Future Smarts

The electrical industry is changing at a pace never-before seen in the history of any currently living citizen in this country. The technology infusion has been so rapid that the ‘next thing’ is in discussion before the ‘current thing’ is even commercialized for sale. In 2008 I spoke at the Strategies in Light conference on the future of lighting; in that talk I mentioned that LED is the light source of the future but that Controls would be the next evolution. A Cree executive came up to me after my talk and agreed with the LED position but disagreed with my thought that controls would be that influential. Well, from his chair, if you take energy efficiency from 15 lumens/watt (incandescent) to over 150 L/W… why would controls be necessary? In many ways he’s right, we’re at a point of diminishing returns on investment that even with Title 24 requirements, in many applications adding dimming offers no meaningful ROI. When you can reduce lighting loads by 60-70% or more, the ‘remaining’ gain is now measured against a sizable capital investment in control technology.

EXCEPT, of course, that LED is electronic, controls are electronic and even more important than either of those… Sensors are electronic. And sensors can enable data tracking which can lead to data aggregation which leads us to Big Data which takes us to the Internet of Things (IoT). In one giant-sized step we move from the most energy efficient approach to Lighting to the IoT. And Lighting gets elevated from a nice building system to a geographic hegemony that will rightfully own the IoT. And all of a sudden, the HVAC, Security, Building Automation and Power Distribution trades have an interest in Lighting. And of course, they’d like to assume some control of the lighting specification too; without direct expertise in the fundamentals of why we have Lighting…. Rendering a seeing task efficiently, safely and comfortably.

And all of that begs a bigger question: Who in the general construction trade knows how to design, build, sell and install an IoT-enabled Lighting system? The answer is easy… no one. And it’s no one cuz there isn’t an IoT Lighting course, nor an IoT HVAC course, nor even a curriculum that addresses the concepts of integrated circuits and data aggregation to deliver Beacon information on the 20-year-old purple haired woman walking into a GAP Store; and how that talks to Facebook, Twitter and SalesForce.com. And the economy is strong and unemployment is low and technical, degreed unemployment is virtually zero (it’s actually 2.5%).

So, what is an electrical industry company going to do to get the talent that understands IoT, Lighting, Sensors, Big Data and channel influencers to put it all together? Enter High Point University.

High Point University is at the forefront of rethinking college education. The premise of enrolling into High Point is that you will learn Life Skills that teaches students how their curriculum relates to the real world. The college actually trains students in basic etiquette, travel abroad and cultural diversity. While it’s technically a liberal arts school, it has joined forces with other area universities to offer collaborative approaches to other curricula like engineering, healthcare, etc. so you can enter High Point and benefit from the applied education resources and then transfer to VA Tech or Vanderbilt and complete your engineering degree, for example.

Other universities are rapidly expanding the definition of a college degree; take Khan Academy for an innovative approach in distance learning; at your own pace. Khan also integrates with formal educators to buttress teaching curricula within high school and universities. Khan’s curriculum is student driven; at their pace with the ability to devote more time than an average classroom can dedicate to one topic; or accelerate for faster learners. The concept of a rigid degree track is anathema to Khan… it’s all about ‘learning’.

Then there’s the traditional post-secondary college and university approaches. Large and smaller universities regularly work closely with industry to create customized curricula and serve as internship sponsors for their students. Examples of these are flourishing throughout higher education; in the Midwest, good examples include Milwaukee School of Engineering; which is a feeder university for technical students into Rockwell, Eaton Power Systems and S&C Electric. Northern Illinois has a business school that works closely with industry and has a strong internship program for basic business curricula like Marketing, Sales and Administration. Purdue University is a renowned engineering school that works very closely with industry for internships and placement assistance with their graduates into industry.

So the key issue is this… the industry will need a huge influx of talent that ‘gets it’. Frankly, even as a card-carrying Baby Boomer, I ‘get’ a lot of the issues that are the forefront of the technology wave, but I also recognize that the need for technology talent is imperative in every segment; distribution, contractors, specifiers, manufacturers, retailers, etc.

Baby boomers have plenty of runway left to help mentor the Millennial tech-wizards into developing products that are practical and that match the actual needs of the user; while understanding the complexities of the channel influences. The core tech industry has very little understanding of the construction industry and as complex as it appears, it’s still remarkably efficient in getting goods to market.

Dedicating time to local colleges and universities to help them create curricula that match the needs of our future industry isn’t just a nice thing to do… it helps your company develop talent with skills ready for implementation in your company. It helps colleges better appreciate the complexity of the construction industry so that their tech students can grasp how their future designs will relate into a manufacturing environment, or how they’ll actually be installed in a construction site with competing laborers and cost versus time constraints.

The complexity of most electrical equipment has exploded. Lighting has moved into a position that will soon interface and/or communicate with virtually every piece of electrical equipment in a building (or street or parking lot). The ability to attract talent that can conceptualize the applications for smart devices across that spectrum is paramount. From software to sensors to data/com and security… we’re all Lighting Guys now.

Ted Konnerth, PhD

Ted Konnerth, Egret Consulting Group’s founder and CEO, recruits on a retained basis, helping leaders in the electrical and lighting industry identify their next C and V-level hire. He is also the executive director for the International Retained Search Associates, allowing him to liaise with skilled recruiters around the globe. To learn more about how Ted can help your company attract talent view his biography, check him out on LinkedIn or email him at tk@egretconsulting.com.

By |August 20th, 2015|Industry Commentary, Newsletter|0 Comments