Service and Maintenance Outlook for 2122: A trip into the future to interview a service electrician

Shutterstock / ProStockStudio
Shutterstock / ProStockStudio
Published On
Jan 5, 2022

No one believed we could do it. But we arranged an on-the-job ­interview with a service and maintenance electrician 100 years from now.

When we arrived at the job site, we immediately encountered someone walking by who appeared to be an electrician.

Catching a glimpse of the name tag on her work uniform, in nearly perfect unison we exclaimed, “Julie!” She was the service electrician we had traveled such a wide span of time to interview.

“Hello,” she said turning back in our direction. “You’re here to interview a service electrician!”

“And you still refer to yourselves as ‘service electricians’?”

“Yes,” she replied, “we still call ourselves service electricians, just as people did back in 2022. Relatively speaking, there are far fewer of us, thanks to the kind of special helpers we have today who were not available back in your day.”

Cobots

As if on cue, at that moment a robot came around the corner and cozied up to us like an old friend who needed no introduction.

“Good morning, Josh,” Julie said. “Gentlemen, let me introduce Josh.”

Josh said good morning in a voice that surprised us with its human-like quality.

“A century ago,” Julie said, “you would have referred to Josh as a ‘cobot,’ a collaborative robot powered by artificial intelligence. But we call Josh a ‘versatile’ with I&P—intelligence and physicality. Josh is capable of many things besides merely assisting me in installations. I could not get along without his help.”

“Thank you, Julie,” said Josh.

“Gentlemen, excuse me for just a minute,” Julie said. “Josh, would you order an auto to fetch the items we discussed a few minutes ago?” Josh nodded silently.

“I should explain,” Julie said, “‘Auto’ is a word that has taken on a slightly different meaning over the last century. Today it refers to completely autonomous vehicles—self-driving cars and trucks. The wonderful thing about having autos, of course, is that we can send them back and forth on errands.”

At this point, we wanted to drop back and ask Julie a few questions about her career as an electrician. She relished the opportunity to tell us her story.

“My career is part of a proud family tradition. I’m a 4th-generation electrician. My great-grandfather was an electrician. His daughter, my grandmother, became an electrician, followed by my mother. As you know, in my great-grandfather’s day, relatively few women became electricians. Today nearly 6 out of 10 electricians are women.”

She surprised us with another fact. “Cobotic help on the job means electricians can comfortably work into their seventies, if they choose to do so.”

“Josh helps me with a lot of difficult tasks. But more importantly, Josh is my resource for essential and immediate data: engineering information, work directives, product availability, design changes and even code questions.”

While we might have anticipated these kinds of benefits of having “cobotic” assistance, Julie revealed even more.

“Thanks to Josh’s help and other technologies that we have today, I can spend more time in the office than my counterparts did a century ago. The service electricians in our company have the benefit of being able to meet frequently as a team for in-house training and exchanging ideas. Our training and ideas are based on data we receive immediately from the field. We can immerse ourselves virtually in the field while making decisions. And that kind of involvement definitely contributes to retaining people in our workforce.”

Now and then

We had traveled to 2122 expecting to hear how the marvels of advanced technology with remote diagnostics permitted service electricians to embark on every service call knowing exactly what to expect before they had left the office. Julie pointed out a further advantage.

“Yes, the intelligence embedded in products today allows us to go on service calls with a pretty good idea of what the problem is before we get there. But more important is that those ubiquitous sensors embedded in everything allow us to precisely replicate replacement parts on site with 3D printing using a wide range of feedstock.”

Just then, Josh signaled that the autonomous vehicle carrying products would arrive in a few minutes. It was time for us to step out of the way to simply observe “The J&J Team” (as they called themselves) in action.

“Gentlemen,” Julie said, “the delivery by this auto is a reminder that, just as it was in your day, the basic mission in electrical contracting is carrying products on the last mile of their journey from their manufacture to their final installation.”

Some things will never change.

About the Author

Andrew P. McCoy and Fred Sargent

SARGENT is an electrical industry consultant focusing on service expertise. He can be reached at fred@sargent.com. MCCOY is the Preston and Catharine White Fellow and department head of the Department of Building Construction in the Myers-Lawson...

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