The electrical construction industry continually keeps pace with new technologies, shifts in the labor market and more. Professionals working in this space can stay abreast of the latest developments by learning about emerging trends and taking advantage of new opportunities when applicable. Opportunities to keep up to date are plentiful at the annual NECA Convention and Trade Show, this year taking place Sept. 30 through Oct. 2 in Philadelphia.
We reached out to some of the leading companies exhibiting at this year's NECA Show to learn what kinds of trends we can expect to see. Here are three areas capturing attention.
1. Comprehensive training programs and quick-to-install products that ease the labor shortage
The labor shortage has been an industry concern for years, and NECA President David Long has made it a primary goal of the association to address it.
A feature from NECA highlights a persistent labor shortage problem in the construction industry despite a boom brought on in part by the exceptionally severe 2017 hurricane season causing substantial destruction of buildings. The lack of available workers affects ECs and all other contractors.
Tom Perich, director of channel marketing for Lutron Electronics, said the labor shortage consists of multiple issues. First, people are retiring from the workforce faster than the rate of qualified workers entering the field. Moreover, Perich said ECs must receive training to understand high-tech electronics and smart home components.
"Education and advanced training are largely seen as the key to remedying the labor shortage challenge," he said. "Manufacturers such as Lutron Electronics have committed to support successful training programs like those offered by the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee, but we still need talented individuals ready to be trained to enter this industry. The electrical industry will have to work harder to promote and reposition the benefits of skilled labor careers and actively recruit the next generation of electrical contractors at high schools and technical schools."
While NECA and other industry leaders try to draw more young people into the field, manufacturers can help provide ECs with labor-saving options. For instance, Perich suggested the Lutron Vive Vue Management Suite, which allows a facility manager to view an entire system on a pane of glass. ECs using Vive products can also access spec typicals that give drag-and-drop, code-compliant solutions for various applications.
In an effort to bridge the gap between ECs and young workers, this year’s NECA Show will be spotlighting young people in a variety of ways. Sunday, Sept. 30, is Apprentice Appreciation Day, where apprentices will take to the show floor to see all the latest technologies and services they’ll be able to use in their careers. On Saturday, Sept. 29, various NECA Student Chapters from universities around the country will be showing off their knowledge as part of ELECTRI International’s Green Energy Challenge. This event will be followed by a Student/Contractor Meet-and-Greet, giving ECs a chance to get to know the industry’s brightest young talent.
2. Prefabrication and modular construction applied to the EC sector
Navid Nikayin, marketing manager at Orbit Industries Inc., believes the EC industry will continue gravitating toward prefabricated solutions since those choices help compensate for the labor shortage mentioned above and enhance safety.
Prefabricated products, such as those sold by Orbit, decrease electrical contracting injuries by reducing the repetitive steps ECs go through during installations. Some products come with devices and fittings already attached. Nikayin said the Orbit Industries team works alongside ECs to determine the best ways to achieve prefabrication goals.
"We have recently introduced PROFAB, a division that offers engineered electrical systems," Nikayin said. "PROFAB provides electrical contractors a new source for prefab and engineering services. We take pride not only in our products but, more importantly, in listening and responding to our customers."
Nikayin envisions a future where "pre-wired walls will be delivered to job sites." People already get the components of entire homes assembled off-site and transported to the proper locations. That process helps people enjoy rebuilt homes faster, including after natural disasters.
Modular construction could increase the speed and safety of EC work, addressing some primary concerns of the skilled-labor shortage. Expect to see either an overt or underlying theme of manufacturers addressing this issue with prefab and modular solutions at the NECA Show.
Other companies with a focus on prefabrication and labor-saving devices exhibiting in Philadelphia, include Arlington Industries, Bridgeport Fittings, Current Tools, FARO Technologies, Forterra Building Products, GTP Services, Kist Corp, Pac-Van, Patriot Industries, Pinnacle Infotech, Rough-In Ready and Sanveo.
3. The growing trend of highly connected, adaptable buildings
Clint Strong, the CEO of Connectrac, agreed that today's ECs must understand new technologies that are becoming increasingly popular in modern buildings.
"The industry will continue to be pressed to be aware and knowledgeable about innovations that affect their world," Strong said. He mentioned the internet of things (IoT) as one of them.
Strong believes future clients will demand efficiency and adaptability in their buildings and that ECs must be well-equipped to suggest ways to meet those aims. He detailed how Connectrac caters to the adaptability aspect.
"We’re developing new floor-based cabling distribution products that can be economically deployed and which can easily adapt to required changes within spaces," Strong said.
Building owners will continue to demand flexibility in occupant spaces, and as digital and technological needs elevate, ECs will need to be agile and adaptable.
A Deloitte study illustrates the exceptional potential for IoT-connected buildings in the commercial real estate (CRE) sector as companies strive to give value-added experience for their customers. It predicted a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 78.8 percent from 2015 to 2020, with the total number of sensors reaching nearly 1.3 billion.
Inside the CRE sector and in other industries, ECs must expand their knowledge to understand how to install those sensors initially, plus alter them to meet changing needs if required.
At the NECA Show this year, attendees will have ample opportunities to investigate the latest technology. For example, the Techtopia pavilion will spotlight the disruptive innovations that will be part of the future of electrical contracting. In the Showstopper Showcase, attendees can browse more than 100 of the industry’s newest products, technologies and services. The show floor will also be full of exhibitors showing off their products and solutions for security, smart lighting and much more.
A rapidly evolving industry
These expert perspectives and data points emphasize how electrical construction adjusts to ongoing evolutions. The ability to do so should increase the efficiency of the sector at large—as well as the people working in it.
For more about the NECA Show, visit www.necaconvention.org.