Last week I sent out a tweet asking my fellow AVTweeps (#avtweeps), “Where Do Installers Come From?” I currently have 498 followers (@tech_chi). The response? No answer from anyone. CEDIA actually picked up the tweet and retweeted it to its 6,572 followers.
Nothing but crickets…
I started thinking that either you all know some great secret that you don’t want to share with me (or the rest of the world), or—more likely—you don’t have a concrete answer either.
We recently lost an installer, and I’ve been on the search for a new one ever since. I have this advertised in the local papers, on my sign out in front of my store, on CEDIA’s website (a member benefit), and even on Craigslist. And it got me to thinking; where have my best employees come from over the last 28 years?
Growing an Installer
The longest an employee has stayed with us was 13 years. Before working at the company, he made pizza at the Domino’s next door. I’m not really sure how my father figured it out, but this guy could take anything (and I mean anything) apart and fix it. Ever see a camcorder in a million pieces? He also had a talent for getting any wire anywhere. He has become an urban legend at my company… the places he got wires. There was no “can’t do it,” or “impossible” in his vocabulary.
Another employee we had for eight years was originally hired to paint our facility. We had purchased the property where we now reside and needed someone to help with the renovations, painting, and other work. Once we opened in the new location he began going out on calls to run wiring. He started as a “worker” but grew into a lead installer and a great programmer.
I don’t think either of these people set out to install AV, yet they were great at it.
Finding Talent in the Field
From Todd Puma at The Source Home Theater: “Great installers sometimes come from taking a chance on someone who definitely has skill but also persistence and loyalty,” he said. “My (now) lead installer, Jason, and I were hired to work at the same location but to do two different things. I was doing their automation and he was installing the locks. During the day, Jason came up and introduced himself. We got to talking, and he asked if we were hiring. At the time we weren’t so I declined his request. We ended up working the next day together, and this gave me the opportunity to see his work in action. I could see his ease and innovation in carpentry by the way he overcame some difficult spots, and I was impressed. He came up to me again at the end of the day and asked again if we were hiring and I thought, “Why not give him a try? Sometimes your gut tells you what a list of examples on paper might not.”
Partnerships to Employees
Ric Johnson with Right at Home Technologies partners with educational institutions to train his people. “We train our people after they come to us from various trade schools or the electrical trade,” he explained. “Since our company history is electrical, we have a great relationship with the various vocational schools in the areas where we have offices. We have a co-op program with two schools, which sends us juniors and seniors in the electrical program, and we then put them to work assisting on projects. From there, we test for various skills and we then move them into areas that we believe will be the best. After we hire a full-time apprentice, we will send him to various manufacturer or trade group trainings, and we run all of our prospective ESTs through the ESPA EST training. Over the years we have trained individuals that become competitors and some that just leave the trade. Our company believes in continuing education, so we provide up to 30 paid hours per year.”
Chris Neto, audiovisual pro with AV Helpdesk Inc., pointed me to a podcast recently on AV Nation. At the Media Institute in Madison, WI, one can now get a degree as an audio visual integrator. “As an AV systems programmer, you have the knowledge and practical abilities to design and install cutting-edge media systems,” he stated.
CEDIA has three-day Boot Camps to immerse a new hire in the AV world. Not only is there classroom time, but “extensive hands-on lab training in real rooms, using real tools, products and test equipment.” This doesn’t come cheap, though. For members the price ranges from $750-plus and for nonmembers the price begins at $1,000. This is an investment.
Is a “degree” as valuable as in-field experience? Is it more valuable, because they’ll have the tools, and you’ll be able to mold them with your values?
So where do installers come from? From the conversations I’ve had with others, I don’t seem to be the only one having a hard time finding talent. We have high unemployment rates, yet it seems not many are willing to actually “work.” For those who are, their asking price is usually pretty high.
We’re a great company to work for; we’re small, locally own and operated, and we let our employees have a voice here. I believe that there is so much potential, but maybe I have blinders. Is there something I’m not seeing?
Where have you found your greatest employees? Have you found it hard to find people willing to do the work? Have you created a superb training program? Tell me in the comment section below.
Meanwhile, I’ll be interviewing…