As we enter into another new year, it is not hard to just take a moment to reflect back on 2017. I think we can all look back at ‘17 and agree it was a pretty good year. The economy around the country was all-in-all robust. Most of us had a year of growth with some saying it was the best year they have ever experienced as a company. Both volumes and profits were solid. As the year wound down and the holiday season has come and gone, we find ourselves jumping full speed ahead into 2018. For me, the years are just coming and going far too fast.
Most economic leaders around the country agree that 2018 looks like it could be another very busy year. Those in the manufacturing/supply side of our industry seem to think the first half of the year could be very busy, with the second half of the year being stable. Most of the contractor friends I have around the country say both current workloads and backlogs appear to be very strong. Of course there are pockets around the country that may be busier than others, but, in general, there is a feeling of excitement going into this next year.
The New Year also brings new challenges. Many states will usher in new regulations and laws. Some will have a profound impact on how we do business. We here in California are about experience one of those “profound impact” regulations. We are going through the implementation of “sprinkler fitter certification.” There are a few states around the country that already have fitter certification or fitter licensing in place.
For the 2,000-plus licensed California fire sprinkler contractors, fitter certification is new, and that will change how some do business. The reaction, as most would expect, is all over the board. Some contractors view it as a cumbersome over regulation by the state, for some, it is wait-and-see, and others believe it will clean up the trade. California’s version of certification will include mandatory apprenticeship training for all future field personnel. For California AFSA members, our apprenticeship program has both state and federal approval. Many of us have been involved in apprenticeship training for years, so fitter certification will not have much of an impact or be too much of a burden.
For years, merit-shop contractors have debated apprenticeship training versus training exclusively through field work experience. Looking back and talking with some of the original founders of AFSA, one of the founding principles of AFSA was to develop an apprenticeship program. From inception through years of rewrites and code updates to today, AFSA’s Fire Sprinkler Fitter Apprenticeship Training program has moved to the forefront of apprenticeship training within our industry. For merit-shop contractors in California, AFSA’s program has become a pillar for survival. Without having the ability to train, we would not be able to develop a growing workforce for the future. Thus, the business model of the merit-shop contractor would have a near-impossible task of staying in business. That is a pretty profound thought!
January brings our first quarterly meeting for the AFSA Board of Directors. Our commitment to our members is to continue to create and expand on member services. We look forward to an exciting 2018!
Wayne Weisz is Chairman of the Board of Directors for the American Fire Sprinkler Association.