I took a quick trip to Rome shortly before heading to our NECA convention and the trade show. NECA CEO John Grau and ELECTRI International President Russ Alessi accompanied me. While none of us had much time to explore one of the most beautiful and historically significant cities in the world, we were not disappointed. We saw and heard things there that left a lasting impression.

Among these: Contractors the world over share many of the same concerns.

That’s not really a startling insight, given that what brought us to the Eternal City was a conference of the European electrical and mechanical contractors associations. Our counterparts from Australia and South Africa also were in attendance. NECA is affiliated with all these organizations, as well as with Asian and Pacific electrical contractor associations, through our membership in the International Forum of Electrical Contractors (IFEC), which NECA helped launch in 1996.

It’s really no surprise that European contractors worry about skilled work force shortages as much, or even more, than we do. The demographics are similar, though many Western European countries are experiencing even greater imbalances between the dwindling number of young people available to join the labor pool and a baby boom generation aging beyond availability.

Another top concern voiced by our European counterparts at the conference is getting paid by general contractors. Of course, it’s hardly startling that this concern becomes a topic of discussion, no matter the language, whenever two or more subcontractors get together. No doubt, the builders of the great pyramids had similar conversations.

And I guess no one should be surprised that sustainable construction—or “high performance design” or “green building,” if you prefer—is a growing, opportunity-rich market for electrical and mechanical contractors throughout the developed world. No matter where we live, environmental issues are major concerns, and qualified technical contractors are the people who have the skills to provide solutions.

As I noted in my address to the European conference, we all have abundant opportunities to profit in our own businesses and to serve as real-world heroes. No surprise there, either; it’s just something to think about—and a powerful inducement to step up our efforts in increasing public awareness, management education and work force training in regard to building green.

However, the Europeans were surprised to learn from NECA’s delegation just how big sustainable construction is becoming in the United States and the ever-growing extent to which U.S. electrical contractors are becoming involved in green building markets. It seems our counterparts have been somewhat misled by reports on the U.S. not signing the Kyoto treaty on climate change and the like, and they assumed that environmentally-friendly building is no big deal here.

Also, since European Union governmental officials are deeply involved in directing the movement toward sustainable design there, some conference attendees were surprised to learn that much of the movement here is being driven by private enterprise with less intrusive support from our government. We were pleased to set them straight.

What pleases me even more is we helped advance the objectives behind NECA’s work on the international stage—to promote the general interests of electrical contracting and related industries worldwide, facilitate information exchange and teamwork among member associations, and encourage improved personal contacts among member associations and between individual companies.

As I’ve mentioned before, that’s not just an intellectual pursuit. It reflects the pursuit of new opportunities for our industry in a brave, new—and increasingly green—world.

Milner Irvin

President, NECA