AV Smarts

A Benchmark for AV Support Staff

While the structure of AV design, support and installation departments varies by institution, here's a way to quantify your staffing needs.

How many AV support staffers should an institution have? In my job as an audiovisual consultant, I've honestly never met someone in a higher ed AV support role who feels like their department is adequately staffed and they're not overwhelmed with the amount of work put on their plate.

It's hard to pinpoint why AV support departments aren't usually staffed properly. Maybe it's because AV support went through a transition from dealing with carousel slide projectors to managing high-end digital presentation, collaboration and conferencing tools, and staffing levels just didn't keep up. Maybe it's because AV support departments sometimes fall under non-technical departments (such as facilities) that just don't understand what it takes to properly staff an IT group.

In 2014 I decided that I wanted to study higher ed AV department staffing levels, so I put together an online survey. It turns out I wasn't the only person curious about staffing structure, so I ended up getting a very positive response to the survey. It seems like technology managers are always looking for a data-driven way to approach staffing.

This survey attempted to determine an average ratio of the number of AV equipped rooms per support staff at any given institution. I knew that it would be difficult to compare AV staffing levels across schools, since there are lots of factors differentiating one school from another. One major factor is the school's approach to IT support: Is it centralized or decentralized across campus? Audiovisual technology levels also affect the number of support staff needed. A school with only basic presentation systems in its classrooms needs a very different support structure from a school that has quite a few complex collaboration, capture and conferencing rooms. Schools that outsource their AV design and/or installation work to consultants and integrators, rather than handle that with in-house staff, will surely have different staffing levels. All that being said, I still think that a survey quantifying AV support staffing levels across multiple schools is helpful for higher ed tech managers to at least see a benchmark and have a starting point in determining their staffing needs.

Survey Information

I conducted the survey online in the spring of 2014, and posted a link on a couple of online forums frequented by AV tech managers. I ended up receiving 61 responses, giving me a pretty diverse pool of data to look at. I'm by no means a professional survey writer, but I think the data is very useful.

The first few survey questions looked to gather some information about the respondent's school. I asked for the number of classrooms, meeting rooms and offices with installed AV equipment. I also asked about the number of digital signage displays, and the number of students at each school. Respondents' number of AV-equipped classrooms varied from around 30 to more than 500. Number of students varied from 176 to 50,000 — a nice mix of small and large schools.

I then asked about full-time staffing levels in specific positions relating to the design, installation and support of AV systems. This survey didn't look at staffing levels for AV event support departments. The titles I asked respondents to consider were: director; assistant directors; managers; supervisors; AV project managers; system designers; control system programmers (full-time); field repair technicians; bench technicians; daily support field technicians; administrative assistants/business services employees; and student employees. Every school classifies its AV department staff by different titles, but I tried to focus on a variety of common titles/roles.

Results

The most important result that came from this study is an average ratio of the number of AV-equipped rooms per full-time staff: 43:1. This ratio is based on classrooms/meeting rooms only, and does not include admin assistants or student employees. Some respondent's ratios were down as low as 15:1, while some topped out over 140:1. Obviously there is wide variety in the number of AV-equipped rooms each full-time AV person is tasked with supporting.

Not surprisingly, the most common positions that exist in the respondents' departments are daily support field technicians and field repair techs. Looking at the big picture, I would consider those positions to be essentially the same, with lots of crossover of duties. There are also plenty of student employees reported by the respondents, but I didn't include student employees in determining the average ratio of AV-equipped rooms per full-time staff. Falling into the middle range in the respondents' departments are AV project managers, system designers, managers and supervisors. The most uncommon positions in the respondents' departments are bench techs, administrative assistants, control system programmers and assistant directors.

Many of the freeform notes sections of the survey were populated with comments about how understaffed people felt their departments were, and how each staff person has to wear a bunch of hats when it comes to AV support duties.

Even though all those previously mentioned factors come into play when comparing one school to another, the 43:1 ratio can be helpful as a quick benchmark in determining how far off your AV support department staffing level is compared to others. If you would like to see a full copy of the survey results, feel free to send me an e-mail (mike@tomeiav.com).

About the Author

Mike Tomei is an AV design and management consultant based out of Central New York, and the owner of Tomei AV Consulting. Tomei AV Consulting provides system design, project management and AV management consulting services to the higher education, K-12, corporate and commercial markets. Find out more information at www.tomeiav.com or contact Mike at mike@tomeiav.com.

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