Creating Innovation Beyond Expectations

SMACNA’s revamped Innovation, Integration and Learning department is planning robust deliverables for members in 2024. 

A lot can happen in a year. 

Just ask Linda Jennings. 

When Jennings started at the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association just over one year ago, she came on board to run the Market Sectors and Construction Technology department as executive director. 

As she took time to meet with the different SMACNA market sector councils and the rest of the eight committees in the department, she found that not only were there a lot of needs, but things also felt a bit disconnected. 

She started connecting the dots between different departments, including Government and Political Affairs and Labor Relations.

Bringing people together and listening to members discuss their needs as other departments shared updates boosted communication and information gathering. As they put the pieces together, it became clear that serving members best meant keeping these department synergies and communication lines open, as well as reframing the department. 

As a result, Jennings’s department was renamed the Innovation, Integration and Learning department, and it has some big updates and plans moving into 2024. 

New Name, New Goals
Calling the department Innovation, Integration and Learning better embodies its goals, bringing it into the present and forged to best meet future opportunities, Jennings shares. 

And to determine where to take this diverse department, Jennings had to take time to understand where the various committees were at and what they needed to set goals. 

The result was a new mission: To innovate the sheet metal industry, integrate its programs and develop and facilitate learning opportunities. 

The department analysis highlighted some major wins as it transitioned in 2023: 

  • Peer groups have been a big success in 2023, Jennings says. “The demand for peer groups was high and the response has been great,” she adds. SMACNA currently has more than 40 contractors in nine peer groups throughout North America.
  • SMACNA held its inaugural Fab Forum in 2023, selling out at 130 attendees who attended standing-room-only sessions and got to tour Poynter Sheet Metal’s innovative fabrication shop. The next event is planned for 2025. 
  • SMACNA, the Mechanical Contractors Association of America and the National Electrical Contractors Association collaborated on the 2024 MEP Innovation Conference that was held Jan. 29-31 in Orlando. In a future issue, SMACNews will share more about this event, which includes more than 60 presentations and more than 100 speakers speaking to more than 600 attendees. 
  • SMACNA hired an education expert and an administrative assistant to help facilitate this group’s goals. 

Members of SMACNA's Innovation, Integration and Learning department: Travis Voss, Linda Jennings and Sushma Dhakal. 

2024 Department Goals

  • The 2024 goals for the Innovation, Integration and Learning department are robust. SMACNA members will receive the following deliverables in the next year:
  • Starting in December 2023 and continuing into 2024, SMACNA is conducting podcasts on the white papers the Contractor Operations Manual Committee developed. “There are 25 chapters of this manual just sitting there online, so we wanted to turn them into something members can listen to while driving or on their lunch breaks,” Jennings says. “To do this, we’re contacting contractors who were integral in developing these pieces and having conversations with them about the chapter topics.”
  • SMACNA will hold a Residential Peer Group Forum focusing on just this market sector. “Here, they can gather online and talk about their issues, as well as have educational presentations or bring in experts on various relevant subjects.”
  • SMACNA will represent testing and balancing contractors with a booth at the American Society for Health Care Engineering’s Health Care Facilities Innovation Conference Aug. 6-9 in San Antonio, Texas. 
  • SMACNA will represent architectural contractors with booths at the American Institute of Architects Conference June 5-8 in Washington, D.C.; the International Roofing Expo Feb. 6-8 in Las Vegas; and FABCON Oct. 16-17 in Orlando, Florida, which is for metal forming, fabricating, welding and finishing contractors.  
  • SMACNA will create a Job Fair Playbook for the residential market with a focus on how to bring in new workers. “We want to develop a marketing strategy that residential contractors can use to do things like create their own recruiting ads,” Jennings explains. “Here, we also want to help them point out the huge opportunities that exist in the residential market, such as how in some cities, large commercial buildings that are no longer being used for office spaces since the pandemic are now being converted into residential units, creating a growing market for our residential HVAC contractors.”
  • SMACNA will assist the folks at Heavy Metal Summer Camp in adding residential and testing and balancing components to their program. “Residential and TAB contractors want to have a curriculum developed for their own type of summer camp so they can bring these students into homes and light commercial projects,” Jennings says. “Students who get their hands on this kind of education can gain insight that can help them decide what they want to do after high school. This shows them there are other options beyond going to work at bigger commercial or industrial HVAC and architectural jobs. And it also helps residential contractors build relationships with these students as potential future workers.”
  • SMACNA will create a bid board for testing and balancing megaprojects. Since most test and balance companies employ roughly five to 30  TAB technicians, they can’t always fill the needs for these types of employees on megaprojects. A bid board would help them partner with others to fill needs on these very large projects, Jennings shares. 
  • SMACNA is partnering with the Mechanical Contractors Association of America and the National Electrical Contractors Association to conduct a Construction Technology Survey to find out how contractors are using technology so the associations can better understand where the industry is at, where it’s going, and how SMACNA can better facilitate up-and-coming technology as AI and robotics continue advancing. 
  • SMACNA will create a Technology Playbook on the SMACNA website where members can get insight into how to choose, purchase and implement new technology. “It will also cover areas like how to manage your data and protect your data,” Jennings says. 
  • In the education component of Jennings’s department, SMACNA is adding more business management education to create more robust offerings for members. “Places we think we can improve on include manufacturing, lean techniques, construction technology, leadership development, and marketing and communication development,” Jennings says. “We want to customize learning opportunities for contractors to enable us to provide education they are looking for so they can build their own learning pathways.”
  • In 2024, updates to the Contractor Operation Manual will include an Integrated Product Delivery section expansion; updates to Alternative Delivery Methods and Personnel, Policies and Procedures sections; and the additions of Career Path Mapping, Best Practices in Writing a Proactive RFI and Best Practices in Coordinating BIM Scheduling. 

By working together with other departments and listening to member committees, coming up with successful deliverables for SMACNA members continues to become easier, Jennings explains. 

“It’s important to realize that we have to evolve,” she says. “I don’t think our work is ever done. Success to me happens when we’ve moved in a direction where the culture of SMACNA is focused on continued innovation.”