On this page, you will see a picture of myself from back in 1990 when we had just celebrated our ninth year as an association. Hard to believe I look exactly the same today as I did back then (just kidding), but what I have lost since then I have made up in years of experience and wisdom. I hope. What struck me about the early days of our group was the energy and vision that each of our Directors brought to our organization. If you were on the Board back then, everything was your responsibility. If you suggested a project, well, it was your duty to carry it out. For those of you who run your own small business, I am sure you know that feeling well. But we were all united by the same vision that we have today: each of us becomes better at what we do because we are always seeking out opportunities for top-notch training and education.
Today, I am glad to report that our organization has grown because of the dedicated staff we have hired who carry out our Board’s mission each day. Their dedication to each of you and your development knows no bounds. It is a self-fulfilling cycle: a talented staff creates a stellar experience for members; therefore, more members join, stay, and tell more people about the experience. I want to thank all of you for taking the time to be a member of this organization and to recognize your dedication to improving yourself through our training.
What I have also noticed over the years is how much our industry has changed: I have watched manufacturers and firms consolidate into larger entities. More people are trying to enter our industry, and some feel as though they can become contractors on Day 1. I do not want to tamp down anyone’s enthusiasm, but it is often said that it takes around 10 years of hard work to become an overnight success. That is why we provide training and education beyond installation and design, but to help people understand the numbers behind their businesses. Too often, people go into business for themselves just to earn daily wages. I hope that if you want to pursue that path that you will take advantage of the educational programs we offer, especially at our annual conventions.
I have watched our industry change from a legislative standpoint, too. It used to be that fire suppression systems were not required in many buildings. You can walk into any structure that has been grandfathered into existing codes, look up, and see nothing. Now, it seems as though new residential and commercial units alike all are required to have fire suppression systems. This bodes well for us as an industry, and it is something to keep in mind when construction starts to slow, and you start to worry about when the next job will come. There will always be work, and the people who perform the best will be the ones first in line for it.
As much as I want to keep talking about the past of our organization, I want to take this moment to talk about our future. The only way that we will sustain our membership is by getting more young people to enter our trade. It has been hard this past year to get into the schools to talk to students about their future. But my challenge to you is to reach out to the young people you know and talk to them about their future. Show them what they can attain at a fraction of the cost of a college degree. More than that, consider offering internships and apprenticeships to give people an entry point to see what we do each day. Once someone stands back after a day’s work and looks at what they created—a structure that will save lives—they will have that sense of pride that we all take in our work.
John Maxwell, the author and leadership expert, said, “Growth inside fuels growth outside.” Our association was founded on the belief that training is what our members need to grow, and it has been the bedrock vision ever since our inception. I hope that you will continue to fuel your internal growth with our training and education so that you grow personally and in your business. It is a privilege to serve you, our members, and may the next 40 years be as successful as our first 40.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ted Wills is chair of the Board of Directors for the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA).