NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • 50% of Women in Executive Positions: A Workable Goal?

    Posted on Sep 20, 2011 by Beth Margulies

    by Beth Margulies, NECA Director, Communications

    My job at NECA is communications for both our members and the public, which has me going through different sources to see what’s working for other shops. I thought members of the NECA Women's Peer Group (and their male colleagues) would appreciate this blog post from Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman, one the most successful, independent PR agencies around. Edelman recently wrote about his goal to put women in at least half of the senior positions at the company by 2016. He also mentions that he plans to pass the company on to his three daughters, something many NWPG members can relate to.

    "Our goal is simple—50% of those on Strategy Committee, Operating Committee, GCRM and practice leadership will be women by 2016," Edelman wrote in the post about GWEN, or Global Women Executive Network, the company’s internal task force  exploring how to put more women in its top jobs. "They will have earned the positions; there will not be a quota."

    Edelman acknowledges that the PR industry has no problem attracting women. Some two-thirds of his workforce is female, he writes. But the ranks of women start to thin in leadership roles.

    While he says that his company never overtly paid attention to the gender issue, Edelman seems keenly aware of the barriers to women entering the company's executive suite, including the burdens of childcare and the frustrations of being passed over for plum assignments because moms have to leave early for soccer practice.  He even cites Sheryl Sandberg's famous "Don't Leave Before You Leave" essay. Many companies talk in general terms about increasing participation of women in the senior ranks. Few executives come out and set an actual numeric goal.

    At the National Association of Women in Construction’s annual meeting in St. Louis two weeks ago, I was frantically trying to cram in all the sessions I could, while letting as many fellow attendees know about our fledgling women’s peer group here at NECA. In the midst of all this, I managed to catch one point made by speaker Tamara Vaughn:

    “It’s been said women bring different strengths than men do to an office, and we shouldn’t try to be anything other than who we are. Women tend to be more collaborative and supportive – and that’s a good thing. But until more women are actually in control of businesses, making those senior executive decisions, we are going to have to recognize that we have to utilize some of the same strategies as men do in the office. And quit apologizing for that fact.”

    Two very interesting points about women moving into senior leadership at their companies. What do you think about it? How should company CEOs and Boards start talking about getting more women to join their company’s senior ranks?

  • Dan Walter Sees the Future: BIM on Every Project

    Posted on Aug 02, 2011 by Dan Walter

    NECA Transmissions features posts from CEO John Grau and other NECA staff and leaders about industry projects or issues they are following. Today's post comes from Dan Walter.

    Building Information Modeling has been around for a while, starting with 2D CAD and continually evolving as better software and hardware became available. But, 2011 might be the so-called tipping point -- the point where using BIM on construction projects is the rule, not the exception. Up to now, BIM has been used on big jobs, design-build jobs, or demonstration projects. BIM software and the computers needed to run it is expensive. Not every construction contractor, general or sub, could afford to buy it. The fact that different projects required different software didn’t make it any easier to get into BIM.

    BIM requirements are showing up on more traditional delivery systems like design-bid-build. Clash-detection features inherent in BIM allow for the discovery of problems much sooner than they would have been discovered in the field using traditional layout techniques and field engineering. And the better coordination that results from using BIM can mean shorter schedules and fewer claims. Everyone benefits when projects run more smoothly.

    But as BIM is required on more projects, some new questions arise. Questions like, "how many iterations should an electrical contractor be expected to perform as part of the base bid?" Or, "at what point does solving the interferences identified by clash detection become redesign?"

    The second edition of The National BIM Standard – United States has been released by the buildingSMART alliance for a 30-day public-comment period; it’s scheduled to be published later this year. This version includes best practices and guidelines. NECA is a member of the buildingSMARTalliance, and a NECA member sits on the board.

    The current BIM standard doesn’t address the questions posed here, but NECA is actively working with other industry stakeholder to get answers to these questions. I am active in a coalition that includes members from NECA, the Mechanical Contractors Association of American (MCAA) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) to determine how contactors might respond to these questions. The enthusiasm expressed by the participants for this effort is clear, our contractors and the industry will benefit from their efforts.

    The industry is just beginning to see the benefits that BIM can provide. And, I believe that when everyone benefits from the advantages provided by BIM, BIM will be used on every project.

  • Time to do what we're not doing

    Posted on May 19, 2009 by John M Grau

    The annual IBEW Construction Conference was in town last week. I dropped by to hear IBEW President Ed Hill address the business managers from IBEW local unions across the country.

    Ed threw some slides up on the screen showing the number of IBEW-signatory electrical contractors versus the total number of electrical contractors. He broke the numbers down by district and also showed how they looked for some typical local unions. In most cases, the number of non-union contractors exceeded the number of union contractors by six or seven times or more.

    No surprise there. Ed then asked the group what they were going to do about it.

    He also showed slides depicting various types of work, much of which has been abandoned by the union side of the industry - stuff like residential, small commercial, strip malls, churches, and fast food restaurants.

    Ed challenged the audience to go after this work. He told them that the IBEW Constitution does not allow them to decide that this is no longer union work. He suggested that every local union consider developing a small works labor agreement and to use all the tools available to capture this work — such as the CW/CE classification.

    Of course, capturing or recapturing work isn't the sole responsibility of the IBEW. In fact, they can't do it alone. For many reasons, both good and bad, we collectively have decided to walk away from huge segments of electrical construction work.

    We need to sit down in each local area, assess the work that we're not doing, and come up with a plan to do it. It's as simple, and as hard, as that.

    Based on Ed Hill's challenge to his local union leaders, I think NECA chapters may find a more sympathetic partner in attempting to seriously address these issues with their IBEW counterparts. And they will expect our contractors to be ready to accept the challenge as well.

    This isn't the time to score political gains. It’s the time to do what we're not doing.

  • 'Tis the Season

    Posted on Nov 21, 2008 by John M Grau

    No. not that season. At least not quite yet.

    It’s the season for 2009 construction economic forecasts. The reports are coming across my desk, and they don’t paint a pretty picture.

    I mainly rely on the annual forecast produced by McGraw-Hill Construction. Other groups that try to crystal ball the construction economy are the U.S. Dept of Commerce, the Homebuilders association, the General Contractors, the Architects and the Portland Cement Association.

    I look most closely at the forecasts for non-residential markets because that’s where the bulk of NECA members earn their bread and butter. Those markets had been doing well the last few years — until now. Overall, non-residential building is predicted to decline by about 10 percent next year.

    The biggest decreases are predicted for office buildings, hotels, retail stores and manufacturing facilities. The more stable markets are power, transportation, and health care and educational buildings.

    One ominous note in all these forecasts is that they present a best-case scenario. In other words, they assume that the government efforts to unfreeze credit markets and stimulate the economy will work. It they don’t, all bets are off.

    An economist at a recent meeting of the Construction Users Roundtable predicts that after the current downturn runs its course, there will be a steep increase in construction and that workforce shortages will be greater than ever. That’s a warning to us that we can’t stop hiring and training apprentices even in a down economy.

    So my read on all this is that contractors will be burning through their backlog in 2009. The last half of next year and a good part of 2010 may be tough times. Bidding for projects will come back in 2010, with construction starts rebounding sharply in 2011.

    This all presumes, of course, that you believe economists know what they’re talking about.

  • A Tie to Future Success

    Posted on Jun 23, 2008 by John M Grau

    In case you missed the news, the Men’s Dress Furnishing Association (MFDA) is shutting down after 60 years. MDFA is the trade group for American necktie manufacturers.

    The group decided to close its doors when its membership dropped from 120 to under 25. Their leaders blame competition from manufacturers outside the U.S. and, more importantly, the fact that fewer men are wearing neckties. They claim they saw the writing on the wall a couple years ago when, at their annual luncheon in New York, a good number of members showed up at the event tie-less. Oh my!!

    Just another example that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in business or how successful you have been; it’s how you adapt to change that’s important. I wondered if there were any insights for NECA and its member contractors in this story.

    While neckties may be on their way to obsolescence, I don’t think the same is true for electrical contracting. Electricity running through wires should be with us for a long time to come. Of course, it’s possible that some huge technological breakthrough will create a new universal source of power or some new way to deliver that energy to buildings. But, even if that were the case, it would take many years to retrofit our current building infrastructure to the new energy source. And who’s to say that electrical contractors wouldn’t be doing that work?

    Competition is the most likely force impacting our future. While we tend to focus on the competition within our own trade, we might consider some other sources of competitive pressure. Could another type of contractor come to dominate what is traditionally thought of as the electrical contractor’s realm? The mechanical/technical contractor, for instance? At one time, general contractors considered hiring all the labor on a site. Today, they don’t want to hire direct labor at all.

    A change in construction technology may be more of a threat to traditional electrical contracting. While manufactured homes and buildings have been talked about for decades, they have not become the norm in construction, but prefabrication of assemblies off the jobsite is a hot trend. A natural extension would be to prefab or manufacture even more of the building offsite and then assemble it onsite. Whole modular sections of a building could be manufactured in a foreign country and shipped to the building site. The only task left for an electrical contractor may be to connect the electrical systems in the modular units together. It could be the ultimate version of the “plug and play” concept.

    While we might dream up a number of scenarios where the electrical contractor may fade from existence, we have to consider that as a whole they are a pretty resilient bunch. After all, the industry has evolved in many ways over the last one hundred years, and resourceful electrical contractors have learned to adapt and grow.

    What about NECA as the association of electrical contractors? Well, we are a reflection of our members, and if they adapt, so will we. The association has lots of resources and bright people to draw on. My bet is that we will be here for decades to come. Different. Hopefully better. But here, nonetheless.

About NECA Transmissions

NECA Transmissions is a collaborative effort from CEO John Grau and NECA staff to provide insight and feedback on key issues from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry.


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