Help AFSA Help You
Everywhere I go, I hear people talk about the current crisis facing the construction industry, and especially in our fire sprinkler industry:
• We don’t have enough labor to do the available jobs.
• Steel prices and other material prices keep going up.
• Supply chain problems are impacting everything.
• Prices and availability of new vehicles are forcing us to hold onto older work trucks for longer periods of time.
• Our industry needs more qualified labor.
• We need more qualified supervisors and leaders.
• We need to recruit new blood to our industry—and stop moving people around from company to company to solve the labor issue.
So, guess what? Now is the time to grow your business and the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) is here to help you do that at every level, but I must admit, your AFSA staff and leadership are just a little confused. We listen closely to our members to learn what programs are needed to help solve the problems you face, how you want programs delivered in terms of program length, and whether you prefer webinars or Zoom. So why are we confused?
One example is AFSA’s new Intermediate Fire Sprinkler System Planning School. Our inaugural offering of this new and exciting program has netted four registrants… four. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining—just confused.
Our collective goals at AFSA include creating an exceptional customer experience for all members and associates. We understand to be successful in the fulfillment of our mission, we must deliver the products and programs you want and need. The problems confronting our industry will not solve themselves, and no one is coming around to solve them for us. We must embrace technology and keep pace with a well-trained workforce or be left behind.
It is a simple fact that when the construction industry cannot man all the projects scheduled and budgeted for construction, some projects will get defunded and never be built. We see this play out in school districts across the country, where bids for new school building projects come in 30-percent higher than similar projects built just a few years ago. The result of these higher costs is that projects are canceled, and school boards find ways to redistrict and utilize existing infrastructure. We must solve this problem ourselves and we must do so immediately, or we will see the trend of slower and canceled projects in every sector and every vertical market. Fewer projects result in more competition for the work that is available, driving prices and margins down. This is not the outlook we want or need.
If we don’t solve this, who will? How do we get new candidates excited about working in our field? How do we communicate the opportunities our industry has to offer and to whom? Your AFSA team wants to stop developing and offering programs that no one wants and focus our attention on the proactive work needed to help solve these issues, but without active members communicating with us through active local chapter participation, we’re chasing our collective tails and not solving the problems.
We need to build an active (bilingual) instructor community to support our apprenticeship program(s) in all regions. More states are introducing fitter certification or licensing programs across the country, and organized labor is using this as a tactic to hurt open-shop contractors. We need to consider how to break up our programs into more bite-sized chunks so that labor can be effective earlier in the learning and training process rather than waiting for someone to complete of 8,000 man hours of training.
As you may have heard, fewer than 10 percent of fire sprinkler contractors belong to any trade association, including ABC, NFPA, AFSA, or NFSA. This amazes us every time we hear it! How can this be? Members tell us they don’t want to send their people to seminars where they’re exposed to conversations about pay and benefits offered at other firms. (By the way, they already discuss these things online in chat rooms and on fitter pages, but that’s not the point.) Did you know that AFSA offers individual companies and chapters the opportunity to bring our instructors and topics to you for all the training programs we offer? Your crews don’t need to travel to us; we’ll come to you.
I know it sounds like I’m complaining, but that is not my intent. I am sounding the alarm in the hope of getting all of us focused on the crisis at hand. Let’s not wait to see if doing nothing hurts us or helps us. We need to get our heads in the game and take a proactive approach. Big or small companies alike, the problems are universal, and no one will solve them alone. Like that famous line from the movie, “Help us help you!” Tell us what you need, want, and will participate in… we’re here to deliver. Visit our website at firesprinkler.org, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (214) 49-5965 ext. 124. We’re in this together! Participation in your local chapters and inviting your competitors to join is a great place to start
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bob Caputo, CET, CFPS, is president of AFSA. He currently serves as chair of NFPA 24/291 Private Water Supply Piping Systems committee and as an alternate member of NFPA 13 Sprinkler System Installation Criteria committee. Caputo has written and presented seminars throughout the world on fire protection and life-safety systems and has developed AFSA and NFPA education and training materials. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.