In professional baseball, the minor leagues are where ball players hone their skills before being elevated to the Majors, or “The Show” as it is known among players. Every team has an affiliated “farm team” in the Rookie League, Single A, Double A and Triple A.
The farm teams are where rosy-cheeked teenagers drafted out of high school and college “grow” by being taken under the wing of veteran coaches to teach them the finer details of being a professional ballplayer. They have the basic skills at that point, but hone the types of skills they generally aren’t learning as youngsters, like reading pitchers’ pickoff moves, recognizing the release point of the pitcher to pick up the ball rotation, or how to throw new pitches like changeups, forkballs or cut fastballs.
Well, for years, the custom electronics industry had its own “farm team.” Large national and regional retailers like Circuit City, Tweeter and Sound Advice were the minor league breeding ground for new employees who learned to love A/V and eventually migrate into installing systems.
But, as well all know, those “farm teams” are gone and that vacuum is still being felt today.
From the sales perspective the void left by the demise of those major retailers has been filled by the Internet mostly, and custom integrators secondly.
But the bigger, unfilled void left by the end of retail has been the training gap left for newbies into the industry. There are very few places left, other than perhaps Best Buy’s Geek Squad, to which pimply-faced teenagers can turn to simultaneously learn about audio, video and home control while at the same time earning a paycheck. Vocational schools certainly can provide the training, but those places cost money to attend. Kids out of school need to earn income while they learn, which is why retail provided the perfect opportunity.
CE Pro’s own senior editor Bob Archer can relate… he honed his love for audio and video, developed an audiophile ear, and was schooled in videophile-level viewing techniques while working at Circuit City as a youngster.
The Apple Store comes to mind for me as a possible breeding ground for new custom employees. Most Apple Stores I walk into seem to be over-staffed; it always seems like a chunk of the store employees are playing video games and ignoring customers. And it certainly might be a mental leap for a hormone-filled Millennial working in an Apple Store to consider exchanging a job in a shopping mall (where they are potentially surrounded by beautiful women) for a job crawling in a hot attic pulling wire. Of course, that would be a much better long-term career move than continuing as a retail salesperson for the rest of their lives where they might move up to become manager of the shoe department at JC Penney’s someday.
So what can the industry do about this current labor-crisis situation? There is no easy answer. In the meantime, most integrators find themselves in an endless scramble to find good technicians since the demise of the farm team.
I know… maybe integrators should start installing video games in attics to attract Millennials?