In March, members of the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals (SMRP) convened on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, to meet with Congressional leaders on the barriers to and opportunities for strengthening the American manufacturing industry and workforce. During the visit, three groups of SMRP members met with 19 U.S. senators and representatives and their staff in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, the House Committee on Homeland Security, and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, among others.
SMRP Chair Larry Hoing, CMRP, CMRT, and senior manager of asset care at Wells Enterprises Inc., spoke with Plant Services about his impressions as a member of this year’s fly-in team and about SMRP’s goals for its next visit in 2018.
PS: How did this trip get organized?
LH: This is our third year (of doing a governmental trip). We started this back in 2015, and really it came from some different interests within the SMRP organization to be involved because we knew there were a lot of different moving parts that affected the maintenance and reliability community. Howard Penrose is one of the initial people that got involved, and then through the Kellen staff who helps out on SMRP, some interest was developed there.
In 2015 we had our initial fly-in, really just simply to introduce SMRP to people on the Hill. Quite honestly, you can’t get anything done unless you have a recognized name, so we went there just to introduce ourselves and say: “Hey, here we are. This is our organization. This is what we’re about.” And the message that first year was, “How can we help?” Not “How can you help us?” – it’s how can we help you.
We were received with pretty well open arms in just about every office that we went into with bright shining faces, because we weren’t asking for something. We were actually offering something up, and that offering was the expertise of our members: “How can we help you make good legislation by having people with good expertise talk with you, and help you understand what’s going on in the ground floor of things?”
PS: What are the four SMRP outreach focus groups that are being formed, in anticipation of outreach work?
LH: The four SMRP outreach focus groups will follow the same policy areas that SMRP highlights in its government relations program. These groups will focus on workforce development, workplace safety, critical infrastructure, and cybersecurity. They will be made up of five to 10 SMRP members who will determine the strategy and specific initiatives that each group will pursue.
PS: Given the different interests of the various groups that SMRP met with, did the team have different goals when meeting with each committee, or was it a consistent message of workforce development?
LH: Yes, it was fairly consistent with what we’ve had in the past, but with a little bit more heavier interest. For instance, if we talk about workforce development, the Perkins Act went up and passed in the House but didn’t make it in the Senate, so there it sits. Last year, we wrote an op-ed (http://plnt.sv/1705-SMRP), got on the Hill, tried to persuade people. We want to keep pressure on and let them know that this is a big deal to industry in the United States.
A lot of our members talk to us about this great wave that’s taking place with the baby boomers that has started to hit. And what happens is, we don’t have the pipeline built in America anymore for kids to learn in junior high school, you know, shop, bend metal, cut wood, you know, work with their hands and understand some of the physical sciences. They don’t have that anymore.
When they come out of high school, everybody thinks they need to get a white-collar job and a four-year degree, so that pipeline is empty. With this great wave happening, all that knowledge leaving our manufacturing floor, there is nothing to replace it with. Companies are spending a great deal of money to train people when they get there, and if you think about that from an economics perspective, then the price of your car (in my case, your ice cream cone), the price of anything that you have manufactured in the United States goes up because the companies are footing that bill, because people are not coming in with the technical skills that we need to replace (due to) the great wave that’s leaving.
That’s one small aspect of workforce development: How can legislators help us create the right behaviors in school districts, in colleges, in community colleges so that we build that workforce back up so that we don’t lose our tax base? Basically, you know, manufacturing is a big part of the tax base here in the States, and we can’t survive on a service economy.