AFSA’s NextGen Initiative (NGI) members hosted a full day of events at AFSA38 in San Diego, California, including an evening mixer.

Reaching the Next Generation

Training, Education Programs Help Build the Future of Your Company

As an organization and as an industry, we’ve been focused on the next generation for many years now. We all understand the importance of passing the baton to a qualified and confident next level but low and behold, we’ve discovered that the next generation of young professionals don’t seem to learn the way we older generation learned. Perhaps more importantly, we older generation folks realized that we try to teach the way we learned, so we’ve been frustrated by the communication gap. 

Well, let’s get real about the next generation and the fire sprinkler industry. For starters, we need them a lot more than they need us. After we let that reality sink in, ask yourself, who are we and who are they? In a lot of cases, as in many small businesses, “they” are the children of the business owner. It’s not uncommon for second and third generations to be the first in their family to have attended college, which means they may have broader choices in career opportunities than their parents had. 

That said, even if we could capture every next generation of family members, we couldn’t fill the pipeline of this industry’s need for people to work as designers, installers, estimators, or the next generation of leadership. We need to further our reach to bring new people into our industry, new DNA. We need to find those positive attitudes and aptitudes early on and introduce them to the exciting opportunities the fire sprinkler industry has to offer! 

Where do we look, and how do we find them? High school career fairs, military job fairs, and community colleges are good places to start. A lot of people leaving the military are headed back home to their point of geographic origin, looking for opportunities. These people are healthy, usually drug-free, and used to taking and giving orders. They show up on time and are responsible. For a lot of our members, these traits would be halfway to success. 

Did you know what you wanted to be for the rest of your life when you were 17 or 18? We all know the fire sprinkler industry offers a wide variety of opportunities for a wide range of personalities, but young people might not know this. We should highlight how exciting it is to see how the world works from behind the scenes, from the “back of house” in everything from food processing plants to the local shopping center, hospital, hotel, or high-rise building. We see it all. Not only that, but we get to save lives and property, which for many of us has always added a sense of pride. 


But we still have that communications gap. How do we talk to these younger people when they don’t seem to speak the same language? I read a recent article that reinforced a few key points we’ve addressed when speaking on this topic at past AFSA conventions: 

• First and foremost, young people seek authenticity. Be authentic. They’re used to seeing ads and sales pitches all over social media, so they’re used to tuning those out. Avoid the fluff and try to be as personable as possible. Be transparent in your messaging, too. You can’t fake sincerity. 

• Second, time is a valuable commodity, so be direct. Get right to the point and make your content “bite-sized.” Leave the longer content for follow-up emails or, better yet, social media postings. 

• Make it important so no one will want to miss out. Promote your upcoming meeting with an email stating, “Join 35 of your team members for this important Zoom meeting!”

• Use people-to-people communication to your advantage. Word-of-mouth marketing is very effective and even more so with the younger crowd. Encourage your existing young members to spread the word about your organization to their peers. Employ a “Bring a Buddy” referral program for your events… have you heard of “Bring Your Son or Daughter to Work” days? How about “Bring a Peer to Work” day? 

At AFSA37 in Washington, D.C., NextGen members networked during the evening mixer.


AFSA’s Next Generation Initiative (NGI) workgroup offers networking and learning opportunities for our industry’s young professionals. AFSA’s NextGen also hosts a “NextGen Day” during AFSA’s annual convention. This year’s event will be held on September 19 and will feature seminars, a leadership forum, and mean vening mixer. Mark your calendars for AFSA40: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition, September 18-21, at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa. This is a popular event you don’t want to miss. 


Our industry is competing for talent with not only every other trade in construction, but also every other industry and opportunity. The solutions to our manpower issues cannot lie in “stealing” qualified people from our competitors, and we all know that our business growth and development is restrained by our collective ability to train and retain talent. 

Your membership in AFSA supports our mission to educate and train the industry while promoting fire protection systems to save lives and property. Our design school programs, apprenticeship training courses, and ITM training programs are designed to help you grow your staff and the next generation of industry leaders. We hope you will employ these programs to help support AFSA’s next generation initiatives.

AFSA’s NextGen Initiative: Help Make a Difference!

AFSA’s NextGen Initiative (NGI) workgroup offers networking and educational events and provides resources to help the next generation of leaders excel within the fire sprinkler industry. The members elected to NGI for 2021 are:
• Chair Meaghen Wills, Anchor Fire Protection, Perkiomenville, Pennsylvania;
• Hunter Brendle, Brendle Sprinkler, Montgomery, Alabama;
• Scott Cox, Cox Fire Protection, Tampa, Florida;
• Madison Horton, JCI, Ranburne, Alabama;
• Nancy Houghton, The Viking Corporation, Caledonia, Michigan;
• Lainey Liotta, Lubrizol, Cleveland, Ohio;
• Conor Kauffman, Kauffman Fire Protection, Houston, Texas;
• Mindy McCullough Buckley, AllSouth Sprinkler, Buford, Georgia;
• Katie Meehan, VSC Fire & Security, Inc., Richmond, Virginia;
• Josh Shapiro, Reliable Automatic Sprinkler Co., Elmsford, New York;
• Karl Wiegand, P.E., Victaulic, Standish, Michigan; and
• AFSA Board Liaison Joe Heinrich, Bamford Fire Sprinkler Co., Salina, Kansas.

AFSA’s NGI members are currently focusing efforts on launching AFSA’s mentoring program and recruiting the next generation into the industry. NGI representatives have manned booths at career fairs and are working on updating industry recruitment materials. The workgroup offers educational webinars throughout the year focused on topics of interest to this group and hosts a “NextGen Day” during AFSA’s annual convention. 

If you are age 40 and under and looking to help build the future of the industry, get involved! For details, contact NextGen Chair Meaghen Wills via email at or Staff Liaison Rebecca Herring, AFSA’s communications coordinator, at or (214) 349-5965 ext. 134.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bob Caputo, 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.

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