The National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) constantly strives to create more opportunities for our member contractors to succeed. One of the most hands-on resources NECA offers is the NECA Innovation Institute (NII), which not only makes our members more prosperous in the long run, but also evolves the electrical industry as whole.
NECA is currently accepting applications for two cohorts in 2024, the Franklin Cohort will begin in April and the DaVinci Cohort will commence in August.
Thirty-nine innovative pioneers from NECA member contractors have already completed or are currently active in the Innovation Institute. Industry leading experts in problem-solving have coached these current and future executives as they strengthen their positions as emerging leaders in the industry. The goal of this program is to build candidates into forward-thinking pioneers. To be accepted into the Institute, each candidate must be nominated by an Executive Sponsor of their company.
“The group I was in was a good blend of people who are in different positions in their companies and gave good insight to some of their operations overall,” said Brian Swiatek, Clarke Cohort graduate and Director of Field Operations for Continental Electrical Construction Company. “Getting together in person quarterly to review progress and to touch base with fellow members took some pressure off knowing where you stood with progress and how they stood. The exposure that the program gave/will give our company is always a plus.”
NECA’s first two cohorts, the Edison and Clarke Cohorts, successfully ran through 2021 and 2022 and collectively produced 20 graduates who represent a diverse group of roles, regions, size, and specialty services provided by each contractor.
“This program was beneficial to both my personal and professional growth. NECA assembled people from around the country to learn about and discuss issues that affect our industry,” said Phil Matthews, Director of Construction Services at O’Connell Electric Company. “This allowed for sometimes differing opinions but more importantly a collaborative conversation on how to deal with common problems that we all face. I have already recommended to our leadership that we send someone else from O’Connell Electric to the Innovation Institute.”
According to program graduate Kyle Witte who is Construction Project Executive at Lemberg Electric in Wisconsin, “It is amazing the relationship that 10 strangers formed in just a year. From our first meeting to our commencement the relationships both professionally and personally grew to where we could discuss any topic and gain support from the others. This is my first peer group, and now the bar is set quite high for any future opportunities.”
Currently in progress, the Westinghouse and Bell Cohorts are engaging in company-specific Capstone Projects, peer mentorship, and learning about new problem-solving techniques to elevate themselves and their companies. The NII is designed to go beyond meaningful seminars and lectures to actually help apply innovation in practice to companies as they stand today.
When describing his experience throughout the program, Witte said, “I am thankful for the challenges presented by the NII. I would never have put myself in the situations we experienced without the Institute. Those are the experiences to continue to innovate and embrace change. If someone is looking to grow their career and challenge themselves professionally, while helping their company as well (via the Capstone Project) then the NII is the program to enter.”
In the NII, there are four in-person events during the year with two meetings at nationally renowned innovation centers. After the initial in-person introduction in Washington D.C., the second in-person meeting is scheduled four months into the program and the third is after eight months of progress. Virtual group meetings occur regularly, and the weeks in between are utilized for one-on-one coaching.
“To me the innovation institute was a huge eye opener to the challenges we all face in the industry. Hearing from others enriched me a lot because it gave me a national vision of the industry and how others are trying to tackle them. The visits to the manufacturers were another high point,” shared Jeffry A. Fuentes, Owner’s Representative for Johnson Brothers in New York.
Graduated program participants acknowledge the improvement in their innovative aptitude and visionary thought process and found the networking opportunity equally beneficial. “The knowledge, resources and relationships that were formed throughout my time in the Edison Cohort, I am forever grateful for. I now have resources spread throughout the country I can ask questions and bounce ideas off,” said Electrical Service Director Nick Rol at Thompson Solutions in Sioux City.
In Missouri, Dennis Harter, Vice President of Operations at Kaiser Electric shared, “For me, the network of humble professionals and experts is the benefit. Lasting relationships with emerging leaders that I can look to for insight, expertise, and support. NECA did a fantastic job of fostering the open communication and professional development. Future candidates should be prepared to be challenged. Be open to receive constructive feedback, and learning.”
As recruiting continues for the 2024 cohorts, spots are filled on a rolling basis dependent on the review of applicants. Creating strong, diverse communities is the objective in order to empower each other to overdrive innovation while building life-long connections.