Changing the Industry’s Workforce

Changing the Industry’s Workforce

This piece was originally published in the August 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Jes Munk Hansen, CEO, LEDVANCE

The University of California, Davis, is one school that encourages innovation with an LED design competition. This year the Department of Design focused on luminaires. Competition winner Peter Nasielski and his designs were honored at LIGHTFAIR. Photo courtesy of LEDVANCE

Our workforce deserves more. More growth and opportunities may result in more success for workers and their companies. Today’s workforce needs to surpass traditional thinking and be more holistic and collaborative. It should be about more than reviewing organizational diagrams and ensuring an adequate manufacturing workforce. For our industry to evolve, workforce development needs to be networked to include the entire value channel of partners, universities, installers, maintenance professionals, and more.

NEMA’s strategic initiative addresses this by reaching out to community college and high school students. LEDVANCE supports this initiative by collaborating with the Siemens SIschool that educates students about the technology and career opportunities in low-voltage electrical engineering.

As electrical manufacturers, however, we need to think beyond STEM for our industry to evolve. In addition to collaboration, we must attract and retain people who bring fresh perspectives and skill sets that can help manufacturers transition from a slow-paced traditional industry to a high-speed, high-tech one.

Why did this become necessary? Technological shifts, notably in light-emitting diode (LED) and intelligent lighting control, have disrupted traditional lighting. While technology is driving change, from a manufacturer’s standpoint the real change is occurring in processes and the speed of doing business. That is where the real revolution is happening. We know LED technology and how to develop, source, and manufacture it. The greater challenge was to redevelop our company around that technology.

As an example, traditional lamp manufacturers manufactured and sold high volumes of highly standardized products. They introduced relatively few products each year, and products typically carried a very long product cycle. The product was in constant demand, supplying a steady volume of sales.

Today, lighting is a fast-moving technology field. Lamps integrate with luminaires, controls, and software to offer appliances that have more in common with smartphones than traditional lighting. This requires us to think of products as systems. The industry must regard these products as elements of an ecosystem in which quality may be defined not only by how products perform but also how they interact within the ecosystem. Today’s products typically carry very short product cycles—one to two years and even shorter—necessitating careful management of the supply chain.

None of this is achievable without the right people. Traditionally, lighting was a very linear-thinking, hierarchical, insulated industry with a culture and processes oriented around its dynamics. As these dynamics have changed, so has our industry. We once focused on hiring lighting engineers with long resumes; now we look to bring in people adept in other fields, such as analytics, psychology, software, and communications—people who are experienced with collaboration and a faster pace of business. While engineering is still important, we need a more eclectic overall mix, with about half of our staff consisting of specialists in numerous fields.

Attracting and retaining this talent can be challenging. To attract good people and bring out their best, we encourage a culture of open communication, cross-functional interaction, and risk taking.

Besides our own people, we actively collaborate with other organizations to inject even greater expertise into our products and processes. Even now, the lighting industry is very conservative—take form factors, for example. Universities encourage innovation and stretch the imagination. An example is the LED design competition at the University of California, Davis. This year the Department of Design focused on LED luminaires. LEDVANCE provided lighting products and technical support. We honored the winner at LIGHTFAIR and showcased his innovative design, which pushed the boundaries of what we might think possible from a MR16 lamp.

Technology may be changing the way we light buildings, but the most notable impacts are occurring in the industry itself. Today, electrical manufacturers must be fast and flexible to survive and thrive. We must focus on the fundamentals but also expand our thinking to be more holistic to succeed. Growth is enabled by having the right people in place, fresh perspectives, a more eclectic overall skill set, and a culture that supports speed, innovation, and collaboration.

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