Recently, we had the opportunity to catch up with Ken MacDougall, Director of Business Development for the Penn-Del-Jersey chapter of NECA. Ken talked to us about the growth of smart building technology and how NECA contractors use their expertise to create opportunity and provide the greatest value to their customers.
Lutron: Let’s start with your background and your role at NECA.
KM: I grew up in Philadelphia and was selected for an apprenticeship in 1986. After working for several years under NECA contractors, I moved into the local union hall where I eventually became the Business Manager. Following that position, I was with IBEW until I began working for the NECA Penn-Del-Jersey Chapter in 2009 as the Director of Business Development.
Lutron: Quite a career! With all that experience, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the growth of smart building projects, and the opportunities you see for capturing this market.
KM: Absolutely. While the term “smart building” has been tossed around for a while, we are now seeing tremendous demand for smart buildings, combined with greater attention to sustainability. One of the things you don’t necessarily think about is how smart technology changes installation. Digital systems lend themselves to prefabrication and off-site assembly and programming. This changes the construction and installation process while reducing the project's carbon footprint. NECA contractors recently completed the new hospital at the University of Pennsylvania – one of the largest hospitals in the U.S. – and prefab was crucial to getting that job done well and quickly.
Prefabrication and prewiring create less waste, require fewer trips back and forth, and result in fewer people on the physical job site. Contractors need to be trained in these trends, and in new ways to plan and estimate jobs to accommodate overall project goals.
Lutron: What other trends are you seeing in the field?
KM: Procore, BIM modeling, and microgrid integration are all changing the way electrical contractors work. CHP (combined heat and power) and the ability for facilities to be self-reliant if the electrical grid is compromised are trends that define the future of electrical projects.
To deliver smart buildings contractors need the right tools, systems, and the commitment of innovative manufacturers to help streamline jobs, improve efficiency, and ensure they can stay on budget and on schedule. Updated training courses and manufacturer-provided design tools play a crucial role in an apprentice's education. Change starts with apprentices being properly prepared for the realities of today's digital project management.
Lutron: What are today’s apprentices looking for from NECA, and how has it changed in recent years?
KM: Each year our apprentices are more focused on the latest technology. They are looking for new courses to keep them on the cutting edge, to create opportunity, move up in the industry, and maximize their career options – like moving into their own businesses, or exploring corporate roles.
For instance, in a break with tradition, our IBEW Local 98 and Local 98 North 4th-year apprentices just completed their first NECA Level 1 Estimating Course. The feedback has been tremendous. The more information we can give apprentices on the overall realities of business, the better decisions they can make on the job, and the happier their customers will be.
The combination of classroom and hands-on experience will help them go above and beyond to create opportunity, not just submit a project bid. A knowledgeable journeyman can help customers consider the bigger picture and the long-term impact of their electrical choices. They can add real value for the customer.
What might start as a simple lighting control can be expanded to include solar energy, net-zero goals, and the opportunity for micro-grids that reduce risk and increase energy independence. Customers increasingly rely on contractors to present these options. Apprentices know they have to make their own path, and they’re counting on NECA for those tools.
Lutron: How does NECA help forge new paths for its members?
KM: Our job is to keep opening new doors. Whether our members want to work in the field, run their own company, or move into corporate roles building opportunities for the next generation of apprentices, we are committed to providing the training they need to keep moving forward.
The incredible thing about our apprenticeship program is how we are investing in the future. Anyone with the motivation and drive can learn the trade at virtually no out-of-pocket cost. People ask me when enough is enough when it comes to evolving our curriculum. Never! It's never enough – we set goals, help our members achieve them, and then raise the bar even higher. That is the NECA difference.