“Where are we headed?” Perhaps it’s one of life’s deepest and most asked questions of ourselves and of others around us about life in general. Certainly, it’s an appropriate question for our association. Where is the industry headed? Where is your company headed? How are COVID-19 and its related issues impacting the health of your company and our industry? What are the key issues and concerns as we move forward? You might be surprised, but the answer to any one or all of these questions is really a simple one. Like the answer to all fire protection questions, the honest answer is, “It depends.”
A lot depends on how we chose to see it, and a lot less depends on what is happening to us. BS (British Standards), you say? Why are today’s circumstances different than other challenges you encountered when starting a new job or a business? Obstacles are always present. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it and making lots more money than we are now. But yes, these obstacles are real, and the challenges we face collectively are very real.
Being Captain Obvious, let me start with the political climate. It’s no secret that the current administration supports organized labor and their unions. The result of their partnership is the realistic expectation of legislative changes that support organized labor and a federal government willing to push your tax dollars toward prevailing wage projects. The fact is that labor unions have done a good job in decades past of creating safer working factories and construction sites, getting fair wages and benefits along with other positive workplace changes. Today we have laws that protect worker’s rights and wages, and a free enterprise system ensures fair pay for deserving workers who are free to move on when they feel they’re poorly treated by a short-sighted company or boss.
Make no mistake, organized labor and its leadership know how to play the legislative game, and they have specific goals and a solid game plan in mind. Union labor’s participation in construction has been deteriorating for many years, and today, only about 15 percent of construction is performed by union labor. Regardless of the statistics, this is a fight we cannot ignore or take for granted. Fitter licensing, certification, Inspector licensing, and registered apprenticeship programs are all a part of the chess game being played out around you.
Your AFSA staff is monitoring and actively responding to legislative activities, and we hope you will take the time to contact your elected officials when we alert the membership to issues impacting our markets.
Training is the key to winning this game in the long term—real training for pipe fitters and apprentices to fill the pipeline with well-trained and qualified people to perform the work available in our growing industry. This cannot be a check box to meet a legislated policy or to have a competitive edge on prevailing wage work. The type of work our members chose to bid or perform has nothing to do with the need for real training and continuing education programs in design, installation, and ITM services.
We hear some of our members talk about a slowing economy or less work due to the impact of COVID-19 and the economic shutdown of 2020. Yet, I hear others in the same regions tell me they’ve never been busier. It’s interesting to consider the dichotomy of member backlogs and shifting vertical markets. We hear about rising steel prices, a shortage of resin for plastic materials, and a host of concerns. As this edition goes to press, there is a lot of optimism related to herd immunity and the declining death rates associated with this pandemic.
Your Board of Directors recently approved the formation (or reformation) of a national apprenticeship program to be managed and administered in the Dallas office. While many of our members already have an approved federal program, this will allow others to participate in a collective program with managerial fees where it makes more sense to have AFSA National doing the job rather than doing it in-house. This new national program will take a few months to establish with the Department of Labor and will require AFSA to form an apprenticeship committee. In addition, AFSA is developing new virtual classroom training to assist in delivering related technical instruction (RTI), and we will need to enlist instructors for this program. We plan to roll out both programs in the fall. Interested parties should reach out to AFSA’s Director of Education Leslie Clounts via email at email@example.com. This is a very exciting direction for AFSA, and we hope to see many of our members take advantage of these two new exciting programs.
Lastly, AFSA40 in San Antonio is shaping up to be an incredible opportunity for us all. Exciting entertainment and killer venues, along with a great lineup of programs and opportunities, promise to make this the event of the year for this industry. If the number of early registrations and booth reservations for the exhibit hall are any indication, we’re planning to see record numbers of attendees. We hope to see you there!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bob Caputo, CFPS, is president of the American Fire Sprinkler Association. 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.