Columnist Paul Pompeo conducts his annual jobs forecast roundtable in the January issue of LD+A. This year’s panel is comprised of Kaj den Daas (CEO, TCP), Jay Almer (general manager, Tivoli Lighting), Menko Deroos (CEO, Xicato), Chip Israel (CEO/founder, Lighting Design Alliance) and Melissa Deutsch Stein (CEO, SDA/Stan Deutsch Associates).
What positions are most in demand in 2016?
Deroos: With the market asking for smart lighting without really knowing what it wants or how to spec it, those people that have a natural instinct to combine software with hardware, while understanding the lighting industry/market in their specific region will be the ones to command a significant premium. They’ll be highly sought after over the next five years at least. The willingness to invest in understanding the lighting market/industry in their region is critical, since the differences are huge, when, for example, you compare North America to Europe.
Israel: There’s a need for people across the entire board. Entry-level candidates out of the major lighting design programs are in high demand, with most students having multiple offers. The need for experienced staff is also critical. This includes senior staff as well as intermediate associates. I think anybody with unique skills will differentiate themselves from the standard recruits—if the person is just a little bit better in Photoshop, AGI, or Revit. And while these may seem like production skills, everybody is so busy right now, it allows those people to be hired more quickly and develop technically or expand their design abilities.
den Daas: With most of the LED components and complete products from Asia, I see increasing demand for people who understand the requirements of the U.S. market, both from a technical as well as a commercial perspective—and who, at the same time, are well-connected to the Chinese lighting scene.
Deutsch Stein: As a manufacturers’ representative, we’re in contact with architects, engineers, lighting consultants, electrical distributors, electrical contractors, and it seems as though all of them are reaching out for new people. In the past week few weeks, we’ve had multiple lighting consultants reach out to us to let us know that they’re looking for additional senior and junior designers. This is a great indicator for 2016, because if the lighting consultants are looking for more designers, then the amount of lighting specified should increase.
Almer: The demand for controls increases every month. As a result, fixture companies have to field a myriad of questions relating to color temperature, CRI, proper application of drivers, questions relating how to control or dim a specific item. There will also be more positions open for people to program and start up control systems. Almost every manufacturer today in the lighting industry is offering some kind of controls option, and many of these manufacturers have never dabbled in controls before. As a result, end users will end up with light fixtures with controls capabilities, but not know how to make him work, so there will be an increased demand for people to come out to help with these systems. “Traditional” lighting [fixtures] companies will now have to hire people to go to out to the job sites to make everything work.
What positions will be less in demand?
Israel: None! Everyone I talk to—manufacturers, sales, design—needs talented staff.
Deroos: The need for the old-fashioned mechanical-thermal skill set that was so necessary five years ago when LEDs changed the way that fixtures are designed will rapidly diminish.
den Daas: Traditional sales jobs. With the 24/7 availability of information on products, price, delivery etc., the old-fashioned “order-taker” sales person will become less needed.
Deutsch Stein: The entry-level position will be less sought after. As the industry gets more technical, prior experience and education become increasingly important.
Almer: Traditional sales people who carry a bag. In today’s world, information is available online, and the specifier will have less time and inclination to see a sales person pounding on the door. The specifier out there today is often a young professional who is computer-savvy—they know how to get what they want off the net. They’re not going to want to see that person who comes in and says, “Let me show you my catalog.”
What soft skills will be most sought after?
Deutsch Stein: I always believe that strong communication skills are key to being successful in almost any position. Whether presenting products, pitching a new client, or deciding whether a situation needs to be handled with a phone call rather than a barrage of misinterpreted e-mails, communication skills are used every day.
Almer: When you called on a specifier 10 years ago, you never discussed warranty—it was irrelevant. In 2016, the specifier and their customer, the end user, are worried about whether the fixtures will fail in five years, seven, or 10. Warranty is a major discussion: “What if there is a color shift in six years? What if the driver fails?” Because we’re dealing with a new technology, people are concerned what is happening long-term. So there’ll be the challenge of how you deal with customers who are asking brand new questions.
Israel: The ability to present a design concept is still in demand. Whether it is computer simulation programs or digital, rendering skills are extremely beneficial. The need for staff that thinks in terms of Revit is also a huge needed skill for the future.
Deroos: “Smart lighting” is the latest buzz word and a very generic term. Asking the customer, independent of where they are in the chain, what a smart lighting system/fixture is and what it should deliver will result in lots of different answers, depending on whether you ask an OEM, agent, distributor, lighting designer or end user. It requires lots of clarifying questions and solid listening skills. The ability to learn more about the customer’s new needs and truly understanding them, while at the same time getting back to your specific supply base and demand education in a language that your understand, is becoming increasingly important to in the lighting world.
den Daas: Communication skills, especially to the younger generations of customers—the Millennials. This requires the use of social media. And, of course, negotiation skills. Organizations getting flatter, with less hierarchical layers. People have to be able to influence the behavior of others [in their organization], of whom they are not the boss.
Will we see the profile of lighting organizations change, and if so, how?
den Daas: I see more emphasis on end-user insights as a driver for innovation. Think of manufacturers who focus, for example, on petrol stations, theatrical lighting or healthcare—such as bed head units in hospitals.
Almer: Lighting fixture manufacturers will have to better train their outside sales staff on controls and LEDs on a technical level. The other thing is that much of the engineering and design support for U.S. fixture manufacturers is now moving over to China. So it’s not just manufacturing going over to China, but it’s also engineering. You have a percentage of lighting fixture companies who really have no ‘org’ structure in this country, yet they’re an ‘American’ manufacturer. It’s a very sensitive subject for a lot of people. If you’re looking for something that’s radically different this year than past years, it’s this.
Israel: I think—and this ties together with the last IES Conference—organizations will need to become less vertically organized, and more horizontally organized. Everybody talks and relates to everybody else—much less hierarchy. In the past, most businesses were structured more vertically, and it’s probably what the Baby Boomers are most comfortable with, but when we look at the newer generations, in order to create a corporate culture they’re most productive in, it’ll be more of a “three dimensional-type” of organization. The next generation is about connectivity. Historically, you and I would never go above our boss’s head. Today, people are not always used to communicating face-to-face, so they’ll go inside and outside the organization to get the answers.
Deutsch Stein: LEDs change every few months, so the need to keep up with the changes is important to all who touch lighting as part of their daily role. Going forward, constant training at all levels will be mandatory to stay relevant with the rapid technological advances.