As I began to think about the importance of giving back and compiled my thoughts, I started to realize the weight of this topic. Who am I to tell others how important it is to give back?

The last thing I want to do is give the impression that I stand as some moral authority, reminding #AVTweeps they should have pledged their support on that recent PBS fund drive. That’s not where I’m going with this. I’m in the same boat as all of you: wishing I could do more for others, but falling back on the all-too-common excuses of “if I only had more time” or “I want to do more, but don’t know where to start.” In fact, I know all of us in some way give back every day, be it through volunteerism, taking the time to mentor a coworker, donating to an organization close to your heart, or, even through simple acts of kindness. There is of course, no right or wrong way to give back, as long as it comes from the heart. But, how does all of this relate to you?

Donating iMACs and PCs from John Hopkins University to CLIA (cliayouth.org)

Taking the idea of “giving” and peering at it through my AV lens brought to light some of my own personal experiences. I’ve often thought that while I’m passionate about technology and the experiences technology can create, I’m not exactly saving the world with this stuff. I’ve also noticed that the AV industry has other hurdles relating to equal access and visibility as a viable career path to the masses. Just look at InfoComm’s rebranding to AVIXA. (For those living a subterranean life, Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association, or AVIXA, is InfoComm’s rebranding efforts to better align with the industry’s purpose and future trajectory.) I’m on board with it—grow or go, scale or bail.

A projector donation from University of Baltimore to Safe Streets (health.baltimorecity.gov/safestreets) helped for a community movie night
Integrate Baltimore’s Annual Holiday Happy Hour collected over 110 toys and 32 children’s books for Toys for Tots (toysfortots.org)

A friend and fellow non-profit founder recently commented on a recent post and hit the nail on the head: “Sports GMs don’t sit in their offices waiting for the next Michael Jordan to walk in. They scout the playground.” For those who read AVIXA’s Pro-AV Index, you’d hear the common theme that there’s a lack of a skilled workforce in pro AV ready to take in-demand jobs. Could giving back to your local STEM community open a portal in which the worlds of AV and STEM begin to intertwine? Our industry could benefit from this new kind of convergence and infusion of talent. A convergence within the community that’s getting AV technology into the hearts and minds of young students already interested in science, technology, video games, music, etc. When considering where to volunteer your time, try Googling your nearest maker-space or STEM after-school program. Stop by there and show some kids just how cool sound and video can be and how it can enhance what they’re already doing!

Then there’s the overarching issue of equal access, be it lack of educational resources, skill gaps, socioeconomic barriers, or whatever else may stand in the way. For what is projected to be a $182B per year industry by 2020, the lack of a clear “onramp” into an in-demand career field is head-scratchingly hard to understand. With few to no college-level educational paths, we can’t expect one single industry association to do all of the education and propagating. It’s still up to us in some ways—the systems integrators, the salespeople, the manufacturer’s reps, the consultants, all of us—to find and educate not only ourselves but also the next generation. This presents a tremendous opportunity for companies to volunteer time and resources for paid internship programs or for reaching out to local high schools with careers in technology and work study programs to educate on the industry. Other technology industries will go as so far to reimburse qualified students for their education should they complete their coursework on time and agree to come work directly for that particular company. That’s a win-win!

If nothing else, consider giving back by making donations in-kind to some of these programs. I personally know many pro AV integrators, college IT departments, product manufacturers, and others who are sitting on stockpiles of B-stock or used equipment that could do wonders if delivered into the right hands. This is at the core of what our nonprofit, Integrate Baltimore (www.integratebaltimore.org), is all about. We are focused on changing the way usable technology gets repurposed and into the hands of organizations who need it most, while connecting the STEM and professional community. We’re growing our industry by giving the industry, and hoping to inspire others to do the same.

Ernie Beck, CTS-D is founder of Integrate Baltimore, a 501(c)(3) whose mission it is to donate usable technology to organizations in need, while connecting the professional workforce to each other and to the STEM community. He is also a senior sales engineer at Cenero. Ernie can be reached on Twitter @ernie_beck.