PHOENIX—Brian Schachner, NIBA's new president, wants to help the association stay steady on a path of growth established by prior leadership.
"My goal is mainly to maintain the direction that we're going, in this year and the last couple years," Schachner said at the 2018 NIBA Expo in Phoenix. "The leadership before me did a good job focusing on the things that are good for the industry. We're going to continue with that."
One of the biggest areas of focus, through a series of key performance indicators, is education, said Schachner, who also is president of Vaughn Belting Co. Inc. in Spartanburg, S.C., a fabricator and distributor of industrial belts.
NIBA members have been looking for education offerings with an end goal of certification. He said that certification, developed by NIBA committees, would establish trained employees as qualified with belting basics.
Beyond education, Schachner's other goal is driving membership, which is potentially related to developing NIBA's education program, he said.
"One may be able to jump-start the other," Schachner said. "If you've got robust training, you may find other companies saying that there's a value there for their company."
With both of those in place, NIBA has to lean more heavily on marketing its benefits, he said.
"If all of those others are really strong, it makes a good program," Schachner said.
Education takes top priority for Schachner because of the high number of new hires coming into the belting industry as member companies continue to grow, he said.
"We hire new people, and when they come in, we rarely have someone who knows anything about the belting business. So you've got to have a way to train them," Schachner said.
Even though it's important to bring new employees up to speed, training can be an enormous drain on resources, especially for smaller companies, he said. As the owner of a smaller company himself, Schachner said that sending away even one or two employees away for a three-day training event could account for 20 percent of his total work force. To help companies get past that hurdle, NIBA offers both onsite and online training options.
"We're hoping that between the onsite and online offerings, we're able to offer each company, depending on size, something that fits them," Schachner said. "I need to be able to take my guys and put them in a room online for an hour and get them that baseline, get the basics to them."
The ultimate goal is to develop a drive through customers to look for belting companies that are NIBA-certified, NIBA Executive Director Michael Battaglia said.
"We want the end-user to say, 'I want a company that has NIBA-certified people.' That way, it really has an impact on the industry, and companies want to be a part of our organization because that name really means something to the end-user," Battaglia said.
By starting with a belting basics course, NIBA will build a program that spans experience levels to bring something to the employee who's been on the job for two weeks and for 20 years, Battaglia said.
NIBA has always had onsite training with hands-on elements such as in its "3T: Track, Train and Troubleshoot" seminar. In that course, employees spend part of the time in the classroom as well as at a quarry to see the conveyor belts in action.
"Those have always been popular, very well-attended and well-rated," Battaglia said. "The trainers are really very good at delivering the content."
But as it develops, NIBA needs to find new ways to bring that content to member companies, especially smaller firms, he said.
"It's really figuring out ways to get it out there in a more efficient manner, update our website and make it more mobile-friendly," he said. "It's a combination of catering to the new generation, but also giving them that knowledge they need to advance in the industry."
The online content, which includes self-administered tests and a library of technical documents, needs to be more available to members, Battaglia said.
"This certification program will be a more intentional way to go in, take an hour, do a 30-minute review, then do the test. Then we'll send you an actual certificate," he said. "Versus something you're just doing on your own to train."
Building the certification program will take time and effort, Schachner said. Once a baseline training program is established, NIBA will work toward growing it into a more widespread project based on member company reception. NIBA took some inspiration from sister organizations such as NAHAD, which has certification programs driven by end-users.
"So then you have the value, where if you're a NIBA member, you've been NIBA trained through the certification process," Schachner said.
Bringing NIBA member companies on board with the baseline education meant working past some initial hesitation, especially with manufacturers who already had some advanced interior training programs, Battaglia said.
Still in the content development phase mostly by the technical committee, NIBA has outlined heavyweight and lightweight online tests that will see testing themselves, with a goal toward those tests being available by the NIBA convention next year, Battaglia said.
"Hopefully, the manufacturers will say to their people, 'Before you do our more advanced training, we need you to take these NIBA courses to get the basics down.' That will help everybody be more efficient, help everyone do their jobs better," Schachner said.
Within three years, he said he would like to see several in-depth modules, as well as a good number of certified members.
Looking toward membership, NIBA leadership is aiming for 5-10 percent growth in the past year, which comes out to about four companies, Schachner said.
"But we've changed how we try to reach potential members of a company," he said.
In the past, NIBA members would try to reach out to local potential members, or across the country. Now, NIBA management is more involved, especially with different forms of emails and "e-blasts," Schachner said.
As the market shifts, continuing to renew a full 100 percent of membership is a difficult goal, Battaglia said.
"With some of the mergers and acquisitions, last year we had about 93 percent renew," he said. "We'll think about other ways to expand our membership categories. We're always looking at ways to be inclusive, but at the same time protect that distributor/fabricator/manufacturer relationship, which is really the heart of what we're trying to do here."
Though bringing in new membership sometimes means connecting with other associations, partnering up the way NIBA did with PTDA for last year's convention might not be the best plan going forward, Battaglia said.
"It probably didn't materialize in all the ways we envisioned it would," he said. "It was an idea to connect with them because there's an overlap in membership, but we lost some of what makes the NIBA convention special, I think.
"We still have a good relationship with the PTDA. We support them, they support us. But right now, we're probably looking at NIBA-only conferences in the next three to five years."
Building marketing efforts for NIBA ties into Schachner's perspective on the overall health of the belting industry, which looks to be growing, he said. With a strong market and business-friendly environment behind them, one of the biggest challenges for companies is bringing on new quality employees. And it's NIBA's job to make certain each one of those new employees has access to the resources they need.
Another aspect of that goal is making the belting industry more appealing to a younger generation of employees, Battaglia said. The annual conference hosts a welcome party for employees under 40, and about 80 showed up this year.
Even if younger members can't always make it to the main conference, some of the information from those events will get out through news e-blasts, Schachner said.
It also comes by way of a website refresh that went live in September, making the NIBA website more mobile-friendly, behaving more like an app, Battaglia said. NIBA also is pushing its social media presence in an effort to develop younger members.
"We're definitely expanding in those areas because that's how people find associations and companies nowadays," Battaglia said.
NIBA members are feeling confident about where both the market and the association are going, Schachner said. Most of these efforts already have started moving through past leadership, and Schachner sees it as his job to help continue to guide them that way as NIBA moves toward revising its strategic plan next year.
"Everything's put in place," he said. "I want to make sure the certification process is still being guided, make sure we're having our quarterly calls, and looking at how membership's doing. There's always something going on.
"For me, we're not going to do anything that's going to be historic, but we're making sure that we're moving in the right direction."