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192: CEDIA Takes a Hands-On Approach to Training for Custom Integrators

Written by Rob Stott

November 7, 2023

Jon Rehwaldt, Director of Curriculum for CEDIA, is only a few months into his new role at the custom integration trade association, but he’s already seeing the impact of their in-person hands-on training courses. Rehwaldt shares the goals of the group’s Job Site Ready program and dives into their overall approach to training.


 

Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and excited to … It’s not often, if you’re watching the video version of this, I don’t often get matched in headphone game, so I’m excited to have someone on who can live up to it and wear a pair of over ear headphones.

Jon Rehwaldt: I mean, how else are you supposed to do audio recording.

Rob Stott: Right. If you’re not looking like you’re ready for a podcast, I don’t understand how I’ve gotten through. This will be, I think this is episode 192. How we’ve gotten through that many episodes without having someone like yourself, Mr. Jon Rehwaldt, Director of Curriculum at CEDIA.

Jon Rehwaldt: That’s right.

Rob Stott: Appreciate you jumping on and having interest in really bringing the idea to us too. I love that too for this podcast.

Jon Rehwaldt: Absolutely.

Rob Stott: So how are you doing, man?

Jon Rehwaldt: I’m doing great. Yeah, it’s really nice to be on. I’m excited to talk about what CEDIA is doing in the education space, particular with Jobsite Ready. But yeah, this is my first interview as a CEDIA employee, so I’m pretty stoked to do one finally. Yeah.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, happy to have you on our podcast to do that and lots to dive into for sure. But I want to start with you. We mentioned, a new Director of Curriculum over there. I talked about it before we went on, six months into the gig. So how has it been? Give us a little background on the role and what you’ve been doing.

Jon Rehwaldt: Sure. So I came into the role to work on our curriculum, make sure it was aligned with all of the work that’s being done by integrators globally and make sure we support them in the efforts that are not just happening right now, but the things that are going to happen in the future. How do we anticipate training that integrators are going to need in the next 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, and start working on that now so that we’re experts in it, and our training has been tested and verified by experts before it even hits integrators?

Rob Stott: That’s awesome.

Jon Rehwaldt: And one of the other things is that I’m new to the channel. I’ve never been in integration, residential or commercial. So it’s been a really intense onboarding process as I learn all about the community and what people do. So it’s been great.

Rob Stott: So you’re learning alongside those who are learning.

Jon Rehwaldt: Exactly.

Rob Stott: That’s pretty cool. No, that’s awesome. Well, so when you get your hands on this education, I imagine so for Oasys members that might be listening and even Ellipsys and Azione dealers, they know about the CEDIA connection that we have, part of their membership with Oasys, they get access to CEDIA, their dues are covered, which means they get access to all that education. So when you say that you’re kind of working with things and planning it out, you’re involved with that education as well, so all the classes and the CEDIA Academy, that sort of stuff?

Jon Rehwaldt: Exactly. The online training and the in-classroom training, we’re looking at all of it to make sure that it’s aligned with what smart home professionals need. And it’s a combination of theoretical education like you would get in a classroom, learning about electronics and how these systems integrate with each other and what the user experience is like, and then also the hands-on, getting into a classroom with walls and pulling wires and hooking up speakers and making sure they sound good. We do all of it, and we do it in a way that is manufacturer agnostic. So you can take the things that you learn at CEDIA Academy or in our in-person classes and then apply that knowledge, that expertise to any manufacturer’s equipment, which is a really unique situation.

Rob Stott: It’s awesome. Well, first of all, for being new to the industry, awesome to hear terminology coming out of your mouth is really good stuff. So it kind of goes back to that. It’s a conversation that happens in so many industries and one I go to and it just happens to fit because I know CEDIA is an association as well. You talk about bringing someone in that’s a professional within the industry or a professional within the scope of the work that you’re trying to do. So typically the top level, like Daryl for example, like a guy that has association experience but wasn’t necessarily … He had the tie in with the music industry and things like that, but wasn’t really in with integrators. It’s kind of the same with you. So talk about that experience of being an education professional and sort of the leg up that gives you, and also kind of the work you have to do. Do you find it difficult to, or maybe not that you find it difficult, how do you get up to speed on the lingo of the industry and what’s going on?

Jon Rehwaldt: Sure. Well, I think a lot of it is just being in it and having conversations. One of the best experiences that I had was at our CEDIA Expo in Denver. Going to that and having conversations with integrators and owner integrators, with manufacturers and design professionals, all of those conversations gave me a really good understanding of the industry. It’s just one of those experiences that you can’t really replicate when you’re doing work from home. So that was a really good thing.

But the other part of it is I’m just a really, really curious person, and so I spend a lot of my time researching and understanding new things that come onto the market. Anything having to do with automation or smart home, I was already in. So understanding that there were people who did this as a profession, that was news. But most of the technology I’m pretty comfortable with. I was a technical director at a K through eight school for three years. So I did networking, I did device roll-outs and integration with the phone system. So I’ve done some of that stuff, but not from the perspective of most of our members.

And being curious and interested is where CEDIA and the integration industry began. What can I do with low voltage wires if I run them all through my house? And that starting point is still a part of the community today. People are interested. They’re pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and what kind of an effect it can have. I sat in on one of our standards meetings yesterday talking about how to verify the newly codified standard for immersive audio RP-22. How are we going to measure that? And the conversations are great because these people are experts in their field, they’re talking about not just the technology or the science behind sound, but also how do we get people to understand what we mean when we say immersive audio? Or how are they going to make sure that that new theater they’ve just designed and installed actually meets the specification in RP22 of a level 3 home cinema? And that kind of stuff, it’s great to be a fly on the wall and watch those experts talk. It’s pretty great.

Rob Stott: You had a lot of that at CEDIA.

Jon Rehwaldt: Yeah.

Rob Stott: So to be able to experience those conversations and be in the middle of them. Obviously having interest and background interest in the space, and anything that kind of struck you as surprising about this industry so far in these past six months?

Jon Rehwaldt: Yeah, I think that one of the things that I expected coming in to the industry would be that there would be a lot more mid-market firms, people reaching the middle class who want to have a nice setup for their AV system, but weren’t necessarily looking for a home cinema. And there are lots of integrators doing that work, but less than I expected. And some of the other things that I assumed would be default standards like lighting are things that some integrators are just getting into. So I’m really excited to be able to start working on classes about lighting and classes about networking, because those are the things that integrators do on a daily basis, but giving them access to training lets them do it faster, easier with less cost. those things are really interesting and rewarding too.

Rob Stott: You’re in a cool seat too, because education, it’s similar to the technological side. We see all these advances coming and new product launches, things like that. On the education side, you kind of get the perspective of, hey, here’s where things are going and how do we train you to be prepared for them? So maybe less like hands and cables and things like that, but really yes, you are because you’re doing the training and education around that. It’s a really cool perspective for you to view the industry.

Jon Rehwaldt: And the other part is we have a really big responsibility to our members to not waste our time building coursework that they don’t need or want. So a lot of the conversations that I’ve had in the last six months are what do we have from the past that can be refreshed, updated, and presented in a way because people need it? And what do we have nothing on that we have to build from scratch because the industry is demanding it? And those conversations are really interesting too, because when you have those conversations with a budget involved, things get real pretty quickly. When you’re speculating, when you’re talking about what’s cool, what’s interesting, that’s a different kind of conversation. That constraint makes it a little bit of more of a challenge, but I love challenges.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. Well, one thing I know you just recently are coming out of is, was it your first Jobsite Ready program that you ran through? So first before we dive into how it went and everything like that, just set the stage for what Jobsite Ready is for anyone listening that might not know.

Jon Rehwaldt: So it was my first Jobsite Ready, but we’ve run these classes before. In-person classes are starting back up at CEDIA. We’re making those available in various locations around the US so keep an eye out for them. But the Jobsite Ready class that I got to attend was facilitated by our Senior Director of Technical Education, Steven Rissi. He did a fantastic job both in the classroom and in our lab of getting the eight students that we had in the classroom up to speed on the real basics. What do you need to know to leave the classroom and go do this job? The vast majority of what technicians do is labor. It’s pulling wires, it’s terminating cables, it’s installing speakers and building racks. So those are the skills that the Jobsite Ready class focuses on.

And in the space of about three days, you not only get the classroom, but you also get hands-on in our lab, and you get to build an audio system and do some door and window sensors and hook it all up to make sure that it works. And that’s a really rewarding experience. The classroom stuff is good for understanding why we do it, but the hands-on gets these folks prepared to go out and do their job at the same time understanding why they’re doing it in the way that they’re doing it. Not just doing it because they were shown.

And that’s kind of the difference between training and self-training. We really focus heavily on making sure that techs are professionals, they have the knowledge to make a decision on the job site. Not necessarily that they have to call their boss every 10, 20 minutes because they need to know the right way to do it for this particular job. They should be able to look at a chart and install the equipment and have it work at the end. Jobsite Ready is one of the best ways to do that. We had a variety of different folks come into that class with a lot of different experience levels, but everybody left feeling like they were better prepared to do their job, and that’s the goal.

Rob Stott: Now the lab, talk about that for a second. Because I know it’s a really cool space at the CEDIA headquarters, and I’m sure that CEDIA moved into that building pretty recently. So I know you have the opportunity to do some things in that space and build it out for what you want. And I mean, they kind of hit a home run with it. I only saw pictures so far, so I’m excited myself to kind of get in there at some point and see what’s going on. But walk us through how that lab, I’m going to call it a lab like you did, how that lab is set up for this course.

Jon Rehwaldt: Yeah, absolutely. So we have micro houses, I guess you could call them. They’re basically a four foot by eight foot room and we have eight of them. And they have down to the stud walls, they’ve got drywall on half of them, and they’re set up for each class. So we put new drywall up and the students have to come in and the first day they spend their day running wires in the new construction side, which is bare stud walls. And then on the second day, they run retrofit. So they run behind drywall having to fish their cables, cut the holes in the drywall correctly for the speakers that they’re installing. And so it’s like you’re working in a house. You do exactly what you would do on the job site. And what’s interesting is we put the students into teams and they have to work together. They do it all the way through.

They plan their system and then they install it. They have to choose how to run the cables. There’s 100 different ways you could do that, but they have to meet a certain spec and try to do it as cheaply as possible with as little cable as possible. And we offer them chances to find creative solutions. For example, one of the door sensors that we have them put in is spec to be run with a four conductor cable, but if you look at it, you can really do it with a two conductor cable. And about half of the students made that choice because they didn’t need the extra two conductors, and that’s just an additional cost. So they’re getting a chance to make the same kind of decisions that an experienced tech would make onsite in our lab. And then they walk out and they’ve already done the job with an instructor standing by who has 20 years of experience as an integrator. And the wealth of knowledge that comes with the CEDIA Academy body of knowledge as well.

Rob Stott: What’s awesome is it’s kind of crazy because we have an example within the membership of Nationwide on the appliance side, and you hear a lot about delivery and install. But integrators and delivery and installation of whether it’s an appliance or furniture and bedding to an extent, it’s heavy things that you have to move into a house. And the only way you really get to train is by doing it in the house. So we have a member, Sherman’s up in Illinois not too far from you guys, that they actually had extra warehouse space where they built a home, like a model of a home that has tight corners and things like that, doors that you have to go through and try to navigate these appliances, narrow hallways, things like that.

Not often do you get to train those types of employees in a situation where they’re not actively in a home that is a customer’s home. So to have a space like that is invaluable. And to see you guys … An integrator, not often that you’d be able to find a space where you can go practice aside from prior to what CEDIA is offering, maybe you go to a manufacturer and they have an area set up, something like that. But to have a location where you’re learning and you want to do it right, but there’s not that added pressure of, man, if I mess this up, I’m really messing up a customer’s home. So it’s cool to see that you have that and it’s a really awesome tool, to your point, you mentioned it. It’s integrators of all different experience levels, so it could be brand new up to … What do you think was the most seasoned integrator that was in the room?

Jon Rehwaldt: We had a couple of folks from an integration firm up in Michigan who had been doing it for 5 to 10 years, but by that point, they were already on the design side. So they were doing all of this specification and sending out technicians into the homes, so they got a chance to get back into it, remember what they used to be doing, and then also they have that experience to pass on to new employees. And we had people in there who had been on the job for a week. They had basically done their orientation with one integration firm, and that was it. They had only been into a couple of houses, and that makes for a big gap.

But one of the cool things about adult education training is that that experience gap is an opportunity for learning. So you can have that experienced employee learning from a new employee as they’re going through it for the first time, seeing what they think and what solutions they come to. And at the same time, the experience is available to the new employee from the older employee. That’s why a lot of our technician trainers are so heavily experienced in the integration industry, at least at CEDIA, we want to bring that experience into the classroom.

Rob Stott: Yeah, no, it’s awesome. Now you mentioned that they have … There was the example of they could wire it a certain way and make a choice, things like that. Did you guys throw any real wrenches at them, like any situation, like planned chaos, if you will?

Jon Rehwaldt: Well, I mean, I think that anytime you’re cutting drywall, that qualifies as chaos.

Rob Stott: True.

Jon Rehwaldt: There are some learning moments inside of the curriculum, but the biggest thing is, and this is a thing that throws everybody for a loop, is you can do it however you like.

Rob Stott: Yeah, there is no direction. Sometimes the most chaotic moments are not when you miss a step. It’s when there are no steps and you have to make that decision for yourself.

Jon Rehwaldt: Getting started is definitely the hardest part, and it’s interesting to watch that process happen in the Jobsite Ready classroom because the teams will go into the space and they’ll stand there for a good 20 minutes just looking, trying to figure out, put their head into the physical space and think about the way that things are going to go together. But that’s integration as a whole too. Integration as an industry is creative solutions. That’s why it’s a very rewarding place to work because 10 different technicians would approach the same task in 10 different ways, and have reasons behind it, good reasons, justification, and a clear thought process. So training technicians to have access to all of those tools is something that we’re really working on at CEDIA.

Rob Stott: You mentioned this a little bit too, and I want to give you a chance to dive in a little deeper. Obviously there’s a range of the experience level, and maybe it’s designed to not be geared towards a specific level of integrator, but who would benefit most from attending one of these Jobsite Ready programs?

Jon Rehwaldt: I think that the primary focus is new employees. But at the same time, anybody in the sales cycle for automation could benefit from it. In fact, we had a couple of salespeople and a couple of office people come through the course that I sat through. And one of the benefits to the organization for doing that is just giving people who do sales the context for why are we putting this equipment into this house? It’s not just that this is what the client wants to pay, but also this is the experience that they want to get. So getting office folks, sales folks, even administration folks into this kind of a class gives them perspective on the job that they’re ultimately doing, which is creating an experience for the customer in their home.

Rob Stott: Yeah, it’s unique. I mean, how often do you think an office person, if they had no experience in integration to begin with, it’s kind of a unique thing. They probably have never seen someone running cables through a wall or having to make cuts and things like that, and wire a smart doorbell. As simple as that. So to be able to see that in person, how it’s happening, it gives them a little more context about what they’re doing, what kind of office they’re sitting in, the people that are behind the projects that get completed and stuff like that.

Jon Rehwaldt: Yeah, it gives everybody a better understanding of how that all works, and that just helps your organization do a better job of serving customers.

Rob Stott: What’s the biggest thing you learned coming out of that program?

Jon Rehwaldt: I think that there’s … I’m not an audio guy. I’m not a cinema audio guy. I don’t know enough about it. So one of the things that I did not even think of was we installed speakers in the stud wall without drywall, and we also installed them in the drywall. But those speakers are designed to be put into drywall. If you listen to the non-finished speakers, they don’t sound anywhere near as good as the ones in drywall. I had never even thought about that. The speaker’s cabinet, so to speak, is the wall. That blew my mind. I was not expecting it.

Rob Stott: Interesting. That’s cool. So it’s awesome to see that you’re learning along the way as well. It’s so cool, but neat. So what do you kind of see, I know again, your first time coming out of it and still really new in the role, but as you’re getting your hands on these programs and watching them happen, what’s your vision? What do you see moving forward for, whether it’s Jobsite Ready or just the other education that you’re involved in right now? What’s John’s vision for CEDIA education?

Jon Rehwaldt: One of the things that has been kind of central to a lot of our conversations is how do we anticipate what smart homes are going to look like in the future? And that’s what gets me really excited because when we talk about aging in place or multifamily living units, when we talk about the future of housing, integrators become an integral part of that. Because now we expect that houses are not just solidly built and safe and repairable, but that they meet a variety of other needs that we didn’t used to have. We need our houses to be workspaces, we need them to be classrooms, we need them to be entertainment spaces. And while they may have fulfilled those functions in the past, technology is now an integral part of that. Even just post pandemic working situations are enough that people are remodeling their home offices so that they have lighting and sound and appropriate screens for the work that they’re doing.

So I think that as we start to figure out how integrators fit into the home, the smart home of this 21st century, a lot of that is going to be outside of what we’ve been used to doing for the past 50 years, which is a lot of home cinema, a lot of AV, and security systems. We’re going to be looking at a lot of disparate and new ways of looking at how people live in their homes and integrators that are talking about the future of the industry are talking about that.

Rob Stott: Well, again, for those watching the video version, the juxtapose of you talking about the future of technology and then to have a Dune poster over your shoulder is pretty awesome. So who knows what kind of society we’ll be living in?

Jon Rehwaldt: Who knows?

Rob Stott: But you’ll have the education for it, I know that much. No, that’s awesome, man. We appreciate the time. It’s cool to get that perspective and hear from you and see how you’re learning too. I think that’s a really cool part of this for me, is to kind of see how you’re diving in headfirst and really tackling this industry from a new perspective and a new probably appreciation, I’m sure, too.

Jon Rehwaldt: Yeah, I’m excited to be here. I’ve enjoyed it for the past six months, and I’m looking forward to doing good work in the future.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, we appreciate it. I’m sure this won’t be the last time we have you on the podcast, so looking forward to conversations.

Jon Rehwaldt: Thanks very much, Rob.

Rob Stott: Yeah, you bet.

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