By Paul Pompeo
This marks the sixth year of LD+A’s Jobs Outlook panel to discuss the year ahead. This year’s group of industry professionals—representing manufacturing, design, independent representation and media—includes Lance Bennett (VP specification, Eaton, and current IES president); Janelle Drouet (associate principal/lighting group leader, Arup); Jean Jacques (executive vice president, SDA); and Randy Reid (president, LumEfficient, and editor/publisher, EdisonReport), marking his third appearance on our panel. We started the session with a question we asked last year as well:
What do you see as the most in-demand and least in-demand positions in 2019?
Jacques: I can more readily answer the question as to what sort of individual will be most in demand. To be a true asset in today’s ever-changing environment, individuals who are equipped with a multi-tiered skill set will be most in demand. Besides meeting the job description, what else does this individual bring to the table—a proclivity for social media, graphics, marketing? How can we leverage talent to keep us relevant?
Reid: Because the industry is underperforming, there seems to be more board and owner dissatisfaction with the job performance of CEOs. Ownership, regardless of the type, seems a little too quick to fire the CEO. Obviously, there is only one CEO per company, so while the net number of available CEO positions is quite small, it is actually much larger than usual because of this dynamic.
Bennett: Potential employees with skill sets in software, thermal and mechanical design, and electrical engineering will continue to be in very high demand. In addition, as there is a movement toward improving the built environment by making spaces more productive, and lighting can play a key role in this evolution, skills in understanding some of the new lighting application requirements should see increased demand.
Reid: Least demand? Luminaire sales people seem to be getting laid off more than usual. Of the past eight layoffs that EdisonReport has tracked, at least some of the people were sales people. Most of these layoffs are regional-type jobs. As the industry matures, it is my belief that sales should be the last area to succumb to layoffs.
Jacques: We all know lighting is deep into a transition toward a technology-and electronics-based industry. With the push for code compliance, smart cities and building owners looking to better leverage their energy assets, I see a need for tech-savvy individuals, specifically controls professionals. I believe controls and intelligent building management is a sector that certainly should see rapid growth in the coming year.
Drouet: The ability to articulate the process and the creativity behind technical solutions will be in demand. We will continue to see a demand for a high level of broad technical expertise as we have seen in the past five years, including data management, science, engineers specializing in controls applications including smart building design, and creative problem-solvers who can be flexible to adapt to the continually changing needs and developments in our industry.
In an extremely tight job market, what is your strategy to attract and hire new employees?
Drouet: Driving the culture together for a community feel and trying to demonstrate to candidates that they can follow their passions with us. I believe that a company’s environment, culture and benefits are things that can really attract the most talented lighting designers.
Bennett: To be attractive to talented professionals you must be located in areas where they want to live. Sustainable cities or towns that allow a walkable and more environmentally and socially attractive environment will be high on the list for many in today’s workforce.
Jacques: Our approach as of late has been to tap into tangential industries. Our latest additions—a Cisco IT engineer and two mechanical engineers—have become valuable members of our team.
Reid: I respectfully object to the premise of the question. I do not agree that we are in a tight job market in lighting. The job market is very tight in other industries, but I see an abundance of employees in lighting—as “Big China LED” continues to gain share, those $200,000 jobs are less plentiful.
Jacques: As far as competing with like businesses for talent, all things being equal, I think certain tried and true values still resonate. We’re still all looking to be in a work environment where we are respected, appreciated for the work we put in and have the opportunity for growth. That sense of respect and appreciation is a powerful incentive to attract talent and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Bennett: Offering contemporary benefits such as flexible work solutions, on top of more traditional benefits, will also help attract top talent.
What new or emerging lighting technology do you think will provide the most job opportunities over the next few years?
Reid: LiFi has the potential to dramatically shift the industry. I see this as the only technology to get those early adopters, who retrofitted because of energy savings, to retrofit again.
Bennett: The lighting community has seen tremendous changes in the last five to seven years as LED technology has essentially replaced nearly every “conventional” light source for the vast majority of applications. And while the pace of change in the source technology is starting to plateau, the applications are really starting to expand. Nontraditional applications will include lighting for horticultural, lighting systems to assist big data or the IoT, or lighting for potential health benefits or effects, circadian and beyond.
Jacques: What an interesting question… the future! Several technologies are at the edge of breaking through and should begin to see increased implementation. The IoT space and humancentric lighting are segments that are prepared for advancement. We’ll need to have more experts in these fields if these innovative technologies are to materialize on a widespread scale and take root. Our industry’s major leaps forward are rooted in scientific discovery. I think our industry from the manufacturing side will start to incorporate more individuals from the IT sectors and various fields of science.
Drouet: The topics that are at the forefront in my mind include advanced lighting topics; in lighting controls from automation to building integration, and in health and wellness from enhanced medical environments to circadian lighting developments.
Will Lighting as a Service (LaaS) have an effect on your hiring plans for 2019?
Bennett: We believe this expanding area will drive an increased demand for commissioning engineers and field technicians.
Drouet: LaaS doesn’t have a direct impact on our hiring plans for 2019.
Reid: Many investors thought they were investing in companies that could truly disrupt our large channel stack [rep/distributor/contractor etc.] with LaaS, and most of those investors were disappointed. There are only a handful of companies that have been successful with this model and those jobs were relatively few. The industry has been discussing—and waiting—for LaaS for almost a decade.
Do you expect to see the use of more contract labor to fill certain positions?
Reid: I do see more contract labor, especially in marketing, but I believe it has more to do with companies saving money than it has to do with full employment. More and more companies now have hired PR firms to manage their marketing communications, which used to be handled in house. While these firms are filled with bright young people who do understand digital marketing, they really do not know the fundamentals of the lighting business. My belief is that these PR companies can be helpful in augmenting marketing, but they should not replace the entire department.
Drouet: I think that at times contract labor can make project-specific and short-term sense, and on those occasions can be a good fit. Having said that, we try to focus more on finding and retaining a talented lighting team that are [full-time, “permanent”] employees to best achieve continued growth at our company.
Jacques: We as employers are faced with the realization that business ideologies have shifted. Telecommuting seemed foreign and outer-worldly in the 90s. Now we have virtual companies, crowdsourcing, the shared workspace model. All should certainly serve as proof of concept that having all your resources under one roof with assigned seating isn’t the only way. We now live in a digital age; we can work from anywhere. In the right application, we’d certainly look at contract labor as a viable option.
Bennett: As a global company, we have always been able to leverage employment in all geographical areas and we have always used contract employees in certain areas or at certain times, and we do not see that changing in the coming year.