Chapter Corner

Mobilizing Electrical Contractors to Help Build a Sustainable Future

Posted in: Features, April 2014

light-bulbs.pngElectrical contractors today face a dynamic landscape with new technologies and digital solutions, evolving codes and standards, an aging workforce, environmental concerns, and rapidly changing customer requirements.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the electrical contracting industry is expected to rise 33 percent by 2020, adding about 1.8 million jobs. Continued investment in apprenticeship programs, on-the- job training, and continuing education courses for both current electrical contractors and new workers entering the workforce will be critical to prepare them with the skills they need to remain competitive in this dynamic industry.

Electrical Contractors in the Digital Age

The use of digital tools is infiltrating all aspects of everyday life from personal to professional.

In recent years there has been a large growth in the use of mobile devices and tablets for professional productivity. As consumers become more tech-savvy, they transfer their knowledge into the workplace to be more organized, efficient, and synchronized. This has become especially evident with the younger generation entering the workforce. This trend is changing the way businesses think and interact with their customers and employees, and it is redefining roles within a broad spectrum of industries.

This digital transference has become increasingly evident within the electrical contracting community. Today, the role of the electrical contractor is being reshaped as new digital platforms and tools offer possibilities for changing the way they work, think, and interact with their customers and networks.

The adoption of digital technologies is being spurred by several factors, including industry demand for alternatives to drive more business, improve staff productivity, and be nimble in a constantly changing business environment. For example, one of the biggest challenges many electrical contractors face on a daily basis is change. Their jobs are filled with constant change – whether it’s a change in design because the end-user changes specifications or finding something unexpected during an install. In order to address these daily disruptions and demands and to provide efficient and reliable service for their customers, contractors need quick access to product information to find and order new parts.

Electrical contractors entering the workforce tend to seek different job benefits than their predecessors did. A good job is no longer just about a pension, but rather a flexible employer who welcomes new ideas, including how to take advantage of new digital solutions and platforms, and who gives their employees room to grow and expand their skill sets.

Electrical contractors are increasingly demanding new digital solutions and tools to help them do their jobs more efficiently. The convergence of technical and business information being delivered increasingly through mobile devices, the ability to work in real-time with greater access to information and resources, is now critical to remain competitive in the industry.

Collaborating to Address the Energy Dilemma

While the use of mobile devices and digital platforms is changing the way contractors work and interact with their customers, environmental concerns and new energy-efficient solutions are also playing an enormous part in transforming the role of the electrical contractor.

Environmental concerns and the availability of energy efficient solutions such as electric vehicle (EV) chargers, home energy management systems, and building information modeling (BIM) are enabling more intelligent and connected infrastructures and positioning electrical contractors to play a pivotal role in creating a more sustainable future for the United States.

Energy consumption, including electricity and other sources, is expected to double in the next 40 years. Meanwhile climate specialists say we need to cut carbon emissions in half to avoid serious climatic changes. In order to address this energy dilemma, we need to manage our energy more efficiently.

Collaboration across the electric industry will be critical in addressing this energy challenge. No one company is going to solve the energy dilemma alone. Organizations need to collaborate across many sectors to put in place the right measures to address these issues. The collaboration must happen across the industry from manufacturers to organizations and associations like IEC to government regulatory bodies.

The collaboration happens on many levels including preparation, training, and the creation of solutions, which puts together products and takes an integrated approach to solving customer problems.

The industry is increasingly seeing how different players are working together to drive the adoption of solutions and help to address the energy challenge — regulators are mandating it, manufacturers are making it, organizations and associations are supporting it, customers are demanding it, and electrical contractors are putting together the solutions and delivering it.

These solutions will increasingly involve more complex technology, including green or sustainable components. For example, added intelligence through metering and monitoring capabilities, advanced diagnostics for better visibility of high-energy consumers and planning for load shedding, and other energy efficiency decisions that can drive operational efficiencies. BIM smart models enable contractors to play a role in enabling more accurate analysis and simulations of designs and projects, in turn resulting in more efficient design, construction, and operation of buildings.

Training the Workforce to Succeed in Today’s Marketplace

Preparing the workforce with the skills and expertise to install and sell energy solutions will be critical. Electrical contractors must develop new forms of expertise to help their customers — from residential homeowners and facility managers for commercial buildings to plant operators at industrial facilities — run their infrastructures more efficiently while ensuring safety and reliability.

Apprenticeship programs and continuing education courses will be critical in this process. Training from dynamic online courses, real world application, interactive simulations, and virtual experiences will prepare students for hands-on lab work and on-the-job training.

For example, organizations such as IEC offer apprenticeship programs to train electrical contractors entering the workforce and continuing education courses that help electrical contracting professionals gain and maintain essential skills. Additionally, many companies partner with organizations like IEC to bolster training programs and provide product donations, which allow electrical contractors to train with the latest technology and solutions available on the market.

Increasingly, new products on the market will enable electrical contractors to more easily meet the prevailing National Electrical Code (NEC). For example, circuit breakers are becoming more and more sophisticated in terms of protection and the information they can provide to the consumer — which is specifically important as consumers demand to know more about their energy usage. Training resources and vendor product donations to local IEC chapters allow new contractors entering the workforce to train with best-in-class technology.

Vendors also often offer their own training programs to prepare their partners and customers to remain competitive and provide them with resources to learn more about how to use their products.

Contractors strengthen their businesses and increase revenue by providing customers free access to new product releases, product technical information, training and support, and an online community of peers and technical experts.

Traditional electrical contracting work will continue to become more integrated with intelligent solutions, therefore

the skill sets and the expertise to work with these systems will need to grow. Being knowledgeable about new technologies and having the ability to leverage them for solutions in evolving areas will create customer value.

Preparing the workforce to embrace these new challenges and opportunities within the industry will require fostering the development of energy solution skills at every level, arming them with the expertise to take advantage of digital solutions and platforms, and preparing them with the knowledge, technical skills, and practical experience they need to meet evolving customer demand.

Philip B. Santoro is Electrical Contractor Segment Manager at Schneider Electric, an IEC Platinum Industry Partner and Partner in Learning. He is responsible for leading programs and initiatives that develop, strengthen, and support relationships with electrical contractors and electrical contractor organizations across different markets. He has over 20 years of experience in sales, operations, and price management with a specific focus on the construction industry. He also serves as a mentor to Schneider Electric’s construction and industrial salesforce on product, bidday/change order strategy, and business climate. He can be reached at philip.santoro@us.schneider-electric.com.