Support your trade association

Membership has its priviledges.

I was privileged to be an invited guest at the FETA Lunch recently. It was an impressive gathering of almost 600 movers and shakers in the HVAC, controls and related sectors. This annual get-together is a popular event in which networking is lubricated with good food and plenty of wine.

Trade associations are sometimes viewed as a bit of an old-fashioned anomaly in our modern world of electronic communications. Who needs working groups or committees, when you can Skype or send an e-newsletter?  And to outsiders, some of these groupings do have the ring of centuries gone by - or even the slighting bizarre. The acronyms don't help: HEVAC, BRA, BCIA... To readers of MBS these are probably quite familiar, but looking from the outside in, you'd have to wonder what goes on at some of the meetings.

Yet, I say there is an important, and even growing, place for trade associations in the modern business world, particularly in technical sectors such as building services and construction. Growing legislation; greater economic pressures; internationalisation of business are all factors affecting companies in our sector today. One important role of trade associations is to help identify what's important, and ensure their members get the facts from a trusted source.

Government has sometimes been a bit sniffy about our oddly-named trade bodies. But in the end, they have seen sense. Associations provide an important single voice for a sector in which hundreds of small firms might be operating. Much easier to deal with a couple of representatives than to try to communicate with thousands of individuals. And the move to Trailblazer apprenticeships by government recognises the importance of trade associations as 'employer groups'. Who better than the Association of Ductwork Contractors and Allied Services to decide what makes a skilled ductwork installer?

What's more, many trade associations devise and run their own training courses. This helps to ensure that standards are maintained and levels of basic knowledge are agreed upon. There is enormous value in good quality training that is devised this way because it reflects the reality of an industry but without bias towards a particular company or brand.

Trade associations also have the clout to send representatives to other organisations in Europe, where much of the legislation that's impacting on business here is made. On more than one occasion, the presence of a UK trade association rep has brought a sanity check to some of the wilder EU proposals that would impact on the building services sector here.

For those of you whose businesses are members of a trade association, I say make sure you're playing your part. I know from experience that the value of membership of these groupings is in getting fully involved. Make your contributions to guidance documents; enter the Association awards and go to meetings - there is a lot to be said for making contacts the old fashioned way.

Association involvement is a highly cost-effective way of ensuring your business is always on top of the latest legislation, news and technology. Support your trade association, because it's supporting you. 

Karen Fletcher is Director of Keystone Communications. 

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