Get the most out of industry events by bringing a coworker

Industry and educational events aren't always the best use of your time, but if you bring a coworker, you can get the most out it, says Editor in Chief Paul Studebaker in his latest column.

By Paul Studebaker, Edior in Chief

You and I probably are in similar straits when it comes to attending industry and educational events. I’d like to have myself or another editor at each and every one, but we’re not staffed to handle that much absence. We have real work to do every day against deadlines that arrive without regard to whether or not we’re in the office. Being gone weekdays means working weekends. Travel expenses come out of our budget, leaving less for freelance writing and artwork so we must do more staff writing and manage more carefully.

And not every event ends up being worth the time and expense. You often feel that you might have learned something, and you even may have gotten all fired up about making changes while you were at the event, but once you’re back on the job it’s business as usual and nothing changes. Your management and coworkers are unenlightened, your resources have the same old limits, and the crush of work drags you down.

It doesn’t have to be that way. One key is to be sure the conference or seminar is going to teach you something you really need to learn. The other is to learn it with one or two other key people in your organization.

There are many choices, but I can guarantee you from experience your time won’t be wasted at any of the conferences run by the Society of Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP,, Noria ( or ReliabilityWeb ( You can see for yourself if the subject matter is on target and the presenters know their stuff by looking at the agendas, speakers and vendor participants on their Web sites.

I’d like to have myself or another editor at each and every one, but we’re not staffed to handle that much absence.

We are constantly concerned about staying abreast of best practices, implementing culture change and transferring knowledge to a new generation so it can run our plants even better than we have. These conferences are studded with wise, gnarly recent retirees, the savviest working professionals and consultants who would be publicly stoned by their former customers if they hadn’t delivered the goods.

You can’t find a better way to learn.

But each of these conferences has been attracting only about 800 people, many of whom are coming back on at least an annual basis. This magazine is delivered to 105,000 professionals involved with industrial maintenance and asset management — managers, engineers, supervisors and technicians who work in important facilities, influence purchases of our advertisers’ products, and say they want it. It’s clear that a few of you are gaining a terrific competitive edge, but too many risk falling too far behind.   

Once you’ve identified a conference you’re sure will do you good, the other key is to bring along at least one “significant other,” and in this case it means your boss, one or more of your reports, a fellow engineer or an influential person you interact with in another department, such as IT or production. It’s great to bring a friend so you can give each other moral support during and after the conference, but it’s better if exposing that person to the truths about maintenance will smooth the road for changes once you return.

In truth, we do little to change ourselves, especially when it means giving ourselves more work.

Conferences inform us, fire us up and help us be prepared for and understand the needs for change, but change mainly comes from outside influences. You need a fellow manager, engineer or your boss to be on the same page and pushing you along. So bring them.

And if you’re a plant or production manager, IT professional, engineering manager or other influential person who cares about your facility’s financial results but hasn’t understood the need or found the time to dig into the art and science of industrial maintenance, you’re probably leaving a lot of money on the table. Grab your maintenance manager and go.