NECA TransmissionsNotes from the front lines of the electrical contracting industry
  • The Highest Uncommon Denominators

    Posted on May 03, 2007 by John M Grau

    Last week, the CEOs of NECA’s largest members came to town for a semi-annual meeting. Their companies each perform in excess of one million manhours a year. We talked about their concerns and ideas; portablility, workforce supply, and lower average crew costs were high on the list. 

    Earlier in the week, I received an email from NECA contractor Robert Metz in response to one of my blog posts. He reminded me that NECA has some very small contractor members and that they have unique needs of their own. 

    The same week, NECA president Milner Irvin and I were on a conference call with the Board of Directors of the Boston Chapter. The chapter had been active in the VDV market for many years, and several board members wanted to know how we are addressing the needs of VDV members. Gary Walker, a Workforce Development Committee member from California, had the same question during that committee’s meeting the day before. Meanwhile, committee chair and District 10 Vice President Don Wilson pointed out the unique nature of line construction.

    The fact that all these conversations took place in the same week drives home the point that NECA is a very big tent trying to be the home for a diverse membership. While we use the term “electrical contractor” to describe our business, that term is anything but generic. 

    Large, small, inside, outside, urban, rural, residential, commercial, industrial, service, sound, telecommunications, data, security, line clearance, solar . . . all are unique segments of the electrical contracting industry with unique concerns and unique needs. And all have elements in common as well.

    The easiest approach for NECA would be to deal only with the common, “generic” elements of our industry. But that denies the basic fact of business today – we all want solutions tailored to our own special needs. It’s not an easy task, but at NECA, we make a concerted effort to customize our programs and services to meet the unique needs of each of our member segments. And don’t be afraid to raise your voice to tell us what you want. It will only help to keep us focused on serving you better.

  • What's On NECA's Wish List

    Posted on Apr 30, 2007 by John M Grau

    Brendan Grau's missing teeth, December 2007It’s that time of year when everyone is finishing their holiday shopping and looking to Christmas week ahead. I decided it would be fun to ask a few people what’s on their Christmas wish list this year.

    Geary Higgins said total manpower portability nationwide was at the top of his list. But he’s not satisfied with just getting one item this year. He’s also asking for the CW/CE classification and a “call one/take one” referral provision as Category I language. I hope the IBEW is feeling like Santa Claus.

    Russ Alessi said if he had one wish it would be for a strong economy to allow the Foundation’s endowment to grow in quantum leaps so that the Foundation can spread more knowledge and information to benefit the industry. It’s a good thing the Foundation has a well-diversified portfolio.

    Lake Coulson, NECA’s new executive director of government affairs, wants a repeal of both the 3% withholding tax and the estate tax. I guess he’s also hoping that Congress won’t insist on revenue offsets for his requests.

    Bob White, our retiring government affairs director, wants the same things Lake asked for, but also would like to see an increase in Social Security benefits. Looks like Bob’s focus is starting to change a little.

    Stuart Binstock submitted a Hanukkah list with three wishes. He would like to see every one of our chapters conduct at least one MEI course each year. He also would like one person from each NECA firm to sign up for our two new online courses,“E-mail in the Workplace” and “Introduction to Green Buildings for Electrical Contractors.” Finally, he would like to see more members transform their business as a result of participating in the Executive Management Insititute.

    NECA’s regional executive directors also have some special requests. Drew Gibson had the CW/CE at the top of his list just like Geary. David Roberts wants an additional 5,000 skilled journeymen for his region. Bill Kuhr is hoping “that a climate of optimism with renewed energy and purpose be infused into NECA members and staff that recognizes the great potential and talent among us, the uniqueness of our organization, and the subsequent realization that nothing is insurmountable.” I think Bill would also like to see peace on earth.

    Mike Thompson is looking for increased membership and increased revenues for NECA. He asks for that every year. Dan Walter wants to find a new director of codes and safety that is at least half as good as Brooke was. That going to be a tough one for Santa to fulfill.

    Other people in the organization have their lists as well but I’m running out of space. As for me I want NECA to realize its vision of leadership, advocacy, market expansion, workforce and management development. That total portability thing wouldn’t be so bad either.

    IMGXYZ142IMGZYX Finally, in my house we have literally have someone wishing for his two front teeth, and a bottom one, too.

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all.

  • How We Get the Workers Ready

    Posted on Apr 27, 2007 by John M Grau

    The National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) met earlier this week in Annapolis. The meeting was chaired by IBEW President Ed Hill and NECA District 10 Vice President Don Wilson. The NECA members of the committee also serve as the NECA Workforce Development Committee. I was there as co-chairman of the NJATC Trust.

    The meeting was terrific. I came away energized about all the good things our industry is doing to recruit and train our workforce.

    I’m also frustrated that it’s so difficult to convey all this good stuff to our members. The committee spent about nine hours reviewing and discussing current programs. I know I don’t have that much time to tell you about it.

    One central theme is that we need to reconsider our approach to apprenticeship and training. In some areas, we will experiment with “pre-training” and block training to make sure workers are as productive as possible on the first day on the job site. 

    We also acknowledged that our industry has become much more complex. A journeyman wireman can no longer be considered the skilled expert in all facets of the trade (if he ever was).   We will look at options for core training of apprentices in craft basics, and then specialty training beyond that.

    We are advancing our craft certification program, something many construction owners are asking for. And we’re developing more online training options and improving our training methods overall.

    Progress is also being made to recruit new applicants into our workforce. The programs we’re kicking off or have underway are too numerous to mention here. (Check out for a look at some of these initiatives.) We also plan to do a better job of forecasting our future manpower needs and pinpointing where shortages will occur. Both NECA and the IBEW are committed to providing skilled, trained manpower to our contractors when and where they need it.

    Oh, and there were discussions about new outside apprenticeship standards, VDV, solar and residential training, incentives for hiring apprentices, a centralized database of worker training certifications, 70E training, the Code of Excellence, DVD recruiting and training videos, and on and on.

    I've covered a lot of ground here, but do you see something that you think may be missing? What do you think will be important for new electricians to understand? Please send a comment using the link below, and I'll try to include your thoughts my next post on the topic of training and recruiting new workers.

  • Back to the Future (Leaders)

    Posted on Apr 23, 2007 by John M Grau

    The NECA Eastern Region Convention held earlier this week featured a session on company succession. Three father/son and one father/daughter combos sat as a panel and answered questions about how they planned for succession and what they learned in the process. One question from the moderator that caught my attention was, “What should NECA do to attract the new generation of electrical contractors?”

    It’s a question that every organization and company should be asking. At NECA, we’re trying several things to recruit prospective contractors and electricians. Our local apprenticeship programs are connecting with high school graduates. Our contractors are setting up internships for electrical engineering and construction management students and hiring these students full-time upon graduation.

    Meanwhile, NECA is constantly evaluating our programs to make sure they are relevant to sons, daughters, and other young owners taking over family businesses.

    Electrical contractors of tomorrow most assuredly will be different from those of today. What kind of information and services do they want from their trade association? Will they attend meetings and workshops? How are they balancing their business and personal lives? What’s their preferred method of communication?
    NECA needs to transform itself now to meet the needs of its changing membership. At the same time, we can’t alienate our current members and leaders.  It can impact decisions as mundane as who we schedule for our convention entertainment in San Francisco – Tony Bennet or John Mayer?

    NECA’s Future Leaders group will be meeting in Washington, D.C. next week. I’m going to be spending some time with this group – and asking lots of questions. Our future depends on it.

  • Meet Mike Thompson

    Posted on Apr 18, 2007 by John M Grau

    As far as trade associations go, NECA is a pretty complex organization. Most members are familiar with our major services like labor relations, government affairs, safety and codes. NECA also requires specialists in education, publishing, curriculum development, marketing, and technical research. I’m proud that we have been able to assemble a professional staff dedicated to NECA and its mission.

    Mike Thompson
    Mike Thompson

    One such professional who just marked his 25th anniversary with us is Mike Thompson. As NECA’s secretary-treasurer, Mike is responsible for the association’s finances, as well as keeping all of our corporate records.   His responsibilities can span everything from membership to meeting planning. He also oversees the finances of the ELECTRI International Foundation, ECPAC, the National LMCC, as well as the NECA pension trust. All told these entities generate over $30 million in revenue annually and have over $80 million in assets.

    It goes without saying that Mike is a stand-out in association financial management. In fact, his approach to creating annual budgets and plans of operation has been studied and copied by many other national trade associations. He’s something a legend in the Washington, D.C., non-profit community.

    But beyond professional skills, Mike has integrity. He’s completely honest and a bit of a stickler when it comes to proper documentation. (Ask anyone who submits an expense account for reimbursement – there’s no such thing as too small a receipt in Mike’s mind.)

    Oh, and by the way, he’s a really nice guy as well. Mike’s a proud parent and grandparent, and he enjoys golf and following all kinds of sports, especially when his beloved University of Maryland Terps are playing. And you should never get into a pop music or sports trivia contest with him. He’s a sure winner.

    Congratulations to Mike Thompson on this employment milestone, and thank you for 25 years of exemplary service.


  • What You've Said So Far

    Posted on Apr 12, 2007 by John M Grau

    Blogs have been around for a couple years, but they’re still relatively new in the world of trade associations. When we made the decision to start NECA Transmissions, I must admit that I had some trepidation about writing something (hopefully interesting) on a regular basis. 

    What spurred me on to launch this blog was knowing that it would give me a better way to hear and react to comments and feedback from NECA members and chapter staff. So far, the responses have been unanimously positive. (If anyone doesn’t like it, they haven’t told me yet.)

    My intent, when given permission, is to include some of your comments and suggestions in future postings. I’d also like to hear your questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them in a post. This way you can read what others are saying, see my replies, and add further comments. Thus a true dialogue is developed.

    I’m off this weekend to attend the NECA Eastern Region Convention.   It’s expected to be well attended, and I’m looking forward to seeing so many of our members there. And of course, I expect to have something new to write about when I return to the office next week. In the meantime, keep those cards and letters – I mean emails – coming.


  • Inside Baseball

    Posted on Apr 06, 2007 by John M Grau

    Like you, I believe in the power of associations. I know that there’s real power and strength when motivated people work together to achieve their goals.

    One group I belong to is made up of CEOs from about 40 national trade associations. We come from such industries as auto manufacturing, oil and gas, electric utilities, telecommunications, steel, newspaper publishing, broadcasting, and – my personal favorite – the Beer Institute.

    We get together routinely for breakfast or lunch, and we play some inside baseball regarding government relations and politics in D.C. Among our group are former Congressmen, Governors, White House staff, and even a Navy Admiral. We all have some personal relationships with government leaders, so we swap insights and try to figure out what’s really shaping things behind the scenes. Each of us is in a position to influence some aspect of our national policies. That’s heady stuff.

    The fact that I can be a real participant in this group speaks to the prominence of NECA on a national level and the respect we command on Capitol Hill. Our $1million-plus PAC, as well as our Political Leadership Council, grassroots campaign, and effective lobbying efforts have secured a place for NECA in the forefront of influential organizations in Washington, D.C.

    As a NECA member, you have similar opportunities to influence your industry as I do in the association world. Peer groups, committees, task forces, chapter gatherings, and the NECA convention all provide you with an opportunity to get together with your peers to play some inside baseball in the electrical contracting industry.

    Through these forums, you are shaping and influencing changes in IBEW labor agreements, apprentice and journeyman training programs, and industry codes and standards. But you can only do so by getting involved. The industry needs you. We need you. Please give us your thoughts.

  • Hard-Won Changes

    Posted on Apr 03, 2007 by John M Grau

    Two weeks ago, I sat in the front row at the annual IBEW Construction Conference next to my old colleague, Jack Moore, Secretary Emeritus of the IBEW. Jack is looking good and feeling good. We both commented that we miss the day-to-day interaction we shared as co-trustees of the NEBF before he retired in 1997. 

    The current national officers of the IBEW were there as well, along with business managers from construction locals across the country. As I sat between my former and current colleagues, I realized just how much has changed about the conference during the years that I’ve been attending.

    In the past, much of the conference was dedicated to national politics. Speaker after speaker would rail against big business and anti-union forces. A word or two was said about the need to organize, but there was hardly a mention of NECA or signatory employers.

    Today, the focus has completely shifted. In fact, you might think you were at a joint NECA-IBEW conference. Speakers now urge the local union leaders to work cooperatively with NECA and NECA contractors to recover and build markets. You’re more likely to hear about increasing market share, improving worker attitudes, and delivering customer service than the same-old bashing of White House. 

    IBEW International President Ed Hill used his keynote to promote the benefits of using the new CW/CE classifications to organize non-union workers, make contractors more competitive, and alleviate worker shortages. He hammered home the need to provide a full day's work for a full day's pay. Ed even said it’s time to adopt the Code of Excellence nationally, perhaps as Category I language.

    Hard-won changes like this – an openness to new ideas and an appreciation for NECA contractors – means that our message is getting through.  It means that Ed understands what we’ve been saying about the competitive challenges our contractors are facing and what we need to do about them.

    These changing perspectives at the IBEW are good news for NECA contractors, too. Let’s hope that the local union leaders were listening.

  • Reviewing Customer Relations 101

    Posted on Mar 30, 2007 by John M Grau

    A NECA member recently called the national office seeking some information. Long story short, this member was not satisfied with the answers he was getting from one of our staff. He felt like he was getting the run-around, and he was upset. 

    When I heard about it, I picked up the phone and called him back. It turned out to be a matter of miscommunication, and things were easily resolved. As we continued to talk, he told me about how our labor relations efforts were starting to pay off for him. Thanks to some local initiatives, including the CW/CE classification, he had doubled his workforce and was venturing into some new markets. 

    He ended up telling me how happy he was to be a NECA member and thanked me for the work we are doing at the national office.

    I was reminded of something very important in that conversation – Customer Relations 101: Good Communications.

    When I was a NECA chapter manager in Milwaukee, I would often hop in my car and drive to a member’s office to discuss something. I made a point of trying to have some kind of one-on-one conversation with every member. Nothing beats an in-person meeting to foster a good working relationship.

    That’s something I miss at the national level. With thousand of members spread across the United States, the opportunities for face-to-face dialogue are limited. As a result, communication suffers and misunderstandings increase.

    The good news is that modern technology has improved the situation quite a bit. We’re now able to reach out and connect in many more ways. And that’s something we’re going to be doing a lot more of here at NECA. This new blog is just one example.

    Of course, communication is as much about listening as it is about talking. So if anything I say raises a question, comment or suggestion on your part, let me hear about it. We’ll always provide a means for you to give us feedback. So while I may not be sitting across the desk from you in your office, I’m only a click away on your computer.

    You can always catch up on the latest NECA programs and products on What's New. Thanks for taking the time to check out NECA Transmissions. I’ll be back soon.

    P.S. Use the “Send your comments” link below to send me your thoughts and feedback.



  • Brooke Stauffer

    Posted on Sep 04, 2000 by John M Grau

    All of us at NECA are saddened by the sudden loss of Brooke Stauffer. He presumably died in a private plane accident on August 24, although the plane’s wreckage has not yet been found.

    H. Brooke Stauffer
    H. Brooke Stauffer

    Brooke was NECA’s Executive Director of Standards and Safety for 12 years. When his predecessor, Charlie Hart, retired after 40 years of service to NECA I thought that we would never find another person to fill his shoes. But Brooke did so, and he set a new standard of his own. NECA was privileged to have him serve our association.

    Working with the National Electrical Code is an exacting job, and Brooke was a leader in shaping that Code. He was recently appointed to head the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Electrical Section—both an honor and recognition that Brooke was one of the nation’s top code experts. He also created and sheparded the development of the NECA National Electrical Installation Standards (NEIS). NEIS was a brand new venture for NECA, and its success was largely due to Brooke’s efforts. He was a popular speaker at electrical inspector conferences and earned a reputation for promoting high quality, safe electrical installations.

    You would expect someone like Brooke to have a strong technical background, but he was a writer first and foremost. He authored a number of books for NFPA and regularly wrote interesting and compelling articles and reports.

    I am sure Brooke would claim that the greatest achievement in his life was raising three wonderful children and watching them become successful adults. He was a great father, engaged and supportive of his children’s activities and interests. His fiancée Karen Dodds was just as outgoing and engaging as Brooke. I always enjoyed sharing a table with them at various industry events.

    Brooke was one of a small group within the office that I regularly grab a sandwich with at lunch. It was pretty quiet around the table today. We all have our memories of good times with Brooke, and we all miss him.

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.


1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW Washington, D.C. 20004 United States |Phone: (202) 991-6300 |Fax: (301) 215-4500

|Contact NECA Webmaster

© Copyright NECA 1995-2011. All rights reserved