Second only to securing lucrative projects is the quest for skilled, reliable AV labor, with many integrators turning to freelance staffing services for the help they need.
Integrators are recognizing the high quality of the talent pool available through freelance services, said Mynul Khan, founder/CEO, Field Nation. “Integrators are leveraging more comprehensive platforms that offer access to a freelance marketplace in addition to robust project management and dispatch tools. Many are using staffing services to help them test new lines of business or new geographies for their business to serve.”
AVTek Staffing focuses on three types of AV market segments: integration/installation support, live events in rental and staging, and managed services at facilities such as think tanks, universities, law firms, and the corporate space.
The AV staffing business is becoming more competitive, but very few other agencies do true temp staffing—most are subcontracting, said Jack Mayhugh, AVTek partner, focusing on business development. “We operate as a true temporary staffing model, not as a subcontractor, so that all technicians are W2 employees with insurance and liability, etc., covered.”
AVTek has a four-hour minimum (five in the NYC market). “We provide a lot of support for the techs as they go in for a job,” he added. “We will help them get certifications, help them get the tools they need, provide them a very fair wage, as well as guidance with their resumes, so they at least look good on paper. We also pay out techs weekly, whether we get paid or not, and that goes a long way. Last year, we issued 104 W2s between DC and Boston.”
AV is small, a cottage industry compared to IT, Mayhugh said. “A lot of our focus is on keeping in contact with techs and offering referral fees for both new tech referrals and company referrals such as integrators we haven’t worked with yet. We work mainly along the East Coast, but we can supply help for projects anywhere. If an integrator likes a tech from a previous job, we can fly them out. We also encourage employees on our roster to work elsewhere when we don’t have work for them, and to build relationships with other employment agencies.
There are occasional challenges to the workflow, he noted. “There are either too many techs looking for work and not enough projects, or too many projects and not enough available techs. It seems like everyone gets busy or slows down at the same time in this industry.”
The Long and Short of It
Integrators are seeking both long-term staffing and help on an as-needed project basis.
“At Field Nation, we see many new customers who approach us with a short-term need,” Khan said, “but end up relying on freelance professionals and our platform for long-term solutions.”
“In order to fill their long-term needs, they are using us to build a nationwide network of prequalified AV freelancers and vendors based on their unique requirements, said Mousa Ackall, director of brand marketing, WorkMarket. “Regarding individual break/fix assignments, they are using pre-qualified freelancers on an as-needed basis, often times with SLAs [service level agreements] as low as four hours. For large projects, they are sourcing vendors and freelancers far in advance if possible. These are direct examples of how a couple of our integrator/AV customers are using the WorkMarket platform to fill their talent gaps, proactively build a team of contractors they can trust, and ultimately improve their bottom line by leveraging a flexible workforce.”
Most AV companies are vetting freelancers’ skills the same way they’re vetting their W2s, he added. “They use skills-based tests, certifications, and agreements, etc., to prequalify workers. WorkMarket can automate this entire process with our talent pools. And we can share AV best practices based on years of experience and dozens of clients. Because they’re pre-qualified, when an opportunity arises, you can source the opportunity and get someone on-site in hours.”
How Does the Work Work?
“We market through our website and rely mostly on word of mouth,” Mayhugh said. “We’ve been in business for 22 years and treat our techs and our customers well, so they refer others to us.”
AVTek employees are culled from resumes posted on various jobs boards such as the InfoComm board or Craigslist, and work locally in their area or travel, depending the specifications of the work.
“I’ve done work in Boulder, CO for an integrator in New York who was flying the project lead and engineer out to the project and needed another set of hands,” he said. “I found an AV tech locally through the InfoComm jobs board for them. In another example, a DC-based integrator had a contract in San Antonio at Fort Sam Houston. Rather than send their own techs out, they sent their lead and engineer and recruited six San Antonio-area techs from us.”
Mayhugh recruits in specific areas, although some areas of the country have very little talent to choose from, he acknowledged.
“I do temp-to-hire, which means if a tech is really good, they most likely will get hired on permanently,” he continued. “There is that small window to get techs working again after a government contract, for example, has expired. It all works by word of mouth; I have handful of ‘true temps’ who are not looking for permanent employment. Others may have been employed by me five years ago and are again looking for new opportunities.”
Temp-to-hire is beneficial because the tech is on the AVTek payroll for 720 hours, a good amount of time for a company to evaluate a tech, as well as a tech to evaluate a company, Mayhugh said. “It’s not too long, and it’s not too short, typically four to five months. I get something out of matching a good tech with a good permanent job. I do feel like I’ve lost a good temp, but we are a temporary staffing agency and part of the landscape, so to speak. If I didn’t get that good temp a job, then they would have eventually found one on their own or hooked up with someone like me to help guide them via online recruiting.”
Mayhugh’s background, starting out doing support for live events/in-house AV, then moving into systems integration, has given him an insider perspective, he said. “I really get satisfaction from matching someone and seeing them get hired, knowing that our customer now has a good employee. I once got a tech hired as field service tech covering the Northeast region for an integrator. Once in a while, part of his job was to climb the spires of a very tall and distinguished building in New York City wearing a special, custommade, $2,000 harness, so that he could focus the cameras up there every three months. He took a photo for me from up there. He says it’s the best job he has ever had, and the tech is prospering and the company is prospering. This is what it’s about—the perfect match.”
Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Boulder, CO.
Before you reach out to a staffing agency for freelance help, ask yourself the following, Khan advised. “Is the talent pool curated? Are there customer reviews to help identify the top resources? Does the vendor have policies in place to help ensure the quality of the technicians?”
And, he added, ask if the pricing structure locks you into long-term relationships or allows you to test the waters on a project-by-project basis. “And finally, how targeted and specific does the agency allow you to get in identifying the right talent for your particular needs?”
Remember that freelancers are willing to jump through hoops to get qualified for future opportunities, as long as the company describes the kind of work they can expect and treats them with respect, Ackall noted. “Freelancers want to be their own bosses, managing their own availability, and they want to work with the best companies. Be sure to create talent pools with descriptions of the future work, provide very accurate descriptions of the work to be performed, and always pay on time and share positive feedback if appropriate.”
The most important thing is to be prepared about what you need before you reach out to a staffing agency, Mayhugh stressed. “I get phone calls from those who are well prepared and from those who are struggling, and I can always tell the difference. AVTek’s business model is different from a subcontractor model. We provide experienced AV technical support to your team; we do not take over a project and run it for you soup to nuts.”