CEO Update: Building on SMACNA’s Strengths

It has been a very productive four months since I started in January as SMACNA’s CEO.

Aaron Hilger

It has been a very productive four months since I started in January as SMACNA’s CEO. As you would expect, my transition into SMACNA was seamless. Vince Sandusky and I enjoy working together and he has delivered on his promise of providing the “transition he wished he had received when he started at SMACNA.” That was a wonderful starting point, and I personally wish Vince all the best in his future endeavors. He did a great job for SMACNA and has left me with a strong foundation on which to build the future of our association.

Prior to joining SMACNA, I ran a group of associations in Rochester, New York, for almost 20 years. Many of the associations were involved with the construction industry. Others were in high tech and tourism. As part of our practice, we handled labor relations with basic trades, painters, roofers, and sheet metal workers. I also served as a trustee on many multi-employer funds — from small local entities to large multi-state plans. We are also heavily involved in state government relations efforts for the construction industry. Our primary activities in that arena were economic development, labor issues and, in the last couple years, COVID regulations.

I have been part of the SMACNA family since 2005, when I became the Executive Director of SMACNA Rochester. A few years later, I also became the Executive Director of SMACNA New York State. As an executive director, I greatly benefited from my relationships with SMACNA national staff and my chapter peers. 

From a transition perspective, my familiarity with SMACNA’s offerings, national staff, labor, technical and government relations efforts have given me a strong starting point. The executive directors and I are focused on making their departments stronger and identifying more effective ways to serve our members. The national staff has a tremendous amount of energy, and it is a true joy to be able to direct it to the betterment of our industry.

My focus for this year is building upon SMACNA’s strengths. Our labor, government and technical programs are the best in the industry. We have a strong relationship with SMART at the staff level. General President Sellers and I are also developing a solid foundation based on our shared passion for labor work and desire to increase work hours. Together we will be able to accomplish many things to help our contractors be more competitive. 

Our government relations program is functioning at a very high level and our members will be able to take advantage of many tax credits and incentives that are coming out of Washington, D.C. Stan Kolbe has worked for decades on some of these programs! Look for additional information and practical guidance on using these tax incentives on SMACNA’s website in the near future. Technical Services is also busy with seven standards publications expected to be published this year, or at least in the comment phase by year-end. Eli Howard’s technical team remains very busy working on the standards and answering technical questions from members. 

Our Market Sectors and construction technology group are engaging contractors at an unprecedented level to help identify specific sector needs, trends and developments for residential, industrial, commercial HVAC, TAB and architectural markets. This feedback helps drive SMACNA’s focus on the development of training, education and program offerings that benefit the entire membership. 

We are also working on expanding our educational offerings and associate member programs. Our current education programs, such as Business Management University and the Project Managers Institute, are very good. We need to offer these programs more frequently, in different formats and through hybrid/virtual options. We also need to expand the scope of our offerings, including more offerings in leadership development and additional programming for Chapters. 

Associate members play a critical part in educating contractors, and our staff is working to expand the associate member program, creating new educational opportunities to engage the industry. This serves several purposes, including bringing more timely information to our attention, providing educational content and expanding engagement at events such as the product show.   

Workforce development, especially creating awareness of sheet metal careers is a board and staff focus. I expect us to be refining our messaging and metrics as we move forward with this effort. There are a precious few things that a national association can do to influence local employment decisions. One way we are helping is to raise awareness of what a great choice a career in the sheet metal industry is. We can even help create enough interest that people want to pursue a career in the trade. We can directly connect them with contractors looking for employers through SMACNA’s new Career Center. 

The Be 4 All program is also an important part of retention and recruitment. It is clear that the demographic makeup of the sheet metal industry is changing and will look substantially different in the next 20 years. Smart contractors will position themselves to be employers of choice for people from all backgrounds, races and genders. Our shared goal is to have the most dedicated and talented workforce possible.

I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible at chapter functions, education programs and the convention. I encourage you to consider joining a SMACNA committee or task force. Your input in those forums helps drive our programming and educational offerings. There are also many ways to engage in our government relations work; becoming a member of the Congressional Insiders Club is a great way to support what we do on the Hill every day. Thank you for being a member of SMACNA and engaging with our industry!

Aaron Hilger is CEO of SMACNA. Previously serving as executive director of SMACNA Rochester and SMACNA New York State, he brought over two decades of leadership to the CEO role he began in January. Hilger brings more than two decades of leadership experience to SMACNA.