticeships could help cultivate the people we need. All too often people are learning from sale and management rather than from the trade, resulting in poor skills transfer.
It’s also important for corporate clients in the AV sector to start holding their AV integrators to higher standards. They should ask their AV integrators what qualifications their employees have and what sort of investments they make in training their people.
Just as an enterprise wouldn’t want someone without the relevant certification tinkering with its networks and servers, it should not allow someone without the right qualifications to work on its AV products and systems.