Why Join a Trade Association?

Professional organizations provide a forum to share ideas and concerns.
Why Join a Trade Association?
Anja Smith

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Once upon a time, being part of trade association was practically a given. Regardless of the industry, the pins and certificates of membership for these organizations were worn and displayed with pride. That once strong tradition has fallen to the wayside in much of the plumbing industry. Perhaps it has been replaced by blogs, forums and Google — which places the answer to practically any question at our fingertips. But, is the professional association really dead? Are the practices of associations obsolete? Far from it.

The intrinsic value of professional associations can’t be replaced by online jabber. These nonprofit organizations seek to further our profession, represent our interests and be agents of change for our industry. Whether we participate or not, we all collectively enjoy the efforts of associations. We employ the plumbers they help train, follow the business best practices they promote, and follow the laws and regulations they help shape. But for them to continue to exist, we have to be a part of them.

Membership to organizations like PHCC, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association, is on a slow rebound after struggling in recent history. In an economically tense climate, it is easy for dues to fall to the wayside. We can get sucked into the ‘what’s in it for me’ mentality. The reality is that there is plenty in it for you and plenty in it for the future of our trade.

Stronger together than apart

Advocating for the trades can feel like a lonely pursuit these days. Big-box stores and DIY trends have changed our competitive landscape on the home services side of things. Contractor licensing has become de-specialized, and nothing seems to matter except the lowest bidder. Sometimes it can feel like the world is out to get us and personally see us put out of business.

That’s why stories of legislative and regulatory victories from professional organizations can be so powerful. PHCC newsletters and reports are ripe with articles of successful lobbying for and by small-business plumbing and HVAC contractors who are given a voice via the power of a well-respected national organization. Associations employ lobbyists who advocate on your behalf to protect your interests and give everyday contractors paths to dialogue with their representatives in Congress.  

It’s important to understand that we aren’t alone in our passion, our concerns or our victories. As plumbing contractors, we are part of a much bigger industry that has a strong tradition and an important place in the future of our country’s infrastructure. Professional associations give us a way to band together and turn that passion into a platform that can effect change.

From competitors to colleagues

The things that keep you up at night are the same things that keep your competitors up at night. Joining a professional association with national roots can provide you with powerful allies both near and far.

With association memberships come conferences, seminars and social networking opportunities. You have the opportunity to connect with people who share your values and compare notes. You’ll forge friendships and alliances that will serve your company and provide peace of mind for years to come.

For many, the thought of sitting in a meeting with a competitor and working on a common goal seems unthinkable. Without a professional organization, it can be difficult to find this common ground. It takes a mission bigger than self to set aside fears and ego and let yourself ally with companies in your area. This is an incredible gift that associations can provide.

An educational tradition

It is no coincidence that states with continuing education (CE) requirements have the highest number of association memberships. Safety training, risk management, best business practices and code changes are common concerns for any plumbing business owner, regardless of state requirements. As small businesses, we often don’t have the time or talent to create these curriculums ourselves.

This is an area where a professional organization, like PHCC, can add value to your company. For example, PHCC’s Toolbox Tips provide online safety training content free to members.

Facing a labor shortage, we are all focused on workforce development problems. This is another task that plumbing contractors don’t have to face alone. Apprenticeship eLearning is available from PHCC’s Educational Foundation and is approved in several states for Department of Labor certified programs. It’s all sitting there, waiting to be taken advantage of and leveraged for your company’s success.

These tools are just the tip of the iceberg and add immediate value to your company. Speaking of value, don’t overlook available discounts from large corporate partners, eager to see you succeed.

The amazing thing about organizations like PHCC is that they are organized, run and driven by companies just like yours. They are comprised of businesses big and small with similar issues and concerns, from one- and two-truck operations to fleets in the hundreds.

Good ideas, it turns out, come from everyone and everywhere in our industry. It’s not that the smart guys are the titans and the small guys are putzes. Joining a professional organization teaches you that we are all at a different place on the journey, have our own unique sets of goals and ambitions, and that we are all doing our best. It’s humbling, exciting, energizing and beautiful.

If you aren’t a member of a professional association, take the time to see what chapters are active in your area.

PHCC is the oldest construction trade association in the country and offers programs and services to help you strengthen your business, but they aren’t the only game in town. Find one that fits you and champions the values you hold dear. Challenge yourself to raise the bar by becoming active at the local, state, regional or national level. Attend and help organize events. Think about getting involved in the leadership — they don’t have any more time in the day than you do — and be a part of positive momentum in the plumbing industry.

About the author: Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at anja@acpupsstate.com.


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