2023 Lighting Jobs OutlookPosted 1/18/2023
With COVID in the rear view and a possible recession on the horizon, a panel of lighting professionals tracks our industry’s outlook in the New Year
Each year it’s our honor to host a panel of lighting professionals and thought leaders in our industry—asking them to look into the future and share their vision of the lighting market for the 12 months that lay before us. This is the 10th anniversary of our January Jobs Outlook, and this year’s panel ranks with our very best: Julie Blankenheim (managing principal/specification sales, Chicago Lightworks); Spencer Bolgard (president and CEO, MaxLite); Rachel Gibney (managing associate principal, Phoenix, Available Light); Paula Martinez-Nobles (principal, Fisher Marantz Stone); and Trevor Palmer (president, Acuity Brands Lighting). We started off by asking about the most in-demand lighting positions for this year.
What positions will be most in-demand in 2023?
SPENCER BOLGARD: With the increase of more technically complex products and solutions in the lighting industry, plus complementary energy-savings solutions—EV and others—now being offered by manufacturers and lighting contractors, the need for electrical, mechanical, software and field-application engineers, as well as robust technical support, will increase quite a bit. Plus, there is a transition occurring in the RSM and rep talent requirements. These roles are shifting to more of a business development focus to drive tangible revenue growth.
RACHEL GIBNEY: Honestly, I think all positions are going to be in high demand. The hard skills can always be taught; it’s more about finding people who have the right soft skills. Particularly people who are self-motivated, willing to push the boundaries and think outside the box. We tend to grow very organically where often we’re not looking for someone in the typical “job posting” way. It’s more that when we find someone with those in-demand soft skills, [we then] make a place for them because that will always be more valuable and beneficial to the team in the long run.
TREVOR PALMER: We will continue to see pressure in the marketplace for engineering positions—be it mechanical, electrical, electronic or software. Many of these have been in high demand for some time, from not only the lighting industry but many within the industrial-technology sector.
PAULA MARTINEZ-NOBLES: Entry level, ambitious and flexible individuals will be in high demand. As more companies revise efforts on EDI (equity, diversity and inclusion) hiring practices, the pool to choose from will become larger—creating greater competition, more innovation and greater creativity. The possibility of a recession is still a bit ominous—good employers and employees will likely need to have a bit of faith in one another to ride out the wave.
The need for electrical, mechanical, software and field-application engineers, as well as robust technical support, will increase– Bolgard
JULIE BLANKENHEIM: We see a huge demand within our agency for two areas—one is for inside sales support, and one is for outside tech positions for our controls team. The former is needed because so much of what we do is via email, through [our] online portal, CRM systems or through websites [where] we have to have a person in front of a computer to be effective at sales. Mobile platforms and, shockingly, manufacturer websites are not efficient enough or easy to maneuver at the pace we need them to be. Because of this we are beginning to see a need for a very tight ratio of inside sales to outside sales people as we move forward. The other area we see demand in is for technical field service people.
BOLGARD: Any roles or skills which drive ease of doing business—both internally and externally—are in high demand. There will always be need for positive attitudes and those who execute.
What positions will see a reduction in demand?
PALMER: I do not believe we will see one specific position with a reduction in demand.
MARTINEZ-NOBLES: Stationary, rigid, overly specialized positions in the design field will be less desirable as our “post-COVID” world has embraced agility and multifaceted roles. Also, companies that are well-prepared with change management strategies while having a strong foundation will be able to respond to the rapid change of our industry.
Stationary, rigid, overly specialized positions will be less desirable as our ‘post-COVID’ world has embraced agility and multifaceted roles-Martinez-Nobles
BOLGARD: I don’t really see any specific roles reducing. The reductions and consolidations will come from various market dynamics, including increased levels of M&A, digitalization and recessionary influences.
GIBNEY: Even with the looming recession, I don’t think we’re going to see a reduction in the demand for good designers.
What products or technologies will create the most jobs in 2023?
BLANKENHEIM: The reason for the growing demand for technical field service people is because of the wireless evolution. Projects are being installed, or have been installed, and we are now integrating more tertiary products—such as shades and AV—and that creates a level of complexity and troubleshooting that requires a start-up technician on-site every time.
PALMER: There is no doubt that we will continue to see opportunities created by investments in electrical infrastructure and energy-savings technologies.
MARTINEZ-NOBLES: Technologies that help improve agility and seamless transitions between work, home and play. Products that aid in the decentralization of workflows and production. As it relates to the lighting industry specifically, efficiencies in how we document design to how fixtures are produced will continue to support the idea of working smarter, not harder.
The reason for the growing demand for technical field service people is because of the wireless evolution-Blankenheim
What is your company planning to do to attract new hires and actively retain existing staff?
GIBNEY: We really took [the pandemic] as an opportunity to look inward and figure out what our goals are, both for the business and for the team. We’re investing in our people to enhance skills and we’ve involved everyone in the overall planning and goal setting—empowering people and making sure that they feel heard and supported. I think working to create that environment is what is attractive to existing and potential new staff.
BOLGARD: Even in challenging times, [in order] to retain and attract excellent teammates, leaders need to drive a “great place to work” culture. This isn’t only about compensation. Yes, companies need to be market competitive, but the little things matter. It’s about listening, openly communicating, being friendly, celebrating small accomplishments and being positive. We encourage teammate enrichment with company-wide training programs, personalized career development and pushing our teammates’ boundaries via being part of cross-functional projects. We also learned from the pandemic that flexibility is paramount. Flexibility includes trust that our teammates and leaders will do what they commit to, execute and act fairly.
We’ve involved everyone in the overall planning and goal setting—empowering people and making sure that they feel heard-Gibney
MARTINEZ-NOBLES: Transparency and listening is key—both foster engagement and active participation of employees in growing and cultivating community and a healthy work culture. We want to create a place where people want to start a career, feel proud of the projects and people they work with, and help build the future.
PALMER: Competitive remuneration, benefits and remote-work flexibility have proven effective in attracting talent from a larger geographic pool and assist us in retaining talent.
What is your current “in office/remote” work model and do you see that changing in the year ahead?
MARTINEZ-NOBLES: Our people—the designers, administrative staff and principals—are our biggest, most costly and most important assets. We actively support a hybrid environment while maintaining a critical mass of knowledge to provide the design and management continuity that our projects and people require. This is possible by having a highly refined foundation that is continuously maintained, while focusing on each individual’s strengths and capabilities—it’s a strong backbone of our organization.
PALMER: We continue to offer remote work flexibility under a policy we had introduced some time ago. This being said, we are seeing an increase in associates [attending] events at our facilities as there is a desire to, and an efficiency associated with, conducting some in-person activities.
BOLGARD: Prior to the pandemic, we had created a remote-work policy. And, we had become more flexible by allowing a few of our teammates to remain in their current roles when they relocated away from our various facilities. This helped us pivot and operate efficiently during the pandemic.
BLANKENHEIM: We are now back in the office four days per week. We firmly believe that we are better together, in person. When we are present, the positive energy in the office is palpable. However, our staff uses the one remote day per week to absorb the quiet time of productivity and focus.
One way we have seen our culture shift since we have been back full time is that our people get up and get out of the office multiple times per day for 15-minute walks outside. Whether it’s a group of two or 10, the in-office environment places high priority on physical movement. We see this model as a solid foundation for 2023. I personally doubt we will ever go back to five days per week.
We continue to offer remote work flexibility under a policy we had introduced some time ago-Palmer
GIBNEY: Our current model is that everyone comes into the office two specific days a week. That gives us an opportunity to all be together in person. Then the rest of the week is up to the individual—they can choose whether they want to work remotely or come in [to the office]. I think this is a good balance and allows for the flexibility that people are looking for, but still feeds the creative process that really blooms when people are in a room together. I don’t see this model changing anytime soon.
BOLGARD: Our current policy is to allow our non-essential teammates to work one day per week remotely. For us, this helps keep our “office cooler osmosis” and real-time conversations and meetings intact and timely. It also gives our teammates a bit of relief from the rigors of commuting and flexibility for work-week personal time commitments, such as appointments or being able to meet your kids at the bus stop. Again, the little things matter in creating a “great place to work” culture.
Is “The Great Resignation” a thing of the past?
PALMER: To a large degree, yes. We are still of the strong opinion, though, that businesses will need to continue offering competitive total rewards and flexibility to associates in order to retain and attract the best talent.
BLANKENHEIM: This movement was enormous and so interesting to observe. I do not believe that the shifting is over, but I do see it slowing down. I believe it was, and is, driven by the demand for good people to fill spots post pandemic. As those spots get filled, I believe the “musical chairs” will slow down.
BOLGARD: Yes, it is over in the context of employees jumping to a new role on a whim. With many industries in or entering recession the labor market has changed. Even so, hopefully leaders learned to communicate more frequently and openly with their teams. Plus, employers must continue to be flexible in how we treat our teammates.
As mid-level designers and engineers start to settle into their new opportunities with—hopefully—a fresh perspective on their careers, companies will begin to build teams around the next generation–Martinez-Nobles
GIBNEY: We were not affected by “The Great Resignation.” In fact, at this point we are larger—both in personnel and geographical office locations—than we were going into the pandemic.
MARTINEZ-NOBLES: “The Great Resignation” allowed for a lot of shuffling and open seats in the industry. As mid-level designers and engineers start to settle into their new opportunities with—hopefully—a fresh perspective on their careers, companies will begin to build teams around the next generation.
Will corporate travel ramp up to previous levels or will meetings with customers stay mostly virtual?
BOLGARD: The pandemic forced us to embrace many types of communication, which includes substituting face-to-face contact with video meetings. That said, people are somewhat video-conference fatigued. Humans are social creatures. Most of us will continue to desire some level of face-to-face contact. Given these factors, business travel will be somewhat reduced from pre-2020 levels, and those trips will be scrutinized for a true return on investment.
GIBNEY: We’re already seeing an increase in this. I’d say it’s getting closer to 50/50 when it comes to meetings, whether they are in person or virtual. It’s tough because there are pros and cons to both. While virtual meetings might seem to save more time in the moment, in-person meetings—especially design meetings—can accomplish more in that same time. Magic happens when people are together, but work/life balance is critical.
MARTINEZ-NOBLES: It certainly has ramped up for us. In-person kick-off meetings, mock-ups, site meetings, conferences and rep meetings are back in full swing.
PALMER: There is no question that we have seen an increase in actual and desire to be together with customers and associates. Our associates’ travel continues to be below pre-pandemic levels as the industry has become accustomed to using digital connectivity. I see this continuing to complement business-related travel moving forward.
The pandemic forced us to embrace many types of communication, which includes substituting face-to-face contact with video meetings. Given these factors, business travel will be somewhat reduced from pre-2020 levels, and those trips will be scrutinized for a true return on investment–Bolgard
BOLGARD: On another note—for those of us who interact with Chinese companies, the Chinese ‘Zero COVID’ policy is now significantly impacting whether we continue at the same level with those Chinese companies. We began nearshoring [the practice of transferring a business operation to a nearby country, especially in preference to a more distant one] prior to the pandemic. The pandemic and subsequent Chinese rigidity of their travel policies is accelerating all players to offer services and production outside of China.
BLANKENHEIM: I see corporate travel increasing in 2023. In the latter part of 2022, we were traveling frequently to factories with customers and to shows such as LightFair and Light + Building. We only see that increasing in 2023. As far as local meetings go—with specifiers, they happen both in person and virtual formats now. We mostly see requests for virtual meetings but if we offer to attend in person, it is immediately accepted and appreciated. Very few firms are strictly virtual with meetings, but if they are, it’s usually because their workforce is now so spread out that it only makes sense to be virtual. For non-project related visits, we are still held at arm’s length by many firms. It comes down to the priority that the customer puts on our interaction. All of that said, the social interaction seems to be wide open, and we seem to be back to normal with events.
The panel discussion was conducted by Paul Pompeo, president of The Pompeo Group (www.pompeo.com), an executive recruiting firm in lighting, controls, electrical and IoT.