SMRP goes (back) to Washington

Annual outreach trip includes meeting with the White House Education Advisory Team, congressional leaders.

By Thomas Wilk, editor-in-chief

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In February, the Society for Maintenance & Reliability Professionals (SMRP) held its fourth annual Capitol Hill fly-in, drawing national leaders in maintenance, reliability, and physical asset management to Washington, DC. SMRP Executive Director Erin Erickson spoke with Plant Services recently about her impressions as a member of the 2018 fly-in team.

PS: What goals did SMRP have in mind heading into this year’s meetings, and do you think you achieved them?

EE: SMRP views the fly-in as an opportunity to promote the organization and our members as subject-matter experts who are willing to serve as a resource for any bills or legislation that are coming out. We typically advocate for our four key priorities: workplace safety, cybersecurity and critical infrastructure, (the) smart grid, and workforce development. The fly-in lasts a day, and it’s a pretty organized format. We do the legislative meeting over the course of about seven hours. Everyone participating does an intro meeting in the morning and then we leave for the Hill. This year we met with over 11 offices within the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and we stayed an extra day and met with the White House Education Advisory Team.

SMRP participated in a Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus briefing that provided insight into the skills gap issue taking place within the maintenance and reliability profession. It was, by far, the most successful fly-in to date.

PS: What were your impressions of the CTE briefing? How did it go, and what was the format?

EE: The CTE briefing was successful. I represented SMRP on the panel. It was a coordinated effort with the National Skills Coalition, Advance CTE, the American Institute of Research, and NACE International. In addition to NACE International, SMRP provided more of the industry representation, whereas National Skills Coalition and Advance CTE were speaking more from the federal and state policy side of things.
The interaction between panelists became pretty collaborative. We had about 50 people present. The briefing focused on the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act. It was an opportunity for SMRP to advocate for the importance of workforce development and share SMRP member success stories.

I incorporated examples of SMRP’s executive member companies that are working with trade schools and community colleges at the local level to develop apprenticeship programs. Nissan North America, for instance, partners with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology and has developed a successful apprenticeship program. I also shared the success Wells Enterprises has experienced, along with four other businesses in Iowa. Together, they are partnering with Northwest Iowa Community College and building a curriculum around industrial maintenance topics.

Several individuals who have completed a CTE program and are earning higher salaries now as a result shared their personal success stories. We also talked quite a bit about how to generate interest at the high school level and how some of these manufacturing companies can partner with high school curriculum contacts to spread awareness.

PS: Did you note any specific Congressional leaders who were drawn into the conversation, or was it more of an across-the-board opportunity for those leaders present to ask you their own questions?

EE: Rep. Cheri Bustos from Illinois and Rep. Brian Babin from Texas were gracious and hosted the CTE briefing for us. Unfortunately, they couldn’t attend due to their voting schedule; however, representatives from their offices were there. As far as the fly-in, congressional and senate meetings are determined based on who resides in those particular states. Generally, there is a volunteer present who can help lead the conversation and answer questions. And because SMRP does have working groups that focus on the priorities being discussed, they’re passionate about these issues.

PS: Did you get a sense there was a receptive interest on the part of the congressional leaders in talking about the Perkins reauthorization bill?

EE: Yes. In fact, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois recently wrote an article for the Jan.-Feb. 2018 issue of SMRP’s Solutions magazine that focuses on the Perkins reauthorization bill. It was the reauthorization of the bill that he, along with another congressman, developed. The bill was passed unanimously by the House. Right now, it is held up in the Senate HELP Committee.

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