During the past few years, many corporations focused on downsizing their staff to control costs as the economy slowed to a snail’s pace. Now, a new problem may be racing toward our companies at an alarming rate. Staffing (retention and retraining) may be one of the biggest challenges the business world faces.

“We just can’t find good employees to hire” is a phrase that heralds the coming challenges of our commercial sector. Many companies are now considering developing a plan to get people excited about their jobs after the economy improves and other opportunities beckon.

During the Silent Generation (1925–1945), a culture of employee loyalty developed. As the Silent Generation ground through the devastating effects of the Great Depression, manufacturing was the primary focus of the work force. “To die for the company is to live forever” exemplified the general attitude of loyalty and job stability as preferred and highly desired traits for the individuals. Job hoppers were shunned. Those attitudes began to change in the Baby Boomer Generation.

Following the Baby Boom was Generation X (1964–1979). Generation Y followed Generation X (1980 to the mid-1990s) and some are suggesting a Generation Z for the babies of the late 1990s through today.

Through the generations, the attitude of the work force seems to have transitioned to the complete opposite of the Silent Generation. Loyalty to the company and vice-versa is not often found in the workers or the mega corporations. Additionally, manufacturing seems to be slipping across the border to offshore facilities and robotics continues to reduce the required workforce.

A changing world
The baby boomers generation experienced several major changes. As of Dec. 31, 2011, more than 3,650,000 Baby Boomer Americans reached retirement age. Starting in 2011 an average of 10,000 baby boomers will be eligible to retire every day for the next 19 years.

Since 1946, some radical changes have taken place in our world:
1. The erosion of the myth that employee loyalty equaled reward
2. A boom period beginning from post war prosperity
3. The beginning of the information age
4. The onset of an age of major technological advancements in virtually every area of public and private sectors
5. Until the turn of the century, unemployment numbers remained low as almost anyone who wanted to work could find a job.

Technology and the information age have affected every part of our lives. Technology has given us amazing advances in a relatively short period of time. In spite of how much information (knowledge) we have accumulated, the next few years may see our knowledge base grow beyond our wildest dreams. Today, we are blessed with a vast knowledge base, but our knowledge base will make up only a fraction of future generations’ knowledge.

As the economy recovers, many companies are getting a head start on the competition. One of the most powerful tools at our finger tips is training. As an industry, we are struggling to keep pace with the explosion of new technology and the myriad of resultant applications. Training extends the effective tenure of the employee and increases the revenue generating capabilities of their efforts. The training should be focused on the emerging trends in technology and business. Environmental applications, such as energy control, are currently showing significant results in reduced costs for the end-users. Nothing goes to the bottom-line faster than reduced expenses.

New business and employment opportunities
The Internet of everything is the idea that we are building on pervasive computing where cameras, sensors, microphones, image recognition—everything—is now part of the environment. Remote sensing of everything from electricity to air conditioning use is now part of the network. In addition, increasingly intelligent devices create issues, such as privacy concerns. Eventually information technology will need some central unified management of all these devices.

Infrastructure convergence is the vertical integration of server, storage, and network systems and components with element-level management software that lays the foundation to optimize shared data center resources efficiently and dynamically. Systems put forth so far by Cisco and HP will unify network control but are not there yet.

The point
All of the changes in our society point to the electrical contractor as the heir apparent to build the new infrastructure physical "highway systems.” The electrical contractor has the opportunity and the capability to grasp the future convergence of many new technologies as well as the established energy distribution networks. Integration of power, control, communications, security, and life safety systems are the biggest revenue opportunity for contractors in the next 2–3 decades.

However, the same rules and problems that affect other industries also apply to the electrical contracting industry, which faces a staff retention and retraining problem. The industry’s skilled workers primarily comprise the Baby Boomer Generation, and as I mentioned, we’ll soon see a dramatic and consistent drop-off of employees in that generation. Electrical contractors will have to make a greater effort to cull new workers and keep the skilled ones they have. Here, the idea is developing a plan to get people excited about their jobs enough to stay.

Staffing challenges include the following:
• Energizing employees
• Staff retention
• Recruitment
• Internal and external training programs
• Designing the future work force
• Remote office programs
• Keeping pace with the changing technologies and opportunities

Many of the best examples of companies that have already grasped the challenges of the future are family-owned, small to medium-sized corporations. They have done an excellent job of maximizing the productivity of their employees and building a reciprocal respect between the company and the employees. Add training, and the results will make everyone happy, including the staff, shareholders and customers. We live in challenging times. Attitudes are as important as the technologies that we integrate into our lives and work.


BISBEE is with Communication Planning Corp., a telecom and datacom design/build firm. He provides a free monthly summary of industry news on www.wireville.com.