Jan 13, 2022

A panel of industry professionals joins the conversation surrounding the ‘Great Resignation’ and other trends to watch for in the New Year

By Paul Pompeo

It is hard to believe that this is our 9th annual LD+A Lighting Jobs Outlook, where each year The Pompeo Group convenes a group of recognized leaders in lighting to look into the proverbial “crystal ball” and share their insights on the industry’s job market for the year to come. The manufacturing, distribution, lighting design and rep agency worlds are all represented in this year’s panel, as is a “digital hub for education, inspiration and entertainment” (better known as Lytei). It is also our most geographically diverse panel, with participants from Colorado, North Carolina, the Bay Area, Chicago, British Columbia and New York. The group includes: Jimalee Beno (president, Focal Point), Steve Crocker (senior vice president/general manager, U.S. construction, WESCO), Jeff Croskey (CEO, ALW), Andrea Hartranft (principal, Hartranft Lighting Design), Jean Jacques (executive vice president, SDA Lighting & Controls) and Sam Koerbel (founder, Lytei). We started off with a hot-topic question that is surely on many minds, before jumping into our panelists’ forecasts for the 12 months ahead.

We are seeing a real war for talent going— not just within our industry but across industries and as people are reevaluating their careers
Steve Crocker
Steve Crocker
Senior Vice President/General Manager, U.S. Construction, WESCO)

In the past year, have you felt any effects of “The Great Resignation” and if so, do you see that trend continuing in 2022?

JACQUES: We most certainly did. At one point we had one manufacturer with 70 open positions to fill on the manufacturing floor. As you would imagine, this seriously impacts a brand’s ability to build product and manage lead time expectations.

HARTRANFT: We have always had a remote-work business model, so we were not affected. In fact, we grew about 25%. But I totally get it. Being forced to isolate changes you. It changes priorities—we lived simpler, slowed down and consumed a lot less. It can be daunting to go back to a frenzied pace, filled with frenzied people. I think things will pick back up, but I don’t know that 2022 will see full steam ahead. People are still navigating all the impacts on their personal lives— it will take time—but I am cautiously optimistic.

BENO: We did; however, we are now seeing many of those individuals return. When our team was working remotely, we lost some of the engagement and culture that made us special. Remote workers were doing a job, but no longer felt part of the team. As we are returning to the office, we are building back the fabric of our culture. The turning point was our in-person football-themed townhall to kick off the NFL season. I see the [resignation] trend subsiding by Q2, barring a resurgence of the pandemic.

CROSKEY: We are blessed with a dedicated and highly engaged team and have not had resignations. Compensation and benefits attract employees, but team culture retains them, especially through the challenges of the past two years.

CROCKER: Yes, we have lost some key talent and have seen earlier than expected retirements. Beyond the “Great Resignation,” our company is also going through exciting but enormous changes that have caused some to reevaluate their place in the organization. However, those changes also provide us with a recruiting opportunity as we transition into a true growth company with an abundance of career opportunities. Talent management, recruiting and retention will continue to be key priorities in 2022 and beyond.

KOERBEL: Yes—[for] mental health [reasons]. Humans are resilient, but we are broken when it comes to dealing with too much forced change. The pandemic was tough on everyone—many lost loved ones or friends, yet there was an increasing amount of pressure to perform. Others had an opportunity to benefit from a transactional nature of business but will now experience the lagging effects of “fight or flight” to keep up. In 2022 we all need to center around being human and willing to support those in need of a stronger mental fitness.

JACQUES: I’m optimistic that the return is soon to happen. Whether these individuals return to their same positions is unlikely, though. With COVID [creating] concerns, mental health was certainly part of the equation. I also think a majority of folks left the job market with the intention of looking for something better. Looking forward, I think there’s a vast pool of people that will return—there’s a lot of talent out there. I’m hopeful we will see a shift back to the workforce in ’22.

As we are returning to the office, we are building back the fabric of our culture
Jimalee Beno
Jimalee Beno
VP Strategic Accounts - Acuity Brands

How will your company attract new hires and retain existing staff?

HARTRANFT: Age-old question. My approach starts with the term “staff.” I’ve never liked that term and the implications it carries. We work hard to create a team environment where each individual is valued for the skills and knowledge they bring to the team. “If you build it, they will come”—in our case, the “it” is a creative home.

JACQUES: Millennials take a lot of heat, but I’ll give them credit for their boldness. They are not afraid to ask for what they want. During recent interviews I find myself engaging in new areas of conversation, which wasn’t the case years ago. It’s not just about base salaries anymore; this newer generation is more keenly aware of the value of your benefits packages and their future selves. From our perspective, it’s important to remain receptive, look inward from time to time and ask what we can do better as an employer. As a result, we’ve recently retooled a few things and have become a more attractive employer not only to new candidates but to our existing team.

BENO: There are two dynamics at play. First, our parent company now provides flexible working conditions like many companies since the pandemic. The second is the company’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. Priorities are structured around the Sustainable Development Goals published by the UN. Our corporate social responsibility roadmaps are visible, comprehensive and specific, providing clarity to employees and prospective employees on how they can make an impact locally and globally while working at our company.

CROCKER: We are currently working to harmonize and modernize our benefits and retirement packages; revising our brand; recruiting from outside our industry for more diversity of thought; and looking at much more flexible working hours and location arrangements to recruit and retain the best talent.

CROSKEY: We have focused on creating a company culture that maximizes each teammate’s well-being, engagement and performance. While no culture is perfect, I believe ours truly improves retention. We are very transparent with our team, and we work to align each individual with our strategic initiatives, so everyone understands the impact they have on our mission. We leverage this when recruiting and often fill open positions through internal referrals.

KOERBEL: We are positioned to continue to grow by supporting the idea that people come first, no matter what they do, where they work or what their qualifications are. Understanding work is only part of our life but is an integral part of the fabric, and practicing that each day, will set our company apart from other business across the spectrum of services we provide.

The landscape on being a professional is changing faster than most managers know how to handle
Sam Koerbel
Sam Koerbel
Founder - Lytei

Will corporate travel ramp back up in 2022?

KOERBEL: I think that travel is forever changed, as are customer interactions. The only reason people will meet up is because they want to—not because they have to. While it may take time for “peak travel” to return, one thing is certain: the logic and reasoning behind it will look and feel much different compared to the last two decades. Time is valuable, and it’s the one thing we all seemingly have less of each day.

CROSKEY: Corporate travel increased throughout 2021 and will continue as specifiers open up their offices. We’re also finding it easier to host an outdoor event with a social aspect, versus the typical 30-minute “lunch-and-learn” at an
office. This seems to fill two needs: showing specifiers new products and filling the human interaction vacuum of the past two years. Having said that, I don’t think virtual meetings are going away any time soon.

CROCKER: It will ramp up for sure as COVID subsides and the associated risks lessen. We expect to see a spike in travel at that time with a leveling off as the year progresses. Both in-person and virtual meetings will continue to be a key way for us to interact with our stakeholders—employees, customers and suppliers—as we move forward. For instance, if we used to meet in person four times a year, look for us to do that two times with two virtual follow-up sessions. A 50% reduction in travel is very attainable while maintaining those ever-important relationships.

BENO: Travel will ramp up, but probably not to previous levels. We have improved our virtual tools so I believe our return will leverage a hybrid approach to customer meetings.

JACQUES: In our Northeast region, I think it gets better, but it’s a mixed bag at best. I think the hybrid model will be in place for most of 2022 and longer for certain firms. While some designers are back in their offices already, many have adapted to working virtually and are effective. There are remote designers that, as of right now, seem to be staying put. I don’t know that getting a regional manager back in their office for a presentation is a top priority in the short term, from their perspective.

HARTRANFT: Many people are itching to get out from behind the camera and have some face-to-face time. Personally, I find virtual a double-edged sword—time-saving, safe, mostly ecofriendly—I know, huge energy required for servers [laughter]—but there is so much lost when you can’t make real eye contact, can’t see total body language, can’t give a hug or at least shake a hand. Likely, the need for real human contact will increase travel. On the other hand, small businesses have saved a ton of money staying virtual. Travel expenses are a big part of our yearly budget, so perhaps a more tempered re-entry is likeliest as firms readjust budgets again.

My approach starts with the term ‘staff.’ I’ve never liked that term and the implications it carries. We work hard to create a team
Andrea Hartranft
Andrea Hartranft
Principal at Hartranft Lighting Design, LLC

What positions will be most in demand in 2022?

CROSKEY: The last two years have forced a shift in the marketing and sales strategies lighting manufacturers employ to reach specifiers. Adding capacity and expertise through inside roles, such as marketing, customer service and account management, will reinforce the activities historically performed by the outside sales team. Experienced product developers/engineers will also be in demand, as manufacturers move into new or adjacent market segments that represent growth opportunities in the current economy. Manufacturing roles—true production positions—are in high demand now, as companies struggle to fill open positions, and that demand will continue to increase.

JACQUES: In the short term, on the manufacturing side with technology being the current driver of lighting innovation, candidates leaning toward technology is the easy answer.

CROCKER: Short answer…all of them. All kidding aside, we are seeing a real war for talent going—not just within our industry but across industries and as people are reevaluating their careers. This provides both risk of losing key employees, but also opportunity of finding good talent from inside and outside our box.

KOERBEL: The positions employers have often neglected or not valued in the past are increasing rapidly in demand. From marketers to detailed-oriented supply chain managers, leadership coaches, branding experts and mental-health experts, the landscape on being a professional is changing faster than most managers know how to handle.

HARTRANFT: Individuals that are fearless and self-motivated will always be in demand. In lighting design, skills like BIM, lighting calcs and rendering are invaluable, but they can all be taught. I’d like to think it is character that will be in demand; that’s how I try to hire. Individuals that see beyond themselves and strive to improve the firm, that are always learning and generously sharing their knowledge, individuals that bring a fresh perspective and an open mind to every discussion—that’s where I hope the demand will be.

BENO: The pandemic has shifted how we design and construct the built environment. As we recover, we are doubling down on our efforts to understand our specifiers’ and agents’ evolving client needs. CX or customer experience roles help us gain insight to create solutions not just products. The second area is roles that support digital transformation for business processes, customer experience and changing market requirements.

CROCKER: As a distributor, warehouse positions and truck drivers are currently the most in demand.

JACQUES: In the long term I would love to see a demand form where manufacturers start to incorporate or look to hire consultants in the fields of research and community activism—bridging the science of lighting to the masses. Also, environmentalism—human needs and environmental responsibility in the lighting space is not going away and it’s imperative that we take big steps forward in these critical areas.

I think there’s a vast pool of people that will return—there’s a lot of talent out there
Jean Jaques
Jean Jacques
Executive Vice President, SDA Lighting

What positions will be less in demand?

BENO: It is less about which positions will see a reduction overall and more about companies’ need to prioritize certain types of positions over others through the recovery. This will vary from company to company depending on factors ranging from their supply chain to how far they are in their digital evolution.

KOERBEL: Road warriors. While these positions have long been a staple of our industry, they have proven to be less than valuable—traveling “24/7”—during and as we come out of the pandemic. However, the people who hold them are valuable and will likely receive new and exciting opportunities within and outside their company.

CROSKEY: Any reductions will likely be a result of economic drivers and conditions that lower revenue expectations, including prolonged, severe supply chain issues. By this point, most companies should already be lean, having reduced overall headcount or eliminated non-essential roles in 2020.

CROCKER: Not that it is happening immediately, but as our industry and the world goes digital and automates, many of
the clerical, repetitive-type tasks will be reduced.

We’re finding it easier to host an outdoor event with a social aspect, versus the typical 30-minute ‘lunch-and-learn’ at an office
Jeff Croskey
Jeff Croskey
CEO at Architectural Lighting Works

What products or technologies will create the most jobs in 2022?

CROCKER: As a company, we are specializing the way we go to market and as a result anyone with specialized knowledge and expertise that fits closely with the needs of our business segment and vertical focus will be in demand. Furthermore, we are looking to digitize and automate our processes wherever possible which creates huge demand for IT talent.

BENO: Integration is the main theme for growth. Controls, IoT, acoustics—providing a holistic solution for architectural environments.

KOERBEL: The connected building solutions will continue to accelerate the number of professionals that enter lighting with no intimate knowledge of the benefits it has on humans, our health or how a space can change from it. Their technical skillset applied to lighting will create opportunity for education within corporations and the broader community as well.

CROSKEY: We are seeing an increase in the WELL v2, Living Building Challenge and Declare initiatives that will create opportunities for subject-matter experts across specifiers and manufacturers.

The panel discussion was conducted by Paul Pompeo, president of The Pompeo Group (www.pompeo.com), an executive recruiting firm in lighting, controls, electrical and IoT.

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Paul Pompeo

Paul Pompeo

Paul Pompeo is president of The Pompeo Group (www.pompeo.com), an executive recruiting firm in the lighting, IoT, electrical and energy... More info »