It’s been a great year for me as SMACNA president. I initially worried about meeting the expectations of members, my company and my family.
As this is my last month to serve, I’ve formed some clear impressions about my service to the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association, and I thought I’d share them with you.
The HVAC construction economy has improved, and with a gentle breeze at our back, it is a great time to be association president. A positive market also helped alleviate concerns I had about time away from my business. Many of our folks took hold of opportunities and delivered. I want to believe that I make a difference and sometimes it’s hard to let others take control. Being away forced me to allow others to lead. As a result, I think our company has been positively impacted by my time at SMACNA.
My wife and I still have young children, so missing time at home was a concern. My wife, Deana, enthusiastically cheered me along, and when they couldn’t join me in my travels, I knew I didn’t have to worry.
Throughout the year, traveling to SMACNA events or meeting with chapters in the U.S. and Canada, there was one common message: Welcome! At every turn, I was treated like a celebrity. I shouldn’t have been surprised. It has been my lifelong experience that SMACNA contractors are gracious, sharing folks, anxious to please, anxious to talk about their business and to hear about yours. And they’re anxious to hear about their association.
As I move toward the end of my term, I think there are several themes emerging.
Our relationship with SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, is of paramount concern, particularly as we struggle with future manpower needs, elevated customer expectations and continuing pressure from competition in the marketplace. It takes both labor and contractor partners to navigate times of abundance, perhaps more so than in times of need. In times of need, we can all to act to create jobs and hold our people together. In times of abundance, it becomes easy to take the path of least resistance, to create a legacy that we cannot fulfill. It is easy to feel good about the status quo — without reaching for more — and aspiring to own our markets and creating new ones.
At the local level, we need stronger labor partnerships. We cannot hope for national organizations, such as SMACNA and SMART, to define a path to our local success. They can provide templates, encouragement, and support, but it is up to each of us to build the strong local relationships that are necessary to retain and grow markets together. Any successful relationship locally is built on trust, over time.
I feel confident that our labor partners at SMART see the challenges of the future and I know the leadership of SMACNA is committed to jointly meeting those challenges.
One of the challenges that we must jointly meet is demonstrating our ability to create the workforce of the future, one that will fill the void left by retiring baby boomers. Increasing attention on apprentices and labor classifications that will support the needs of our customers and the contractor of the future is of paramount interest to both of us. The recent collaborative effort to study large markets and identify joint labor-management steps to increase market share in those areas may serve as a template for best practices in other areas of the country.
Another recurring theme is the continuing need for local, state and federal relief from an ever-increasing number of new regulations governing how we do business and affecting our competitive ability. In this area, it is also imperative that we align our efforts with labor, as we have done in seeking meaningful pension-reform regulations, which will ensure a secure future for many who have worked a lifetime anticipating that security.
Guy Gast is a division president at Des Moines, Iowa-based Waldinger Corp., and 2015-16 president of the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association.