Cory Powers enjoys watching the roots take hold.
Powers, a 31-year-old Certified in Plumbing Design ASPE member based at the Milwaukee office of HGA, a nationwide architecture, engineering and planning firm, has been the liaison for the ASPE Young Professionals special-interest group for the past two years. And on the cusp of the 2016 ASPE Convention and Expo Oct. 28-Nov. 2 at the Phoenix Convention Center, this group — AYP for short — has come a long way since its formation four years ago, and Powers has been an integral cog in its development.
“We are pretty grassroots,” Powers states. “It was obvious that the population of our younger members was not a representation of the younger members in our industry. When you looked at the ASPE board, whether it was the Society’s board or a local chapter, it was mostly made up of individuals over the age of 40. We now have AYP liaisons on the majority of our chapter boards.”
Bill Hughes, a past president of ASPE, had the flashpoint idea to start the AYP program.
“I was sitting at home one day and the thought came into my head,” Hughes says. “Why are we trying to kill ourselves trying to figure out what young people want? Why not put someone on the board who can tell us?”
Powers quickly jumped at the opportunity to lead the program and sit at board meetings. He is grateful the AYP group has been backed by the higher-ups since the beginning.
“In any organization, if your leadership does not believe in the goal, it is not going to work,” he states. “Bill stood by the AYP group. It is a testament to him in believing in our demographic. It is where we stand today.”
Currently, there are 1,100 members that qualify to take part in AYP. There are no membership dues to participate in AYP and currently the group has 32 liaisons in place at the local chapter level. Powers is in a non-voting role at board meetings, but loves being able to have the AYP voice heard. He sees that speaking up during debates has some impact.
“Sometimes I am the voice and people might say, ‘Oh, maybe I don’t want to vote this way because our younger engineers and designers probably do not see it from that side of the fence,’” he explains. “That has been really cool.”
Pam Rosenberg is AYP’s staff liaison and is excited to get the opportunity to work on a group she relates with and shares the same vision for. Rosenberg made sure the full ASPE body knew the AYP would not be a flash-in-the-pan endeavor.
“One of the biggest challenges was getting the word out and letting the membership know this group is here to stay,” she says. “Obviously, not in a bad way, but with anything new there is some resistance and people scratch their heads.”
ASPE’s aging membership was a major factor in getting the AYP of the ground. In 2014, ASPE’s membership under the age of 35 was 18%. In 2016, it’s risen to 22%.
“It is an aging membership. In 10 years or less many of our members are going to be retiring,” Rosenberg says.
Targeting the mid- and late-20s members proved to be a test for Rosenberg and AYP. These young members are just getting their careers going and might have a tough time convincing their bosses – or themselves – to give time to AYP.
“With anything, when you start something new you have successes and failures,” she says. “You do not dwell on the failures.”
At the 2016 Expo, AYP will host one of its major networking events on Halloween night at a local Lucky Strike bowling alley. AYP members or interested parties 35 years and younger will allow for a fun, relaxing evening of mingling, talking shop and more. Rosenberg stresses the importance of the events at the major shows such as the expo, the ASPE Technical Symposium and, of course, at the local chapter level.
“These events have become highlights for the young professionals,” she says. “It is a place for them to go and feel more included. When you go somewhere you are more comfortable and the chances of you opening up are a lot greater.”
The first social event happened in 2013 and the AYPs turned the heads of the Society’s board and older membership, Rosenberg explains. They started to see that young professionals truly were involved.
“The networking started to click and relationships started to from,” Rosenberg recalls. “Members went from strangers to making sure they’d see each other at future AYP events. They started to act like they’ve been around a lot longer than they have because they got a great jump-start. They recruit each other.”
Creating new leaders
During the 2015 ASPE Technical Symposium in St. Louis, the AYP held a Leadership Academy limited to 35 attendees. It was an all-day, four-part session that covered ethics, being a young professional (where Powers presented), project management and how to maximize the benefits of their ASPE membership.
“It was great to talk about where we all were at in our careers. It was like going away to camp as a kid,” Powers says. “We came together that first day and bonded. Then the rest of week you checked in with one another and asked how it is going. It felt like we created friends for life.”
Powers and company felt the Leadership Academy was so powerful and critical for young engineers and designers that they are in the process of developing the 2017 event.
“It helps people understand what ASPE and plumbing engineering and design is,” he notes.
Powers and his team do not put a quota on how many bodies are shuffled through the doors at events. They empower the AYP chapter liaisons to know what members or potential members will respond to and show up for.
“The most successful events are the ones where education, mentoring or networking occurs,” Powers says. “I have been to AYP events where eight people show up and they were successful. My approach stems from the staffing world: Just putting bodies on a project usually does not work in the long run. We want people at our seminars and events that want to be there and are showing up to grow themselves as professionals.”
The success of AYP according to Powers comes down to a basic engineering principle, especially at the chapter level.
“It’s the first Law of Thermodynamics; energy in equals energy out,” he says. “You can tell the AYP liaisons who are putting in the most energy. They’re planning events two months in advance, the room is booked and they have educational seminars booked. They’re blasting out emails and making phone calls. They are putting energy and time into this and it generally shows with the final product.”
Making a difference
At the 2014 ASPE Conference and Expo in Chicago, Powers and AYP submitted, pushed hard and helped pass a proposed bylaw amendment. In short, the AYP proposed any volunteers wishing to serve on their local boards have the chance to do so. The AYP felt “our society is facing a major decrease in volunteers. If we don’t do anything as an active group of intellectual, compromising, compassionate people we will run the risk of failing chapters.”
Powers adds: “As an AYP group, we felt that as-written, the bylaw inhibited non-engineering members from serving on the board. If you were a manufacturers rep, and one that was an engineer in a past life that served the pumps market you could not hold one of those board positions. What was happening was presidents, vice presidents and others would have to serve over and again. They were getting burned out. Now the bylaw allows for any current member in good standing to serve on the board.”
Powers says the amendment passed “by a pretty good number,” and the AYP voice was critical at the end of the day.
“I think the youth vote (made it clear) that this isn’t business as usual,” he says. “We had a lot of young people who were there (at the vote). It was a cool feeling.”
Still more to do
Three years after its launch, Powers knows AYP has more ground to gain to solidify itself as a major player in the plumbing industry. The AYP team continues to hit the pavement to get the word out on the program. One major area is to inform upstart engineers how much instruction they can receive from AYP and ASPE.
“It’s education,” he states. “We can provide our newer members with plumbing education that is missing in most of their university coursework.”
Powers, who has two children and hopes to get involved in more project management at his firm, knows he’s closer to aging out of AYP than when the group first started. But until that time occurs, he’ll work tirelessly within the AYP to help set ASPE’s future on the right path.
“My value for the next couple years will come with mentorship for new members. I want to make sure our new members understand the value of being involved in an education-based society,” he states. “My advice to someone who is on the fence about getting involved in any society is that you really can’t afford not to. I truly believe it is critical to your development as a professional. Time is no excuse. You can sleep when you’re retired.”
This article was originally titled “Making its mark” in the October 2016 print edition of PM Engineer.