Mar 8, 2022

Our next generation should join by choice not chance

By Brian Liebel

This month marks my 39th anniversary as a member of the IES. I fell into this organization while attending the University of Kansas by having Ron Helms as my faculty advisor—Ron was one of that generation’s leading lighting educators, and he convinced me that illuminating engineering was better than structural (“you’ll get sued all the time”) or HVAC (“it’s a just a bunch of hot air”) because lighting creates and defines architecture. Through Ron and Louis Michel’s inspirational teaching at KU, the magic of lighting unfolded, and I was hooked.

My many years in this Society lead me to conclude that most of us are here quite by accident. Through some channel of fate our paths have led us to this industry, and it is exactly this common thread…that we all have unique stories of where we come from…that ties us together. I commonly tell people that lighting is “the accidental profession” because so few of us ever answered the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with “I want to be in lighting.”

But the question is, why? Why is lighting such a hidden profession that we aren’t exposed to it until we’re in a college course, or are hired by a manufacturer in sales, or discover it as an incidental part of our careers in physics, automotive design or theater? It can’t be because lighting is hidden from view—lighting is everywhere! Could it be that the ubiquitous and generally uninspired nature of lighting has made the nuance of our craft so passe that it lacks clarity of focus as a profession? Or is it that the field of lighting is so diverse, that bits of it fall into other professions in different ways, and thus lighting does not actually have a clearly defined career path?

As the director of standards and research for the IES, I have the great fortune to work with some of the smartest and most creative people in this industry and our Society, as we continually evolve the work started in 1906 by bringing together those with lighting knowledge and translating that knowledge into actions that benefit the public. That is our mission, and our mission will be in peril if we don’t actively advocate for bringing more people into this field—we can no longer rely on people simply falling into it by accident. Therefore, it’s important that we start intentionally planning for our next generation of lighting professionals.

Over the last year we have been working with the U.S.Department of Energy (DOE) as we co-sponsor the annual Lighting R&D Workshop. Through these conversations and our common experiences, the IES and DOE recognize this need to cultivate new people into lighting through awareness and education. This will be more important than ever as lighting merges with other technologies, because it’s highly likely that the value proposition of light itself will be subservient to those other drivers, like sensing devices and/or data collection. The question is, how? How can we create an awareness of our industry that engages young minds to proactively choose lighting as a career path, rather than continuing to hope that enough people find it? The challenge for us is to create an environment where lighting becomes an identifiable and desirable career path.

We’ve identified three pathways to work toward: 1) university programs; 2) heightened awareness of lighting as a professional career within related industries and at various levels; and 3) pre-university programs such as STEM. In all of this, our efforts will be inclusive and look for diversity in all dimensions.

For universities, for instance, the IES has established a University Member program to support and inspire the next generation of lighting professionals by giving Student Membership to all enrolled students. This gives students, academics, researchers and instructors full access to The Lighting Library® and our educational offerings, and promotes participation in IES events like our Annual Conference and Research Symposium. Our goal is to expand this program to more universities and create a network for collaboration between them. In 2022, we will also promote having students participate in our technical committees as non-voting members so they can observe how standards are written, meet people in their area of interest, and advance in their knowledge of and dedication to lighting as a profession.

IES’s Emerging Professional program is designed to help people who are just getting started in lighting to learn more about the field and become more active in the Society. This is one of the most successful programs we have created, and its continued success is largely based on the fact that those people who “graduate” from the five-year program to full membership are so dedicated to continuing that pathway’s success. We will continue to strive to expand this and find ways to bring more people into lighting from various specialty areas because we need those types of expertise in our standards.

To children, lighting is naturally fascinating. Do you remember playing with your flashlight, or making cutouts for projecting stars onto your ceiling, or using a magnifying glass to heat things up? Informing children and young adults about lighting is an important pathway that the IES has not previously put a lot of effort into; however, as a group we have found that many of our members learned about lighting in some science class, or became interested in it through interactions with music or theater. Some efforts have been made to put together kits for schools, which I applaud; hopefully, we can do more in the future.

The main goal of this discussion is to think about ways we can encourage new participation in our industry, community and Society to foster growth and dedication in our next generation of lighting professionals. These efforts will take some serious consideration, and I’d like to hear your ideas. One idea that we are exploring is how to a develop a new language for lighting that can be more accessible and relatable to the general public through emphasizing lighting benefits (see David Warfel’s and Brienne Musselman’s articles in LD+A February and September, respectively); too often, we create terms that are so technical that they turn people away, or we focus on the “what” of lighting more than the “why.” That’s not just a noble goal; it’s a way of helping people find lighting, rather than falling into it by accident.


Brian Liebel

Brian Liebel

Brian Liebel is IES director of standards and research. Prior to joining the IES, Brian was involved for nearly 25 years with research investigating the effects of spectrum on vision. He was chairman of the IES Visual Effects of Lamp Spectral Distribution Committee, the original... More info »