There seems to be a big shortage in our industry - no, I'm not talking about airline upgrades or backstage catering with surf-n-turf for every meal... this week I want to discuss training for people working in our industry.
I know that most of us started out at the bottom of our fields and slowly worked our way up through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, to get to the place where we are today. I think there is a huge value to people that have had this type of education that a school just can not provide. If you are like me, you have worked in more than one area of expertise, and many of us have, through necessity or just some sick geeky desire, learned much about other departments with whom we work. This can create some excellent, well-rounded technicians and future stage managers, directors, department heads and business managers / owners.
But where did we really learn our trade? I've been working in some area of the entertainment biz / media for over 26 years now, and would have to say that most of what I know, I've learned on-the-job. Sure, I've attended a few classes and courses over the years, and have manufacturer certifications to prove it. InfoComm and LDI trade shows have also provided some great industry specific classes, although some of them seemed a lot more like sales pitches than actual training.
But are we, as a high-tech industry, capable of training the new kids as they come up through the ranks, or just as importantly, training the old dogs on the new gear that is being specified on shows? What kinds of training opportunities are offered to our industry that can be practical, affordable, hands-on, and have the student walk away with something of value to them in the future? Are we willing to trust our shows to people just learning to operate the new gear?
I am a manufacturer-certified trainer on a specific image processing switching system. I work both for the manufacturer and for their customers that choose to hire me to train their employees on the system. I appreciate that this manufacturer offers such classes, and they have provided valuable training on their previous systems throughout the years. Such classes won't make anyone that attends an expert operator, but they do provide valuable hands-on time and practical training and tools that a person can use to learn the system better. I know that at least one major competitor to this system offers similar classes for their switching system, and perhaps other manufacturers do the same. However, these are the only video related classes that I am aware of that train a person to OPERATE the gear in a show-type situation. For example, most projection manufacturers offer classes, but mainly teach the maintenance and repair of their projectors - not how to use them in the field to make pretty pictures.
So where can a freelancer go, or where can a business send an employee technician to obtain such training? There are schools that specialize in training full time for people that want to eventually get into this business, but they don't offer classes that a freelancer can take to improve his or her skills in a specific area, without dedicating an entire semester (and a LOT of money) to school. I'll keep other thoughts on such schools to myself, other than to say that I think a person that spends their time and money to go to one of these schools will likely still start out at the bottom, sweeping shop floors, packing gear and trucks, and pulling feeder cable, just like someone that didn't attend such classes, but instead went right to work and learned from those around them. I'm NOT saying there is no value in these schools, but our industry usually requires some period of paying your dues.
I think that the way most of us learned our trade is valuable, and we (should) continue to learn more every day, whether it be new equipment operations, tips on software to help us do our jobs, or even business techniques on getting new business or paid more quickly. But I think we are at a place where we need to have more options to learn some of these skills more quickly, more efficiently, from our peers, in a classroom setting. I see the demand in lighting and rigging for such classes that are offered by my friend Richard Cadena and the Academy of Production Technology. And for lighting console programming by my friend Steve Irwin at the Show Training Network. Heck lighting even has the LightNetwork website, where squints can get together, chat about converting monkeys and eels to do their jobs, and ask for help on gear or subjects that have them stumped. But I don't personally know of similar classes or websites dedicated to those of us doing video and projection work for corporate events, concert tours, theater and broadcast.
Yes, there are the Projection Master Classes that do offer some round-table discussions, panels, and some very valuable information and training, but doesn't appear to provide really in-depth, hands-on training to teach people HOW to use the gear. Don't get me wrong - I'd love to attend one of these, but I would prefer to spend my money on education that I know I can put to work to make more money by making me a better director, TD, engineer, projectionist, etc.
So, what say you? I think most of my readers here are actually lighting guys that are curious about the video freaks, and want to learn about us so they can take away our video gigs someday (just kidding!). But whether you are a lighting guy that wants to learn more about video and projection, or a video guy that wants to improve your skills and range of gear that you can operate, would you like to see such classes? I see a need for training courses that are small enough to provide personal training, hands-on time with the gear, and where you can walk away feeling like you learned valuable information that will help you on future shows.
What about costs? Classes at the manufacturer-specific classes aren't inexpensive - I'm hearing from $1k to $2k for a 3-day course. An outside (industry-neutral) training group would have to provide training facilities, equipment on which to train, and most importantly, skilled, experienced teachers for these courses. What would YOU be willing to pay, for a 2 or 3 day class that improves your skills and could perhaps even increase your day rate? Would you be willing to travel for such classes? What classes would you like to see? Manufacturer-specific courses on the most popular systems being used, or general video classes that cover specific areas like signal flow, basic or advanced projection, camera switching and engineering, image scalers/switchers, etc.?
And Swami Candela, if you read this, perhaps you could gaze in your crystal ball and see if there is a future for me in starting up such training for the video world?