Canadian Electrical Industry News Week

 November 25, 2018

Keith SonesBy Keith Sones

Every article I write has a point. This one is dedicated to a cybermentor who has inspired me invisibly and without fail: Vivian Krause. You can find her at fairquestions.typepad.com/rethink_campaigns/. Read her stuff. It’s important.

As a 54-year-old low tech guy raised in small town Canada, I sometimes have issues fitting into our current high tech kinda life. Certain things do not come naturally. Like the Internet, which I have variously called the interweb, the Google and “that question thing on the computer.” As you can guess, my kids have variously called me several other things.

Social media also baffles me. I’m okay with LinkedIn as it’s primarily a group of like-minded professionals in search of connection and job opportunities. I’ve never been on Facebook as I’ve always thought the best way to build and maintain relationships is over coffee or, as a second choice, using Ma Bell to connect. I’ve strolled down the corridors of Twitter and everyone seems to be screaming at everyone else. In my hometown, we called that “go to the bar and hang around until last call.”

I could go on, but suffice it to say that there are a few things in our digital, hyper-connected, technologically driven big data world that cause me discomfort. There is, however, one thing that I’m very comfortable doing. It’s an activity that people have done for centuries. Something that we all did effortlessly at 3 years of age then forgot by the time we were 23. A skill that has won wars, created unimaginable wealth, and allows some to live in matrimonial bliss when others can’t cobble together three dates in a row. It sounds very easy, but it’s actually very difficult and controversial because it requires ripping people and on occasion entire organizations out of their comfort zones.

Two distinct events allowed to have my personal eureka moments, and made me realize how crucially important this ability really is.

Event #1: as a newly minted health and safety professional in the early 1990s, I joined a large engineering focused corporation fresh out of school and was thrilled to be working for a company known for technical prowess and a heavy focus on worker safety. My boss had been there for many years and was proud of both his role and past accomplishments. He took me under his wing and pointed out the many systems and processes that were in place in the company. It was obvious that many people had spent a lot of time building and maintaining these programs.

Worker training was the one topic that received the most attention. There was an entire catalogue of available training sessions, and the majority of my colleagues spent their days planning, creating, refining and delivering training courses. In fact, it was only just prior to my arrival that the job title had been changed from safety trainer to safety coordinator. A tremendous source of pride for my peers was being at the front of classroom with a pointer and a series of acetate overhead slides (if you know what those are, you’re my age. If not, you’ll have to use the Google). Audience members may have had a somewhat different view at times, but the safety and health pros were there to inspire, educate and ensure everyone had the skills required to do the job.

One day I was sifting through a series of accident reports, which were created by the same group of my peers when things didn’t go as well as hoped. For some reason, and to this day I’m not sure why, one report jumped out at me. A carpenter had cut his hand on a table saw and sustained a nasty cut. “Ouch”, I thought, “it’s bad and could have been a lot worse.” I scanned the rest of the pages and came to the section that contained the answers to This Is How We Will Make Sure This Type of Incident Never Happens Again. In the safety profession, and especially to a new guy like me, this is where centuries of accumulated wisdom gained by thousands of practitioners is distilled into a few actions that will, when implemented, eliminate injuries in the future. It’s why we chose the vocation, to make the world a safer place.

Upon reading the suggested remedial actions, I noticed that worker had been enlisted into a training class as a way the make sure the incident didn’t re-occur. I stopped reading, a bit confused, and called over to my boss who was sitting at the next desk. “How long has this guy been a carpenter?” I queried. “I’m not sure, but more than 20 years.” he replied. Pausing once again, I read the corrective actions section of the report one more time, then asked “What’s he getting trained in?” My boss was a bit more guarded in his response but stated, “He’s taking our Power Tool safety course. He obviously didn’t know how to use it properly.”

Confused but not satisfied with the answer, I responded back. “But he’s a journeyman carpenter, surely he must have known how to use a table saw. Don’t they teach that stuff in carpentry school?” At this point, my boss turned and looked directly at me. It was then I noticed something in his eyes that was absent previously — anger. “Well, he obviously didn’t learn it very well so he’s getting retrained!” This time his voice was raised and the not so underlying connotation was “Hey kid, I’m the boss here so stop with the questions. You’re new and don’t know any better.” I quietly apologized with “Sorry, just a question.” My tail between my legs, I dropped the subject.

Event #2: fast forward several years. My employer, job description and experience level had all changed significantly. I was now working for a regional electric utility that had embarked on a significant program of power system renewal. My role in the organization was to take select projects and usher them through to the construction readiness stage. The need for a substation or transmission line was identified on paper, and I had the task of refining the budget, locking in the station location or line route, facilitating approvals from First Nations and municipalities, and working with landowners to ensure they were supremely happy about having a new high voltage facility in their backyard.

What could go wrong?

It was a beautiful, warm sunny day when I met Frank. I’d received his phone call a few days prior, and we’d agreed to get together to discuss his concerns about a new substation that was planned to be constructed about a kilometre away from his home in a high end golf community. I rolled into the parking lot of the community clubhouse just before 10:00 am, admiring the expansive homes that were populated with residents who actually knew how to play golf (technology is not the only thing that mystifies me). The sun streamed through the restaurant windows and apart from a few older folks getting ready to hit the links, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. And judging from the stack of papers on the table, it was evident that Frank had been doing some homework.

After the obligatory exchange of “Nice to meet you’s,” Frank dove straight into his mission. “I don’t like that substation that you want to build near our place and you need to move it.” Okay then. No more guessing about the reason for his request to meet. “What are you concerned about Frank,” I replied. “Magnetic fields,” he answered. “They are dangerous and your substation will bathe my house in them.”

This was the start of a lengthy relationship during which I did everything possible to inform Frank of the facts. The next couple of months went something like this:

Me: “The station is too far away to impact your house.”

Frank: “No it’s not.”

Me: “I’ll get testing done for you to show there will be no harm.”

Frank: “I don’t trust your tests.”

Me: “Then hire your own consultant and I’ll pay for him.”

Frank: “You don’t need that station anyway.”

Me: “The power in your area will be at risk if we don’t.”

And so on.

I came to realize that no matter what I said, Frank would merely come up with another angle of attack. So, on the long drive to see Frank one more time, I decided to take a different tack. I was going to ask him a question, but a different one.

We sat down at the clubhouse table once again, this time with clouds casting a grey pall on the normally colourful golf course landscape. “Frank,” I said, “I have a question for you. We’ve gone through magnetic field testing, tons of research, measuring distances to your home, two public meetings and here we are. Before you retired, you were a successful lawyer for years, so you’re a smart guy. And you must have been thinking I’m stupid enough to fall for your next argument, but that’s not going to happen. So tell me Frank, what’s really going on?”

He didn’t answer immediately, but I could tell the wheels were turning. His facial expressions went from dismay to anger to resignation in rapid succession. Finally, with a sigh, he said “I’m worried about the value of my house if you build that thing. I’ve got a lot tied up in it and can’t afford to have it drop.”

Okay. Now we had something real to talk about. And an issue I could tackle. There had been lots of research done on this topic and after having an appraisal done, he accepted the fact that there would be no loss of value. It worked out well, and today that substation is quietly providing power to Frank and his neighbours.

We have been conditioned to accept many things in life and never question them. We are politically correct too much of the time. We see gaps in the information and quickly accept an explanation that still makes little sense to us. We worry about challenging the majority view or status quo and drop the subject too fast in an effort to save face and not be tagged as a rebel. Asking meaningful questions is critical to find the truth. And it’s a lost art. In case your skills are a bit rusty, here are a few to get the discussion going.

What if global oil use keeps increasing for the next few decades? Are you okay with sacrificing your local hospital or your child’s school to pay for the difference between Canadian and U.S. oil prices? What happens to our economy if we stop extracting oil altogether? What if the oceans rise faster than the pundits call for? We’ve adapted to volcanoes, earthquakes and floods. Can we adapt to this?

Why do we spend a lot of time and money working on programs to save people from inadvertent death by opioids (a worthwhile cause I might add), but rarely question why people feel the need to take drugs in the first place? What are those reasons? Do we not ask because those problems are too big to fix? Would we have to recognize that perhaps we contributed to the problems? Is there no easy fix so we focus on what seems possible? Does it hit close to home?

If your co-worker sexually harassed another co-worker, would you challenge him and risk being an outcast or say nothing and remain part of the social club?

What doesn’t get reported in the media? Why? If your favourite reporter shows a bias or excludes the other side of an issue, would you call her out? If not why not?

When your very old terminally ill dad could last a few more weeks with surgery, is your choice based on his welfare or your guilt?

Do I stay in my job because it’s fulfilling or predictably safe? Same question for your relationship.

Do I vote for my parent’s candidate, my social conscience, or the economic good of the country?

You get the idea. Good questions are not an attack, used as a weapon to make a point. They simply allow us to dig into all of the issues instead of just the ones with which we feel comfortable. Often, they will help us discover a truth we may not have known even existed. And if we are to create real answers to our problems, we need to be brave enough to start by asking real questions.

Keith Sones is Vice President, National Business Development, The Valard Group of Companies. 

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Electrician Forum Brought to you by Schneider Electric

As industry experts you know the products you use everyday better than anyone and should have input on what information you receive about products and what could improve them.

Therefore, we want your insight on the biggest challenges or issues you face when installing loadcentres, breakers (CAFI, GFI's…) and other surge protection devices. We ask that you do not provide product specific details but rather your general issues and concerns or any questions that have come to mind while working with these product types. Provide us with your valued expert insight into the issues you have faced so manufacturers can better inform you about the installation and use of these products. Lets generate some discussion that will help guide the Industry.

Make your comments  HERE

 

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Cloud

There has been a lot of talk about cloud computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models these days but both are relatively new to the lighting industry. Let’s take a look at what they are as well as their roles in commercial lighting.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is the on-demand delivery of compute power, database storage, and applications via the Internet with pay-as-you-go or subscription-based pricing. Cloud computing means that instead of all the computer hardware, software, and data that you are using sitting somewhere inside your company’s network, it’s provided and managed for you as a service by another company and you access it over the Internet. 

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Jean-Marc Myette

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Meeting people in our industry often comes with surprises. This was the case with Jean-Marc Myette, Business Development Manager of ABB’s Electrification Products Division and chair of the Board of Electro-Federation Canada’s Quebec section. Not only does he know the electrical industry down to the most minute product and technological innovations, he is also a professional car racer on sabbatical, and someone very involved in his business community and personal life.

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