Optimize your association membership through participation, networking, education, collaboration and learning from other members.
By Bridget McCrea
When Scott Hayward sat down to discuss the value of National Precast Concrete Association membership, the timing couldn’t have been better. Not only had a team of Colorado Precast Concrete employees just wrapped up multiple plant tours, but the company also completed a successful plant certification process. Needless to say, association membership and the benefits included were top of mind for Hayward, vice president and general manager for the Loveland, Colo.-based precaster.
“We did two full days of plant tours and really learned a lot in the process,” said Hayward, whose company joined NPCA in 1976. “Being able to see first-hand what the rest of the industry is doing is great. There’s just so much that we can learn from one another during those interactions.”
Looking back over nearly four decades of NPCA membership, Hayward said he’s pleased with the progress the association has made in terms of forming new committees and tackling new and timely initiatives in order to make precast concrete products better. What hasn’t changed along the way, he notes, is the strong camaraderie among members – all of whom are willing to network, share ideas and brainstorm on key issues.
Take the actual manufacturing process, for example. In some cases, Hayward said membership has helped his company identify and test certain paths it may not have thought of on its own.
“Plant certifications, for example, have enabled Colorado Precast not only to move into new geographies, but have also made us much better manufacturers of precast products,” said Hayward, who attributes much of that progress to NPCA. “That, in turn, has resulted in better profitability for our company.”
Within the manufacturing sector, numerous trade associations and business groups exist that cater to companies and individuals interested in getting involved with their industries. For some, getting involved simply means submitting an annual check to cover dues, receiving association publications and attending annual meetings. Others take membership to the next level by participating in committees, serving on boards, networking regularly with other members, collaborating on key issues and taking advantage of the association’s educational opportunities.
At a foundational level, professional associations like NPCA encourage like-minded professionals to gather and learn from one another. In fact, this is the reason associations form in the first place – to provide a place for open discussion about industry challenges, successes and trends. Through these interactions, individuals are given the opportunity to emerge as community leaders by serving on the association’s committees and boards and by volunteering their time and effort. Members also use their membership to attract new customers (e.g., by prominently displaying the NPCA logo on their websites, social media channels and marketing materials), attend regular meetings, compare notes with other precasters from around the world and take other steps to promote the industry.
“We’re learning from others, getting involved with plant tours, getting certified and doing whatever else it takes to run a customer service-based company that truly cares about its employees,” Hayward said. “Those efforts stand for themselves.”
Open platforms for sharing
It’s no secret association events provide a platform for members to network and meet with other like-minded industry professionals. At these events, you can even find new customers and potential business partners.
NPCA members also have access to resources such as educational tools (both online and in person), NPCA’s Technical Services Department and industry-leading publications.
Members also have access to a wide range of peers. NPCA’s membership roster includes members in all 50 states, eight Canadian provinces and 12 countries. Membership consists of producer members (precasters), associate members (suppliers that manufacture a product or deliver a service related to the precast industry) and professional members (architects, engineers, regulators and educators, among others).
Jon Maxwell, plant manager at Arrow Concrete Products in Granby, Conn., has been involved with NPCA for 25 years and takes advantage of many of the association’s educational opportunities.
“I’ve been doing all of the PQS classes and it’s been great,” Maxwell said.
Production & Quality School starts with Level 1 – a two-day course that covers the basic knowledge all precast concrete production employees should know – and is offered both online and annually at The Precast Show. PQS II focuses on safety, production, technical knowledge and quality control while PSQ III concentrates on building leadership skills.
“I’m going for the Master Precaster certification,” Maxwell said. “The classes so far have been amazing.”
Maxwell said he had recently completed a PQS II – Technical course taught by Claude Goguen, P.E., LEED AP, NPCA’s director of sustainability and technical education.
Maxwell said when going over the technical examples, he was able to apply his knowledge of algebra and trigonometry.
“When we first started the class I was a little blown away,” Maxwell said. “The instruction really was top notch.”
Maxwell said he also participates in the educational offerings at NPCA’s annual conference and attends at least one webinar online per month. He said these activities go a long way when it comes to audits, inspections and certifications.
“NPCA keeps you on your toes because you know there’s always going to be a yearly audit,” Maxwell said. “We’re always waiting for that and making sure that we’re dotting our I’s and crossing our T’s and never cutting corners.”
Like Hayward, Maxwell also sees value in attending plant tours. These events not only help strengthen connections across the association’s three different membership levels, but also lead to future networking opportunities and potential collaborations.
“Everyone is extremely friendly and open and willing to share their ideas,” Maxwell said. “Some of us stay in touch afterward and work to solidify those relationships and connect. Being able to learn from other precasters is very beneficial.”
Having attended PQS educational courses first-hand, Maxwell said he wants to sign up more of Arrow Concrete Products’ foremen for PQS I and PQS II as well.
“We’re in an industry where you can never learn enough and these types of educational opportunities help everyone stay on track and motivated,” Maxwell said.
We’re on the same team
When recalling the 10 years that Oldcastle Precast in Littleton, Colo., has been an active NPCA member, Kelly Patterson said the benefits range from plant certifications (the company has 30-plus certified plants) to leadership opportunities and forming strong ties with other producers, associates and professional members. Patterson, director of engineering, currently chairs NPCA’s Technical Committee. Because the technical group reviews the information generated by all other NPCA committees, Patterson has the inside track on the latest and most pertinent industry information.
“When you assume a leadership role in an organization, and when you organize and run meetings, you have a voice and the opportunity to make a difference,” Patterson explained. “It’s a great experience.”
He sees NPCA’s educational opportunities as another important benefit of membership, particularly in an era where technology is evolving at the speed of light and impacting everything from manufacturing to customer service and business operations.
“At the meetings, everyone talks about new technologies, research and industry concerns,” Patterson said. “I’m able to gather information from those events and apply it in our day-to-day operations.”
Additionally, Patterson appreciates the networking opportunities that he’s exposed to at the events.
“Those interactions benefit all of us,” he added.
At the industry level, Patterson feels NPCA helps aid camaraderie among members who in many cases are actually competitors in the business world.
“When we know them and they know us, things tend to be less contentious,” Patterson explains. “So while we’re all essentially competitors, NPCA gives us all a venue where we can understand and learn from one another and realize that we are all, in fact, on the same team.”
To members who want to optimize their NPCA membership, or to those new members that need advice on how to get started, Hayward said connecting with other member companies is a good first step.
Patterson concurs, and said signing up for The Precast Show 2016 is a great starting point for anyone looking to get more from their membership. He said participating in committees and enrolling in the group’s many educational opportunities are two additional ways to get involved.
“Don’t be afraid to jump in and get your feet wet; we really are like one big family here,” Hayward added. “We’re very welcoming and always willing to help one another out.”
Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers manufacturing, industry and technology. She is a winner of the Florida Magazine Association’s Gold Award for best trade-technical feature statewide.