Professionals representing four major industry sectors discuss the challenges and opportunities they expect for the year ahead
By Paul Pompeo
Welcome to our eighth annual LD+A Jobs Outlook panel. After a year that many people are glad to have behind us, we look forward to 2021 with cautious optimism. This year’s group of panelists includes: Mike Altschaefl (CEO and board chair, Orion Energy Systems, Inc)., Steve Danzig (president/principal, Lightspec Canada, Inc./Lightspec, LLC), Janelle Drouet (associate principal, lighting, ARUP), Susannah Gilbard (partner, Lightcraft, a division of AKF Group LLC), Travis Jones (vice president/general manager, lighting, WESCO Distribution) and Trevor Palmer (SVP, digital lighting networks, Acuity Brands). We started our conversation off with a question on many people’s minds.
What positions do you see in most demand in 2021?
JONES: Project management and installation positions. I suspect this will be especially true in the lighting retrofit market segment.
ALTSCHAEFL: As a U.S.-based manufacturer and given our expected growth, I see manufacturing positions being in the highest demand. The second highest demand will be for construction services personnel to work on our turnkey installation projects.
DANZIG: Marketing, especially the people and firms who can master the social media platforms for their companies and get customer engagement while at arm’s length.
PALMER: Software engineering resources have been in high demand for some time. We don’t see this trend disrupted by the current situation surrounding COVID-19, but rather accelerating.
GILBARD: At this time, it feels like an impossible question for me to answer. We were not hiring for the last half of 2020. We only hope that things start to improve. Until that happens, nothing will change
in our hiring outlook.
DROUET: I anticipate that innovative problem solvers will be important, as in the past, but even more so. If you’re good and excel as a subject matter expert, there will be opportunity. Efficiencies are being reviewed at various points along the workflow, which leaves the opportunity for results-driven team performers. That can mean different things for different projects or companies, but [for design firms] people who have a more organized approach to the creative process or project delivery will be in demand. People who can help with leadership at various stages of their career and innovators that can see and contribute to solutions and are accountable will be in high demand.
What positions will see a reduction in demand?
ALTSCHAEFL: I currently don’t see any areas where we expect a reduction in positions.
DROUET: Positions that are a single note, one-task type, will need to be reduced. That can mean dipping your toe in other work, or team roles. Some may describe this type of future position as one where you wear a lot of hats. Members or positions that are slow to adapt, or have rigid boundaries that do not allow for growth, will have a reduction of demand. Positions that handle or oversee a holistic approach will fare better, and I believe that can often be the result of the person, not the position.
DANZIG: Regional sales managers. It’s unfortunate, but the day of the traveling salesperson is gone. If they do not have the ability to engage your agency network from afar, or reinvent how they have done business for decades, these jobs will go by the wayside.
What product(s) and/or technologies will create the most jobs in the year ahead?
DROUET: Certainly, we’ve all seen the interest in UVGI [Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiance] product solutions and advisory services, in addition to other COVID response solutions. We are all looking at ways systems can help reduce and mitigate risk and lighting (or irradiance) technology, lighting controls and smart building solutions are included in those discussions. While not the highest number for job opportunities, as it is still highly specialized, it is—by the percentage of people pre-pandemic in the field—a high growth area.
ALTSCHAEFL: We see our high-bay products, including linear, UFO and strip fixtures, creating the most jobs in the year ahead. In addition, the continued expansion of lighting controls being incorporated into projects will have an impact. Finally, we expect the growth in the services side of our business to create a need for jobs.
GILBARD: It would be great if decorative architectural light fixtures begin to have the option to be sealed—antimicrobial—and easy to clean. I think we’ve all learned that we all share in the responsibility of keeping each other safe. Being beautiful is not always enough.
PALMER: The market for intelligent, networked lighting solutions continues to grow. Software is a key component in delivering “future ready” digital lighting networks which can get smarter over time and offer value beyond lighting. I believe we’ll continue to see strong demand for engineering talent to further develop lighting management platforms in this respect.
DROUET: Flexibility is a theme from workflow to product, and the flexible design solutions between. We need to adapt, the same way we need our product and lighting systems to adapt for future needs, some that can be foreseen and some that can’t, so flexibility is key. Products, technologies and people that contribute to this flexibility will have many more opportunities.
JONES: The demand for technology used to measure activity, monitor energy consumption or control devices will drive the most jobs this year. The design, installation and commissioning of such technology, as well as lighting equipment that might contain it, are likely to create the most jobs in 2021.
How will COVID-19 affect the lighting job market in 2021?
GILBARD: There is a lot of uncertainty in the lighting design job market for this year and beyond. Similar to every other job market—it’s very hard to predict. I do hope that now that the election year is behind us, the banking community will start to release funding for more projects to get going.
JONES: Companies will remain cautious as we continue to recover from the worst of the pandemic. I expect an uptick in the pace of hiring in the second half of the year.
DROUET: We are moving into 2021 with some of the traditional routes not available and with smaller pools of opportunity, yet I know companies are still looking for those people, positions and skills that will continue their growth. I think we will also see some of those individuals looking for their new path and branching out on their own, and some of them will find the future “star” companies—the ones to watch. So, staying connected to all the change and industry happenings is critical. There has been so much change in the world around us, the door has opened for more calculated risk and new ideas.
ALTSCHAEFL: The business uncertainty caused by COVID-19 will cause many companies to be cautious on hiring. It may also result in companies hiring temporary workers versus full-time employees until the business climate has more clarity.
DANZIG: The overall job market in lighting and the entire electrical construction industry will be decreased in 2021.
Is the Zoom meeting a temporary or permanent replacement for many of our industry meetings/product presentations?
DANZIG: Temporarily, it will replace most sales meetings with the design community in general, especially general product presentations, lunch and learns, and those types of things. However, there will always be a need for one-on-one interaction when trying to solve unique design parameters. The fact is many members of the design community were looking to find ways to keep the “generic” sales calls to a minimum and the pandemic has been the perfect excuse for them to use.
PALMER: COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of digital connectivity tools such as Teams and Zoom. We see digital connectivity complementing face-to-face engagements nicely. It’s an effective and efficient way to connect with customers and stakeholders, which I believe will continue.
DROUET: Zoom and other videoconferencing software has been a replacement for in-person meetings and has helped facilitate construction reviews, design workshops and other types of meetings that we would have traditionally done in-person. I’ve seen so many creative ways that people are still gathering and accomplishing tasks or connections that in some cases are better virtually. In other situations, we’ll be excited to go back to a hybrid of virtual or in-person when it feels appropriate to do so.
ALTSCHAEFL: It will be some of both. In-person meetings and events will be significantly scaled back for some time. However, I do think there will be a need for certain events to be in person.
GILBARD: Zoom meetings—my office uses Teams—will likely become a regular part of our work meetings. We will likely be working at least part-time from home for the foreseeable future. We plan to allow staff to work from home indefinitely, at least part-time. I think there are clearly times when in-person is important and I think eventually that will return, but there is no plan to require full-time at-office work. Because of that, “virtual” is here to stay—and it works for us. One thing that we all have seen is that email conversations have slowed and Zoom meetings have increased dramatically, and that’s a great thing.