Sheet metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association


2018 Partners in Progress Conference: Committed to making a difference ​

Apr 02, 2018

LeadePinP_Knox_Foley_Sellers_250rs from both labor and management joined forces at the 2018 SMACNA/SMART Partners in Progress Conference, Feb. 13-14, and accepted the challenge to work together to sustain and expand market share where opportunities exist. Contractors, chapter executives, and future leaders attended 28 sessions and workshops focused on creating successful labor/management teams, market recovery and expansion, recruiting quality applicants, and the development of critical communication skills for the 21st century.COX01810_JackKnox_250px

SMACNA President Jack Knox set the tone for the one-and-a-half days urging everyone to put differences and pride aside and vow—as teams—to come up with strategies that will make a difference.

“It is well-known that when contractors and local unions have healthy working relationships, our market share increases, our work opportunities materialize, and our day-to-day working relationships improve,” he said. “If we can communicate, commit, and deliver, we can make a difference,” he added.COX01870_JoeSellers_250px

SMART General President Joseph Sellers echoed Knox’s thoughts, encouraging the teams to commit to moving the industry forward and taking advantage of the knowledge and the experience assembled at the meeting. “If we don’t shape our future, our future will be shaped for us,” he challenged.

KDoherty 250x197Recruiting quality applicants. Keynote speaker Kevin Dougherty used his bold and brash style, backed by 30+ years of construction industry experience, to explain the issues surrounding recruiting quality applicants. “We’ve got the best kept secret in the world and we pay more, so why can’t we recruit applicants?” he asked. “Because we stink at marketing,” he shouted. Things have changed. “We have to consistently recruit because it is difficult to be productive if you have an inconsistent workforce.” Dougherty went on to explain that in today’s environment, not only do we have to market to get customers, we have to market to get employees. He ended with some wise advice that “when hiring new people, look for someone with a good attitude and work ethic, then teach the skill/craft.”COX02062_Angie_Guy_250X167

Predicting the future. To get partners talking about how industry trends could affect their markets, SMACNA Secretary-Treasurer Angela Simon and former SMACNA President Guy Gast shared the latest trends and predictions from the New Horizons Foundation Futures Study.

Tough questions they asked were:

  • Are SMACNA contractors investing in the future or hanging on to the past?
  • Can we release our attachment to jurisdiction in multi-trade fabrication?
  • Are we able to embrace being a factory?

Solutions first. “More and more dollars and manhours are moving to contractors who provide solutions first, prices second,” Gast said. Does this favor union contractors? Straight-line sheet metal contractors? Full mechanical/electrical/plumbing contractors?

COX02094_250pxTechnology wins. “The people who control the data will control the work,” noted Gast. “Technology is growing exponentially, especially the Internet of things (IoT).” He encouraged everyone to think how the IoT is going to change things very shortly in the next one to three years.

Change is inevitable. “We’re going to have to change if we want to be successful,” Gast concluded. “The future is bright, but it involves changes,” Simon stated, adding, “Be nimble, be viable. There’s nothing standing still right now.” Nurture change and commit to one thing you’d like to do as a team when you get home.”

Blue Angel soars to lead. John Foley, former lead solo pilot of the Blue Angels, closed the event by delivering a high-energy address explaining in great detail how he performed in an extreme, high-stakes environment, flying at speeds of more than 500 miles per hour and in formations as close as 18 inches apart. He said it wasn’t dangerous, just “extremely unforgiving.” In this environment, John went on to explain how he relied on a culture of high trust and leadership to turn inherently “unforgiving flight” into extraordinary experiences. His visualizations, which captivated everyone, served as extreme metaphors to motivate teams to reach for their highest potential.

Take-aways. Both Sellers and Knox summed up the meeting by sharing that the secret to getting ahead is getting started. Attendees were encouraged to continue the goodwill and positive momentum by scheduling a meeting with their counterparts and discuss one of the programs/projects covered at Partners in Progress and report back to the SMACNA/SMART Best Practices Market Expansion Task Force by May 1.

Presentations and handouts from Partners in Progress are available at