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Trade Associations

I now understand that a number of people who regularly read my blogs are also regular readers of the other bloggers on this site. One of my fellow bloggers, Steve Gill, has recently posted a couple of blogs that have clearly hit a special note with a large cross section of our industry, judging by the lengthy discussion threads that have followed and taken the discussion through several deviations from the original story but all on the same general theme. 

But a recurring theme among those posting comments is a discontentment with trade associations and accusing them all of being "unrepresentative" and "out of touch" with an industry that is struggling to move with the times with all the innovations in social media and IT office technology, along with the technological advancements of the RACHP equipment. In a ham fisted attempt to open up this theme so I could discuss the benefits of membership, I upset one of the national associations. I'd like to try and put the record straight.

Last year I was honoured to be asked by the publishers of this magazine to give the opening address and offcially open the ACR Show in Birmingham. I was given a free choice of what I wanted to make my speech about and I chose to extol the benefits of trade association membership, so I certainly can't be accused of being "anti" trade associations. But all trade associations are suffering a bit just now from this perceived lack of representation by engineers at lower than board room level generally and this concerns me, especially during this still precarious economic climate.

The strength of our industry is best made clear when the various different factions within our sector can come together and lobby together, presenting a united front. In the UK we do this regularly via the ACRIB format representing the contractors' and manufacturers' bodies as well as the IoR, Cold Storage Federation, etc. In Europe we have AREA (representing contractors), EPEE (representing manufacturers), and the EHPA (for heat pumps) as well as GCI-UICP for the other mechanical contractors. Other countries also have joint industry forums for this purpose.

These trade associations all represent their members to the best of their ability and I've been honoured and proud to take part in a number of these associations' meetings and committees over the years, and had the great pleasure to meet and get to know several well known industry people at the same time. I think these people all understand that I have a passion for this industry that drives me to get involved - probably too involved at times. But what I've noticed most is that almost all of these people are also very passionate about our industry. We don't always see eye to eye on every issue, as you'd expect, and as such not every standpoint is truly representative in the broadest terms but is more a compromised position based on a median viewpoint.

It's perfectly logical to expect members within trade associations to disagree at times, just as not everyone within a company will always agree on the right way forward. Indeed, I've found there are a great number of engineers and technicians from big companies that are strongly opposed to the new flammable, or old high pressure, refrigerants coming into common use for them in large retail applications despite their companies promoting these gases. Similarly many engineers and small contracting businesses are fully embracing the concept of additional training for alternative gases to HFCs, even in the knowledge that this will inconveniently cost them money, because they understand that this represents up-skilling - something that should never be sniffed at.

So I ask any readers of this blog or any other to go easy on the trade associations please - they are all trying to represent the best compromise positions for their members during very trying economic conditions.

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Posted by Graeme Fox 16 July 2013 10:10:00 Categories: Fox's Tales


By Graeme
16 July 2013 10:15:27
Thanks for the feedback, public and private, to this blog. Nice to see comments from my old mentor Norman - one of those well known industry faces it has been an honour to work with that I mentioned in the blog.

Jason, I agree with your observations about trade associations and their attitude towards social media. It is something that needs addressing. As I was trying to say in the blog that got me into trouble, associations can sometimes appear to be out of touch because they are publicly stating positions that don't usually reflect what everyone wants, only the majority. Social media makes it easy to say things publicly, too easy sometimes, and because you can't always get the tone across easily there is often the chance of things you say being misconstrued or misrepresented. I believe that's what happened to me. I didn't say what I've been accused of saying, yet I'm being criticised nevertheless. I hope to resolve that soon in private with the individual who has raised the complaint.

Emma, You have hit the nail on the head and your summary is certainly not over simplistic, just an astute observation.

Ian, Interesting question! I think the next few years will see significant change within the trade associations, not least of which in the way we / they interact with the social media sites and how this affects membership levels. Personally, I believe strong associations are necessary for our future strength in political negotiations - hugely important for the foreseeable future with all the changes imposed on us.

Thanks again to all for the support, public and private. Much appreciated.
16 July 2013 10:14:27
Norman, are you saying that it is the trade association's PR people at fault here and that have failed to reach a mutual point of common sense and hence they present the trade associations as not representing the industry?
By Emma Burrows
16 July 2013 10:13:27
As Norman rightly states, trade associations represent their members and in there lies the problem. It is inevitable that there will be an occasion where one someone representing the interests of contractors have a different viewpoint to someone representing a manufacturer, for example. It is not criticism of either representative but it is a fact that they don't represent the industry as a whole.
This example may be over simplistic but you surely can take my point.
Most of the time the differences are so insignificant that any misalignment of objectives is easily accepted for what it is. However, the current refrigerant debate really does expose the differences in view points mutual common sense is less easy to come by. This again, is not intended at criticism but rather an observation.
Having said that, with people like Graeme Fox doing sterling work for the trade associations and all the other good people we are sure to find a way through all this. As you say, debate between engineers may sometimes be heated but is usually healthy and agreement is reached.
Well done Graeme for a good blog and for defending trade associations.
Unless I am mistaken, I understand Steve Gill is also a strong supporter of Trade Associations having been a long term director of ACRIB and it is unfortunate that the threads in his blogs have been used for negative comments in this way. The same applies to Neil Everitt's blog as well.
By Jason
16 July 2013 10:12:27
Graeme, I am sorry that you have ended up in hot water. I was one of those guilty of expressing frustration and disappointment with trade associations in a rather clumsy way. I have nothing but admiration for the good work that you and others do and it wasn't intended as a personal attack on anyone.

I should point out that the comment's were left in the thread to Neil's blog and related news item - A Dark day for common sense - and not in one of Steve's blogs. So Norman, if you are interested in reading what was actually said, look for the comments there and not in Steve's blogs.

Trade associations tend to feel warm and fuzzy towards their industries as long as these industries toe the line by continuing to say nice things, buying their member s products, and never complaining. The minute that other areas of the industry say anything negative however, trade associations spit their dummy out. May I suggest that this is possibly not the best approach? I don't think this is the approach that you were taking by the sound of it Graeme. A trade association cannot control its industry. This is a long-term relationship, so the Trade Association shouldn t file for divorce at the first sign of possible infidelity. Indeed, the more a trade association welcomes even celebrates criticism the stronger its bonds will be with its industry.

One of features of social media is that it provides instant feedback. But are trade associations thankful for this feedback when it s tough to hear? They should be but unfortunately it appears that they are not. Feedback is what makes us better as people, as organisations, and as a society. Obviously constructive feedback is best, and social media can allow for anonymous brutal feedback sometimes. But true, honest feedback from other members of your industry should be cherished because it makes us all better. May be by expressing some gratitude to feedback instead of dismissing it with indignation our trade associations may ultimately win more friends and as such become more representative of the wider industry rather than just their members.

Welcome criticism and grow stronger; take the moral high ground, or bury your head in the sand. Trade associations need to make this choice.

Graeme, out of respect for you I will go easy of trade associations and I hope that other readers here will too. I know many people read your blogs as I do. I have been listening, and I hope you can persuade the trade associations to listen too.

Good blog and well said.

By Norman Mitchell
16 July 2013 10:11:27
I would fully endorse Graeme's points regarding the Trade Associations. I have spent many years representing, through Trade Associations, Refrigeration Contractors at UK Association level,UK Government level (DoE and DEFRA) and as UK Contractor Rep at EU DG11 and DG Environment level. Not always has there been unanimous agreement but where fellow engineers rather than PR persons debate variances, common sense usually prevailed. The whole aim of Associations is to represent the members, improve their businesses and to protect the environment by formulating, influencing and enforcing regulation or codes and standards. I may have missed Steve Gill's blogs but I note the points Graeme makes, well done
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