Sourcing Success: People Before Products

The most pressing issue in the R&S industry? Don't forget talent acquisition and retention.
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The most pressing issue in the R&S industry? Don't forget talent acquisition and retention.

Sourcing Success: People Before Products

Oct 8, 2014 10:32 PM, By Midori Connolly

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What is the most pressing issue in the R&S industry? Is it sourcing new equipment or replacing outdated equipment? Inventory control? Sustainable operations? Effective marketing?

Did anyone out there answer talent acquisition and retention? Chances are many of you did, as this is a major challenge facing just about every industry across the board. A 2013 survey of the J.P. Morgan Chase Executive Advisory Board found that three quarters of their respondents feel that talent acquisition and retention is a current challenge at their company. The top two challenges were “difficulty recruiting competent job applicants” (59%) and “loss of knowledge transfer from experienced to less experienced employees” (49%).

“Companies need to compete for talent similarly to needing to compete for clients,” said Matt Emerson of staging company CEAVCO, who I asked about staffing issues. “We work very hard on creating a rewarding and compelling place to work that gives our team members the opportunity to be at their best everyday.” he said. “In other words, we want to enable them to play to their strengths a majority of the time. When you do this, talent tends to find you.”

If we believe our business is about people, what does this look like in our industry? First, staff is maturing. This equates to increased skill and higher pay rates and benefits, as well as some technicians beginning to time out and retire. Unlike other industries, the AV industry isn’t entirely dominated by baby boomers, but Generation X. The age of concert touring and large scale shows really blossomed in the 70s and 80s, which coincides with the tail end of the Baby Boomer’s, and this generation X’s entrance to the workforce. Many staging owners and executives acknowledge the need to accommodate the demands of a more skilled workforce, but struggle with how exactly to do so. The ability to keep them engaged has been a major question mark for many. What has worked well in other industries is offering more flexible working arrangements, unique health care benefits and contractual work arrangements. Also, re-training and updating skills sets to meet the new demands of the events industry (for example mobile applications, interactive technologies, etc) are effective means of improved employment branding and retention strategies. And those should ultimately result in new revenue sources and growth for the company as well.

Another challenge facing the industry is how to find the right talent for the incoming workforce. In conversation with industry guru and fellow columnist Joel Rollins, he remarked how the concert tours aren’t exactly the place for recruiting that they used to be. Most technicians have to already be skilled before they start in this arena (yes, pun, I know). And while the theatre industry has always been a great source of skilled labor, it is still a somewhat different track from the staging industry.

Fortunately, in an era where obtaining a higher education is more prevalent than ever, there are a handful of degree programs that can offer possible recruits. InfoComm International published a list of the Top 10 Degree-Producing Programs in 2011 for Audio and Video Equipment Technicians. They are: Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences; The Art Institute of Pittsburgh-Online Division; Full Sail University (I can personally vouch for this one, what a phenomenal program this is!); Expression College for Digital Arts; Institute of Production and Recording; Michigan State University; Berklee College of Music; Columbia College- Chicago; Madison Media Institute; MediaTech Institute-Irving; SAE Institute of Technology. In the race for talent setting up a solid relationship with these institutions might be the most effective means of getting ahead. You can also work with non-profit, workforce development programs. Offer internships, workshops and other outlets for the programs to provide experience in an actual working environment. Build your employment brand and comb through recruits first-hand.

Knowing we have an aging workforce and an influx of new recruits, the final step is to ensure there is a solid knowledge-transfer plan in place. This doesn’t require some elaborate database of “this is how we do this,” but mentoring, job shadowing and even social networking communities can be a great way to develop this plan. Using collaborative documentation, such as Google Docs or Evernote, or perhaps recording processes and ideas by video is also an option.

Matt Emerson added that they “have turned our warehouse team into a ‘farm team’ of future show technicians and department leads…. We encourage these new employees to take the InfoComm training online and to take our inventory out to simply play with it and figure out how it works. It quickly becomes evident who is interested in learning and developing.”

The prediction for our industry by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is a 14% growth in job opportunities over the next eight years. If we are to continue to thrive and grow at this rate, AV staging companies must recognize their most valuable asset as the humans who operate their inventory, and not the other way around.

Midori Connolly (midori@avgirlproductions.com) was chosen at Info- Comm 2012 in Las Vegas to serve as the Chair of the InfoComm Rental & Staging Council. She is the “chief” in new staging/live event technology company Chief AVGirl. She is best known for producing the first set of best practices for Sustainable AV Staging. Since her start in hi-tech at the age of nineteen, she has been training and teaching groups in places as far-reaching as South Korea to spread her gospel of the strategic use of technology and sustainable meetings as a business strategy. Midori is recognized as a Platinum Speaker by Meeting Professionals International, Best-in-Class Speaker for Professional Convention Managers Association and was most recently named as a Most Innovative Event Professional by BizBash media and 40 Under 40 by Collaborate and Connect Magazines.

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