I devote many of these columns to praising the National Electrical Contractors -Association because, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, NECA has much to be immodest about. This magazine reaches more than 85,000 readers every month, not all of them NECA-member contractors, so I talk most often about how NECA advances the entire industry through advocacy, education, research and standards development.

So it is with this month’s column. I was inspired by the reporting in the NECA Notes section on page 167 on some recent activities pursued by our association’s research affiliate, ELECTRI International—The Foundation for Electrical Construction Inc. (EI).

One article lists the projects selected for active research in 2008. Obviously, much of the foundation’s work has broad, industry-wide appeal. This certainly applies to the upcoming studies on “Effectively Recruiting and Retaining the Supervisory Workforce of Electrical Contractors,” “Achieving Performance Improvement Through an Effective Project Management Strategy” and “The Role of Electrical Contractors on LEED Projects with Focus on Commissioning and Innovation and Design Credits.”

And another article—on the launch of the Talent Initiative—should interest all electrical contracting industry participants. Greg Thomas, executive vice president and general counsel for Houston-based Fisk Electric, which has been involved with EI for more than a decade, explained why during an interview for the foundation’s newsletter.

“I believe there are three major issues for the future: talent, talent and talent,” he said. “Changes in technology have really changed our work force. As things get even more complex technologically, we need to have top talent. For the past 20 years, management thinking has been to work as lean as possible. That does not allow us the luxury of having a lot of young people working for us at the same time while managers see who rises to the top as most talented and best qualified. If we don’t have them in-house to start, then they have to be very ready to be productive from the day we hire them.”

Fostering long-term interest in our industry among young people and cultivating their management and supervisory skills so they’ll be productive from day one of their future employment in electrical contracting is what the Talent Initiative is all about.

The Emerson Hamilton Scholarship Fund is an important element of the initiative. As I noted in a previous column, the late Emerson Hamilton worked tirelessly throughout his long and active career in electrical construction to promote academic excellence, leadership and innovation within our industry.

NECA and ELECTRI International have found that effective ways to attract capable young people to the management side of electrical contracting include encouraging and facilitating development of construction management degree programs and establishing NECA student chapters at colleges and universities. Thus, the Emerson Hamilton Scholarship will provide funds to promising young people pursuing university construction management programs affiliated with a NECA Student Chapter and academic stipends to select electrical construction management faculty.

Along with offering internships that introduce students to the real-life, day-by-day issues involved in managing a successful EC firm, “offering meaningful scholarship dollars and involving the academic community in the selection of award recipients sends a strong message about the serious intent of this industry to attract quality talent,” according to that article in NECA Notes. And, indeed, attracting future management talent is a serious consideration for all of us—one in which we all can play a seriously important role.

Milner Irvin, President, NECA