By Nicholaus Peyton
This is not a shameless plug about joining an association. One of the key topics over the last decade at the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association (WWEMA) and our affiliated organizations has been recruiting volunteers and getting membership stabilized. At a recent industry meeting, I overheard discussion about bringing the next generation of millennials into our association. As the conversation continued, all the normal key topics were hit: millennials, aging workforce, technology, and social media. Opinions varied on how difficult the transition is between the loss of knowledge and hands-on experience from those retiring and finding fresh new recruits specifically within their own companies, and it seems the challenge is compounded in associations. As the experienced talent pool shrinks, companies struggle to maintain internal talent, same as the associations are struggling. What I found interesting was the group’s conversation centered on what others should be doing, not actually any actions they were personally taking to involve the next generation.
As you start measuring involvement in the water industry in decades, you have time to reflect and look at how you found yourself in the position you are in today. In my case, it was investment from many people over the years and continued coaching along the way. It was meaningful personal involvement and strategic mentoring, and not just a meeting to “check a box” and move on. It was an investment of time, effort, and energy from people within leadership positions. Now I find myself making a similar investment in people to foster their development and help them to find balance in their work and volunteer activities, while teaching them at the same time.
Early in my career, I had a mentor and manager who expounded on the benefits of associations to become engaged with in our industry. Beyond the superficial concepts of networking and meeting people, he stressed the importance of the continuing education. Meeting knowledgeable people from various parts of the industry, whether it be filtration, treatment, pumps, valves, or pipes, is extremely valuable, but is only part of the benefits. I have learned more about the water and wastewater industry by active participation and involvement in key associations than I could ever have imagined.
My advice to you is make the time….
First, it starts with your own personal involvement in an association. In the broader spectrum of the water industry there’s the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF), and as a manufacturer, WWEMA and the Water and Sewer Distributors of America (WASDA), with many other trade associations within the space. Start with a simple action — join one or more associations. Nothing complicated about that.
The next step is attending meetings. For most of us in the water industry, this revolves around a tradeshow and conference. It’s important to attend tradeshows to see the exhibits, attend training seminars, listen to presentations, and learn from your peers and customers. AWWA and WEF both have national and regional conferences that will provide you with ample opportunities to get connected and stay connected. WWEMA holds several conferences a year with a focus on technology manufacturers.
The following step is to look for opportunities to get involved beyond attending. All of these associations have committees and groups working to educate, advocate, and organize industry events. For a richer and more meaningful experience, you need to volunteer. You can even offer to speak or facilitate a training session.
Once you have found your own balance between work and volunteering, now comes the harder part. Invest a little more time in strategic mentoring. Take someone from the upcoming generation and helping them to get involved. Walk them through benefits of the association, explaining why you are a member and the benefits of giving back, to help set them on a journey of growth and hopefully repeat the cycle of giving back. There are many ways you can do this — be a buddy at a conference, walk through an exhibit hall together and introduce them to people you know, or simply catch up over a coffee and ask how things are going. Choose individuals who show promise and who you know have something to offer, because you are investing your valuable time in them. It takes time, but keep it up because their success is our industry’s success.
If we take this approach and invest in not just bringing people into the associations but getting them involved, we bridge that gap between generations and ensure that as we retire, we leave an association better than when we joined.
Today as I reflect, I can honestly say that the mentoring investment made by others into my career, as well as the time I have spent mentoring, has given me lifelong friends and some great acquaintances. If we as leaders want to see future generations succeed and take the water industry to the next level of success, we need to give them a leg up from where we stand today.
Nicholaus Peyton is VP of Contractor & OEM Sales for Mueller Company. He is also a member of WWEMA’s Board of Directors and Investment Committee. For more information about WWEMA and to see if this Association is the right fit for you and your company, go to www.wwema.org.