As AV and IT Collide, What Are We Worth? by Christopher Maione

Throughout my career, I have strived to increase my value and the value of my firm to clients. I continually ask myself – what is my skill set and the skill set of my staff worth.

Let’s say that that I am an experienced AV “expert” with over 25 years in the industry and that my team includes AV project managers, engineers, CAD, and administrative support staff. All team members have 10+ years experience working in AV, are well educated and maintain CTS certifications to stay relevant and on top of industry innovations. They are true AV professionals.

Now–how do I charge enough for our services, without charging too little – and still deliver the exceptional value that my clients expect? Degrees and certifications are one thing, but what is the value of experience? Does it count? How much is it worth? And what as an industry should we be charging for it when estimating / billing projects?

Well, first, let’s look at the two facets that represent the total cost of any project; equipment and non-equipment costs.

Equipment costs and margins vary – at the low end the “commodity” equipment may yield a few margin points while more complex, sophisticated equipment could represent a 20% markup over cost. However, in these tight economic times – the margins on overall equipment and services on projects must be very competitive if there is any hope in securing the work.
Next, non-equipment costs represent the labor cost associated with:

· Project Management
· Engineering
· Design / CAD
· Fabrication
· Programming
· Installation
· Test & Commissioning
· General & Administrative

So what is a fair and reasonable rate to charge for services performed by skilled, technical individuals in a specialized industry? Unfortunately, I feel our industry is undervalued.
Case in point, let’s look at some typical hourly bill rates for other professions:

Attorney: $250 (and up)
Copier Repair Technician: $14
Auto Mechanic: $120
Pool Service: $110
Graphic Artist: $90
Web Programmer: $80
Flight Instructor: $60
Personal Trainer: $45

Now let’s look at the hourly billable rates for persons in the AV industry:
Senior Consultant: $200 – $250
Senior Engineer: $120 - $150
Engineer: $100 - $125
Programmer: $100 - $125
Senior Technician: $100 - $125
Design / CAD: $90 - $110
Technician: $90 - $110

Again, please note, these are typical hourly rates – however when pursuing a project (particularly in a bid situation) the rates tend to be reduced in efforts to win the project.
Also the rates above are AV firms billable rates, they obviously don’t pay their employees these rates otherwise they wouldn’t be able to survive and make a profit. In addition, salaries and pay scales will vary based on location.

So let’s look at a typical (seasoned) AV professional with a yearly compensation of $90,000.
Based on a 50 hour work week, 50 weeks / year = 2,500 hours / year. This AV professional is making $36 per hour. This is before taxes. Ughhhh.

I don’t know about you – but this just doesn’t seem fair. Even entry level AV professionals have two to four year technical degrees and on the higher end, Acoustical and AV Consultants are degreed engineers with certifications, tremendous practical experience and the skill set of a demanding craft. Indeed, our abilities and education seem to outweigh our pay scales.

But there may be good news. The IT world (which is converging on us) is a higher paid industry. Where many seasoned AV professionals (in the NY area for example) draw salaries in the $80K - $100K range, their same counterparts in the IT industry are making $100 - $120K. Is this fair? Probably not – but good for them – they are making more $$$ and so should we.
My advice for those in or entering the AV industry is simple. Pursue your degrees and get your certifications, in both the AV and IT worlds. Cross train and be fluent in the latest and greatest technologies of both AV and IT. As our technologies and markets continue to grow I would expect our pay to grow with it. Now, I’m not expecting a “flood” of college grads pursuing AV anytime soon – but I’m comfortable that AV is still a specialized and worthwhile career to pursue. But heck, what do I know, it’s only afforded me the chance to build several successful businesses and has paid my bills for the last 28 years.

To make sure you get what you’re worth, keep on learning and for more information on further educating yourself in AV or IT, visit the following:

InfoComm.org
CompTIA.org