There are numerous benefits that come with professional associations and recognitions.
By Ed Butts, PE, CPI
Membership in various organizations was a crucial aspect and automatically assumed for building and advancing a professional career 30 years ago. The memberships opened up opportunities for networking, professional development, social friendships, and as a way of giving something back that simply wasn’t available from other sources.
This is rapidly changing in the age of social media where contact with a world of peers is only a quick email away. This has caused some people to believe that membership, participation, and time commitment in water well or water supply organizations, societies, and associations is not important for personal career advancement or increasing their knowledge base.
To that I say I must respectfully disagree.
This month, we will examine the various types of industry-related associations available to those who work in the water well and water supply industries; the reasons why I feel the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages; and how we can each immeasurably benefit by not just joining but participating in one or more of these groups.
Professional and Technical Group Membership
Throughout my career I have been privileged to be a member of several associations and regulatory, advisory, professional, and technical boards.
I was an active member in many of these groups, kept up my membership to obtain needed continuing education units (CEUs) in a specific field with a few of them, and even served as a state officer or on the board of directors with a few more.
While my participation with the National Ground Water Association has largely been limited to 20 years of writing for Water Well Journal and giving occasional presentations at national or regional conferences, my involvement has still been an important part of my career satisfaction.
I have always endeavored to mix up my participation across all segments of my profession.
For example, I served as state president for the Professional Engineers of Oregon (PEO) in 1996-97. I was on the Board of Directors of the Oregon Association of Water Utilities (OAWU) for more than 20 years, and was on the National Board of Trustees for the American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEES) for eight years.
I also served an eight-year stint on the Oregon State Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying (OSBEELS), a regulatory organization, while serving for 23 years on Oregon’s Drinking Water Advisory Committee (DWAC), and two years on the Oregon Ground Water Advisory Committee (GWAC).
Even in today’s hyper-connected and diverse global society, I recognize the following seven benefits of membership organizations for professionals:
1. Demonstrating professionalism and pride
This might be the most cynical of reasons to join, but there’s no doubt that membership in a respected organization is seen as a plus by most prospective employers and many customers. An employee’s continuing association with a group sends the message that you are serious about your profession and are willing to show pride by putting your money where your mouth is.
2. Continuing education
A membership organization typically offers professional development events such as seminars, courses, workshops, and webinars, and often publishes a monthly or quarterly periodical—all of which are designed to increase the knowledge base of its members and raise awareness of important issues facing its target audience.
3. Offering personal perks
Often, an organization’s offerings are limited to its members only or members are offered a substantial discount. A prime example is NGWA’s annual Groundwater Week conference, for which registration is offered to members at a $150 discount over nonmembers—covering much of the typical cost of yearly membership. Another example are NGWA’s research studies and books, most offered to members at a 25% discount or even provided at no cost to members.
4. Networking opportunities
Social media has now provided new methods of professional networking, but the real power of membership in an organization lies in the opportunities it affords for local networking and personal interaction.
Although some individuals may follow hundreds of people around the world online, attending local events sponsored by local organizations allows the opportunity to meet and get to know many knowledgeable people from their own state or region who may offer valuable advice, but whom you wouldn’t have met without membership.
5. Increasing personal profiles through exposure
A famous expression is “You have to be there to be seen.” It’s true. Membership in an organization often provides a way for you to gain exposure to the profession. You can get the exposure by presenting at an event, writing an article in a magazine or journal, or by simply attending and participating in state, regional, or national conferences and meetings. While any of these are an admirable thing to do, all are win-win transactions as they increase your exposure, which in turn raises your profile in the professional or technical community.
6. Increasing personal and company recognition and reputation
Membership organizations usually sponsor industry awards. These awards are important because they shine a light on and recognize achievements for outstanding work done by companies or individuals who should be showcased—but who otherwise might have remained anonymous.
7. Supporting trade protection and continuing interests
Many members of professional or technical organizations fail to realize their dues go much further than just simply supporting the organization or receiving the monthly magazine.
Members’ dues are also used to retain lobbyists and others needed to track, influence, or support valuable legislation or refute unneeded or damaging legislation or rules that may impact your ability to continue working in your chosen field. Many potentially dangerous or burdensome laws and regulations would easily pass without notice—if it wasn’t for these additional efforts your dues help pay for.
Benefits to Your Career
Many industries have professional and technical associations that are managed by individuals who are actively engaged in that field. The water well and pump industry is certainly one example of this with NGWA.
NGWA’s personnel typically schedule meetings and trade shows, develop standards, and produce publications like Water Well Journal. These are excellent sources of information about current and future trends and pending regulations relating to your chosen career.
You’ll develop a great network of people by becoming active in various business and social organizations while enhancing your professional reputation, increasing your knowledge base, and gaining potential for future successes and opportunities.
Consider becoming a member of organizations that directly relate to your position. You can begin by attending meetings, then volunteering to work on a committee or even possibly chair one. This opens up opportunities where you can demonstrate your initiative, cooperative spirit, and leadership qualities and potential.
Once you’ve become involved, you can add these efforts to your resume. You’ll also develop a set of new contacts who will remember your hard work and dedication to your profession. Remember too that your efforts will also rub off on those with whom you associate.
Social media vehicles are also an effective way to stay connected and at the same time grow your professional image. Become knowledgeable about the industry’s best practices on Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and other related online tools. With live streaming having become so prominent, it’s easier than ever to participate with various organizations.
But take note, always be aware of what you post and say online and how it can be perceived. Make sure you always remain professional!
Being a member of a professional or technical organization is also very beneficial to a young person just starting out in the groundwater industry. It allows them to have immediate access to a broad range of benefits. One of the best is networking with seasoned professionals where you can pick up tips on techniques that will be a big help to you in your daily efforts and learn new ways of performing well drilling or pump installations.
Serving on Regulatory and Advisory Boards
Unlike voluntary membership in a professional and technical association—appointment to and participation on regulatory or advisory boards or commissions is generally reserved to seasoned individuals and are conducted using a formal submission, interview, and selection process.
Given the nature and responsibility of regulatory oversight, plus preparing and implementing rules and regulations, appointment to a regulatory or advisory board is generally performed by the state’s governor, agency head, or advisory committee chairperson. More than personal commitment to being a member of a regular association, serving on regulatory or advisory boards requires more time and involvement and industry scrutiny in often contentious issues.
In addition, participation on one of these governmental boards usually requires more time and effort to become acquainted with current statutes and rules, reviewing pending legislation, understanding the applicable issues, and attending monthly or quarterly meetings.
Although the responsibility is greater, the rewards are generally returned many times over in greater personal recognition and enhanced reputation, personal satisfaction, and the opportunity to shape or change the rules and regulations that many of us regularly complain about or may feel are needed.
Pursuing Professional Certifications, the Employee’s Perspective
Although most employees pursue state licensing to enable them to legally work in their chosen profession, there are many other valid reasons employees may pursue professional certifications.
Earning a certification or professional designation validates the individual’s high level of expertise and often leads to added prestige, not to mention the fact that a professional certification may also yield an increase in pay and generally puts them a notch above their peers.
NGWA certification as a certified well driller or pump installer are two ways to enhance a water well industry employee’s image. In fact, the first professional designation I ever received, while still in my teens during the 1970s, was the Certified Pump Installer (CPI) designation I continue to use today. This has and continues to reflect my pride as a member of the water well industry brethren.
Pursuing Professional Certifications, the Employer’s Perspective
However, as valuable as certification may be to the employee, a legitimate question is do any benefits exist for the business? Yes, there certainly are. There are four basic reasons where encouraging employees to seek and earn a professional certification can be advantageous for the business itself:
1. Leads to happier employees who will usually remain longer
Encouraging and assisting the team in obtaining industry designations shows them you share in their desire to be the best they can be. People are happiest working for companies that are fully invested in their professional development and future, and committed to helping them take the next steps in their career path.
Employees will also feel more recognized, emboldened, and valued by the company and their employer. This sense of value and increased worth can go a long way in prompting them to want to stay with the firm, which reduces one of a business’ biggest headaches and highest expenses: staff turnover.
2. Encourages an employee’s greater peace of mind
Certified employees learn from their training the importance of recognizing and adhering to certain professional standards. Thus, employers can more easily and confidently rely on their team’s ability to meet the industry and company’s benchmarks of productivity and produce work of a higher and more consistent quality.
That peace of mind is certainly worth investing the firm’s resources of time and money. Employers who promote professional development can generally get the most from their staff members as well as a greater chance of holding on to them.
3. Provides customers with greater confidence and assurance in the business
Encouraging employees to earn a professional certification will suggest to customers that the company holds its staff to the highest professional standards and will take good care of them. Customers will feel safer and more secure knowing their work is in well-trained and professional hands.
4. Boosts productivity
Studies by a variety of organizations have shown that employees holding a professional certification or designation are often more productive. That’s because certifications prepare workers to use their training and knowledge to effectively deal with the day-to-day challenges of routine or difficult projects.
Certified employees often work more efficiently and effectively than their uncertified colleagues and their presence and leadership skills can even help improve the productivity of projects and co-workers. All to the company’s benefit.
A Few Caveats
Finally, even with all the advantages of professional or technical membership in an association or society or certification—there are prudent warnings you should also be aware of.
Although memberships can greatly enhance your connections, knowledge, and personal exposure, be careful you don’t let association memberships and attendance or efforts toward certification take more time than you can afford, either professionally or personally.
Typically, the rewards of participation should be enough to warrant your continued attendance. If you find it’s causing a problem, though, reevaluate your membership or certification goals or priorities and select those which provide you with the most benefit.
Remember that you must always manage your time in a way that enhances your productivity and leadership skills, but not as a replacement for your other priorities. Never allow external commitments to control your schedule to the detriment of your career or family life.
Until next month, as always, work safe and smart.
Ed Butts, PE, CPI, is the chief engineer at 4B Engineering & Consulting, Salem, Oregon. He has more than 40 years of experience in the water well business, specializing in engineering and business management. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.