Workforce Development

SMRP 2019 Volunteer of the Year: Creating opportunities to connect

UE Systems’ Chase Sasser on his vision for building awareness and creating high-value meetings of the maintenance minds.

By the Plant Services editors

How do you make digitization meaningful for long-tenured maintenance and reliability professionals? How do you make a 27-year-old industry association meaningful for the next generation of practitioners? These are among the questions that Chase Sasser, CMRP, is focused on in his role as chair of the Alabama chapter of the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP) and chair of SMRP’s annual U.S. Symposium. Earlier this fall, Sasser, whose day job is southeast regional manager and co-manager of the corporate implementation team at UE Systems, was named SMRP’s Volunteer of the Year for 2019. The 34-year-old Birmingham, AL resident recently spoke with Plant Services’ Thomas Wilk and Christine LaFave Grace about his goals for expanding SMRP’s reach and creating valuable connections for members.

PS: You’re one of the founders of SMRP’s Alabama chapter – can you tell us a little more about the process of getting that group off the ground and your role as chapter chair?

CS: Seven years ago, when I joined UE Systems, they kind of immediately went, “Hey, you know, this is a good group of people that you might want to interact with just to understand the whole industry of reliability and RCM (reliability-centered maintenance) and everything about what SMRP represents,” and I got lucky. Alabama didn't have an actual chapter, so roughly three years ago myself and few others – Stan Moore was very influential and Scott Beasley and a few others – we got together and created a steering committee and got the ball rolling, as they say, on getting get everything planned together. That in itself is kind of an accomplishment; it’s a challenge trying to figure out all of the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on, like creating tax IDs and all that kind of stuff. But our team came together, and assigning each person a task and in a timely fashion, we got it going pretty quickly and started our meetings.

I started out as treasurer, and as a group would rotate (roles) around. We got speakers to come in, (people such as) Doc Palmer and Ron Moore and Nancy Regan. We’ve tried to move things around and keep multiple parts of the state engaged. That was a key thing for us so that we could just get as many people who are like-minded together. Jokingly people say, “This is all about trading Rolodexes,” and once somebody told me that, it kind of started clicking, like, you know what? Yeah, that’s right, because the people in our chapter just want to get to know like-minded people at other facilities who might be doing and dealing with the same things, so that they can brainstorm together on things that they might have encountered that they need help with.

Somewhere along the line, I was approached with coming on to the symposium committee, and I got appointed to chair, and again I just tried to help steer. The SMRP staff does an excellent job – they know things that need to happen as far as getting a conference put together. The SMRP board, they wanted to take the symposium more “Out West” after It got established starting in Atlanta and then going to Memphis. So we took it out West, and that’s where the direction is currently in trying to get a bigger presence in the United States in general.

PS: Denver is next year, right? (Editors’ note: The 2020 SMRP U.S. Symposium will take place June 2–4 in Denver, CO.)

CS: Yes, we’ve got Denver coming next year, and from the buzz of the new chapter, I believe it’s the Rocky Mountain chapter, there are a lot of people already volunteering their time and (planning) tours and speakers and keynote ideas and that sort of thing. It’s really good to see people already starting to get this thing together.

If you look at the numbers of the growth, the symposium actually grew more last year than it had in any of the previous years. Getting more people in to give more good ideas to practitioners, that’s what we want. I don’t know if you all saw the panel last year that we had for workforce development – I mean, that was a hit. Larry Hoing was our moderator; he got the discussion going really quick, and it was very interactive from the crowd. And the preparation for any of that stuff – (SMRP staff members) do a great job in the behind-the-scenes work; I can’t say that enough.

PS: As chair of the U.S. symposium, what’s your vision for the event? What do you want SMRP members to take away from participating in the event?

CS: That’s a great question. One thing is just making sure everybody is able to network in an easy environment. Specifically with the symposium, we didn’t really have an exhibit area, so it’s one of those, “Hey, come learn about these things in industry without a huge presence of sales.” That’s really what we want to ensure that the members know. Granted, you can’t have it without both parties, without practitioners and industry partners, but having the experts (we’ve had) share a lot about the success that they’ve had, and also some of the pitfalls – just to give a little inspiration for everybody, that’s really my focus, to keep people engaged in the real world. We wanted to share honest scenarios and experiences so that everybody could take value away.

Interacting with the crowd, we saw a lot of first-timers, and they had no idea what SMRP was; they didn’t know it existed. That was a main thing, to really kind of integrate and make sure that everybody was able to take value away from the symposium.

PS: One of the other things we heard about at the symposium was digitization and what that really looks like in the field. I get the sense that the conversations that you’re helping foster with the symposium are resulting in a greater awareness that, yes, it’s not “one tool for one job” anymore, but for reliability’s sake, it’s “use the right tools for the right job and share what you learn.”

CS: It’s a matter of knowing what failure mode you’re looking for, and then picking appropriate technologies to complement what you’re doing so that you can get out there and not waste time, absolutely. Whatever technology you’re using, there’s usually a complementary one that can help.

PS: When you think five years out, what kind of an impact do you want to have? Do you see yourself sticking with the conference committee and continuing to foster this greater network? Or are you thinking that there might be something else you want to do?

CS: It’s strange how people sometimes talk about training and the thought process on Millennials. I’m 34; I’m a Millennial; some of these (new) practices weren’t being done when I was being raised. And it’s like seeing that gap of, OK, what needs to be done here as far as digitization, the IoT, and the push of bringing all these major technologies together to allow people to more easily see and analyze.

From my perspective, people don’t want to have to open up eight different software tools to analyze and diagnose (a problem). You want it easier, right? Everybody wants it here, now. I mean, look at my phone, I can sit here and find any answer really that we might need. Those are the kinds of things I have a pulse on that, hopefully if I am allowed to continue this opportunity with SMRP, I want to look at. I definitely don’t take this for granted. It’s definitely something special that UE Systems and my community around me allow me to do so.

PS: Were you familiar with SMRP before you join UE Systems?

CS: No, I was not, actually. You learn the acronyms for each industry, whether it’s the medical field or the maintenance and industrial field. But coming in, I had no idea.

PS: That’s great to hear that you saw a lot of first-time people at the symposium; it’s always fantastic to see newcomers at an event. For people who are your age or younger who are coming in to the industry, what do you think is important for an organization like SMRP to do to convey, “Hey, this is for you, too – it’s not just for guys who are your dad’s age to get together every six months or so”?

CS: Right. It needs to be injected at the college level. Even my daughter in second grade, they’ve got a S.T.E.A.M. class, so they’re getting kind of a little more hands-on with all the different types of things out there. But really there needs to be some sort of engagement at the college level more so with SMRP to help get awareness of, “There’s an organization out here for you to immediately get involved with that is going to pretty much have jobs available.”

And that’s the thing, there is a definite disconnect there, I know people, there are certain other key people like Adrian (Messer, of UE Systems), who works closely with Clemson; I’ve tried to work with Alabama trying to help get awareness. And obviously at University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Klaus (Blache) is doing leaps and bounds compared to a majority of other colleges, and that’s what’s gotta happen. You have to have other universities out there beating the drum. And that’s where I think SMRP could potentially have growth as far as an awareness of this job gap. That is talked about I think in every event, any chapter meeting I go to, any symposium or obviously any conference or panel discussion, there are at least two or three conversations about that at every event.