Chapter Corner

Training Is Essential for Success in the Connected World of Today and Tomorrow

Posted in: Features, July 2016

training.gifAccording to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of electricians is projected to grow 14 percent by 2024(1), much faster than the average for all occupations. As homes and businesses require complex wiring and more connected points, electricians will be needed to install the necessary components – but many electrical contractors are having difficulty finding qualified applicants, especially those that can perform more specialized work.

In addition to this growth, there is a huge opportunity that currently exists for electrical contractors to expand their workforce to win new types of business. Often overlooked, ongoing training is a simple way that electrical contractors and electricians can get ahead, especially in the areas of safety, electrical codes and standards, and new technologies.

INDUSTRY DISRUPTION = NEW OPPORTUNITIES

During the past 90 years, we haven’t seen too much in the way of the disruption of skillset in the electrical industry. For example, safety has been a huge focus since the early 1920’s when the hazards of the occupation started to become exposed through campaigns such as “Jones is Dead!” to raise awareness and innovation around the dangers of exposed electrical switches. The importance of staying up-to-date on electrical codes and standards has also remained a constant, and it is undoubtedly still one of the most important considerations today. While it is certainly true that there still is a need for the more traditional knowledge to perform jobs, the past decade has brought about a huge change – particularly in the areas of technology/Internet of Things (IoT). With this has brought the need for more integration of systems and the demand for energy efficiency – and has created a disruption in the electrical profession.

Although the impact of all of this change certainly has put a strain on firms that are looking for electricians with specializations and skills that can perform these types of jobs, it also presents a huge opportunity for the electrical community as a whole, including both those that are just starting out in the field and industry veterans, to become electricians of the future.

While it may seem like a simple solution, training is key to standing out from the crowd and creating long-term business opportunities for both electrical contractor firms and electricians.

FOCUS YOUR EFFORTS

With all of the changes that have occurred over the past ten years, it can be hard to understand where to focus efforts on training. Five key areas that Schneider Electric recommends are new technology, services, education around safety, electrical codes and standards, and project management:

New Technology/Communications: Electrical contractors can no longer only focus on electrical systems as today’s businesses and organizations are looking for more integration. As a result, the ability to install and integrate systems for power, control, communications, security, and safety is essential. For example, building owners and facility managers continue to request more advanced equipment and integration of building systems to monitor and control daily energy use. Electrical contractors that possess the skills to recommend and install the best solutions to maximize efficiency will be able to expand business opportunities and be able to better meet their customers’ needs.

Services: Think the work is done after installation? Think again. As businesses, healthcare campuses, and educational institutions continue to leverage the latest technology to become more connected, there is a huge need for professionals that can go into the field and help customers troubleshoot and resolve issues, especially those with integrated communications systems. Electrical contractors that employ workers with these skills will be able to open up the doors for new revenue.

Safety: As previously mentioned, safety remains a huge part of the skill set that electrical contractors must provide as part of their services. It goes without saying that unsafe practices can be a huge liability – both to customers and electrical firms. Electricians – both experienced and new – that possess the most up-to-date knowledge will be able to quickly elevate themselves within their organizations.

Codes/Standards: Along with safety, the understanding and application of codes and standards is essential in the field, but the importance is sometimes overlooked. Keeping up to date with these standards will provide workers with an advantage when seeking employment as well as ensuring compliance, quality work, and less liability for their employers. For example, compliance with the recent changes to National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) 70E, which aims to protect personnel and the work sites they’re performing jobs at by reducing exposure to major electrical hazards, is currently a must-have for firms looking to comply with US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws in dealing with electrical workplace safety.

Project Management: The electrical worker of the future should not only be trained to provide integration and have knowledge of new technologies, safety procedures, and codes and standards, but will also help their companies execute work in a more successful way. Project management training will help electricians better initiate, plan, execute, control, and close work, which will help electrical contractors complete jobs quickly and on time. In addition, these skills can assist with achieving higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Those that stay up-to-date on new technology, safety practices, electrical codes and standards, and obtain project management skills will be sought after by employers and, in some cases, receive higher titles and salaries. There is also a huge opportunity for those who participate in certification programs, such as becoming an IEC Certified Professional Electrician. Those that are IEC-certified demonstrate that they are more employable to electrical contractors and have more opportunities to maximize their career potential.

SELECT THE RIGHT PROGRAM

The importance of selecting a program – whether an electrician is just starting out in the field or is an industry veteran looking for continuing education – is extremely important and something that is often overlooked.

Electrical contractors who are looking to provide continuing education to their employees and those just starting out should look for programs that utilize experienced instructors and incorporate blended learning techniques that combine hands-on training with instruction. The benefit of this type of model is enormous. Instructors are able to quickly understand what students have picked up (or not) and can then adjust their curriculum to ensure that those who need further instruction and practice are getting the necessary education. It also enables instructors to move on to new topics and add to their curriculum so their students can learn more skills.

For those that have been in the field and are looking to brush up on the latest technologies, many vendors – including Schneider Electric, which has been dedicated to helping electrical workers evolve their skills for more than 100 years – partner with organizations like IEC to donate cutting-edge equipment to training programs. These types of programs enable electrical contractors and new electricians to train with the latest technology available to the market. Many vendors also offer programs to provide firms with resources to learn how to use their products.

CONCLUSION

Electrical contractors of the future will be able to differentiate themselves from others by employing those who have specializations and keep up with changes in technology. Not only will this enable contractors to win new types of projects, more sophisticated contracts, and bring diversification into their businesses for long-term growth and profitability, it will also enable electricians who continue to evolve their skill sets to reap the benefits of these opportunities as well as add value to their own career paths.

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Electricians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/electricians.htm..

Santoro has over 20 years of experience in sales, operations, and price management with a specific focus on the construction industry. In his role as contractor segment manager with Schneider Electric, 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 can be reached at philip.santoro@us.schneider-electric.com.