NFPA Strengthens the Fluid Power Industry
by Marc Weston
Senior Vice President/Chief Marketing Officer, Danfoss
Each June, the NFPA Board of Directors holds a strategic retreat where we talk about the many challenges facing the fluid power industry and what NFPA is and should be doing to help our members address them. It is at this meeting where we review and, if necessary, adjust what we have come to call our Strategy Agenda – the list of strategic objectives and success metrics that we must achieve if we are to make good on our mission of strengthening the fluid power industry.
At this past June’s meeting, we recognized some substantial strategic and program successes that have occurred over the past year (see below for more details). Our membership has continued to grow, but what has grown more significantly is member participation in our many activities. Our conferences, our leadership committees, our trade shows, our market information programs – participation in all of these activities is high and increasingly diverse, as we continue to see the value of bringing the entire fluid power supply chain together into one organization. Similarly, our work with a broad network of education partners continues to advance, with each year bringing a new record number of middle school, high school, technical school, and university students introduced to and educated in fluid power through our many programs and partnerships.
The Board remains committed to this agenda, defined by our five ends statements – the clear, high-level objectives that describe the major outcomes that we wish to achieve for our members and our industry:
- NFPA provides an effective forum for fluid power manufacturers, distributors and suppliers to advance their collective interests.
- NFPA provides its members with timely and accurate industry statistics and business intelligence that support improved decision-making.
- NFPA provides opportunities and resources for its members to promote the unique strengths and inherent advantages offered by modern fluid power technology.
- NFPA helps increase the number of technically trained people capable of integrating and applying fluid power, and connects them to careers in the fluid power industry.
- NFPA helps increase the number of university engineers educated in fluid power, and connects them to careers in the fluid power industry.
As the Board discussed ways to continue to advance this agenda in our 2017-18 fiscal year, during which I am honored to serve as the Chairman of the NFPA Board, our focus returned again and again to two key initiatives.
- Improving the value proposition for our distributor members.
Distributors, especially those that provide system integration, engineering or other value-added services to our customers, are an increasingly vital component of the fluid power supply chain. More than a dozen years ago, NFPA reshaped itself to better include these channel partners in the membership and activities of our association. The wisdom of that decision is more clear today than ever before, but several institutional barriers to their full integration persist. Over the course of the next year, our Board has resolved to remove those barriers, meaning that we not only will be asking more of our distributor members, but also delivering an improved value proposition to them – more programs and services tailored to their unique needs.
Our Distributor Council, ably led by Jim Kaas of Iowa Fluid Power and Jim Slone of SunSource, will be at the forefront of those changes, and both individuals have been elected to voting seats on our Board of Directors to better facilitate the necessary changes.
- Connecting our members to the new talent being generated by our workforce development strategy.
Through our many different programs and partnerships, more undergraduate and technical school students are being educated in fluid power than ever before. Based on our initial estimates of workforce need within our membership, those numbers, in fact, are approaching those that should be necessary to satisfy that need. And yet, many, if not most, of our members tell us that they still struggle to find the fluid power talent they need to keep their businesses growing. Indeed, in survey after survey, the creation of a fluid power-educated workforce still represents the biggest challenge their companies face.
We’ve already communicated that our successful financial partnership with the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP) will be coming to an end at the close of our current fiscal year. With two new federal programs launched that can provide substantial fluid power research funding to our CCEFP and other academic partners, NFPA’s attention will be turning more fully toward the continued growth of validated fluid power education programs within undergraduate engineering and technical school programs. The ongoing financial support of our members will be key to success in this area, but so will their active engagement as mentors and hiring managers.
Tackling these challenges in the year ahead will require the dedicated attention of both our Board and our professional staff. I am looking forward to a very active year as your Board Chair. Please feel free to contact me through the NFPA office if you have any questions.
Success Highlights from the 2016-17 NFPA Strategy Agenda
Each year, the NFPA Board of Directors, with the support of its President/CEO and his staff, sets a strategy agenda that includes specific objectives and program goals intended to advance key areas of strategic priority. Success highlights from the fiscal year just completed include:
- Targeted Growth: Membership grew by 1 net distributor in 2016-17. There are currently 193 manufacturers, 51 distributors, and 100 suppliers in NFPA, for a total membership of 344.
- Member Participation: As measured by our participation scoring system, participation in association activities is up across the board. For manufacturers, the scores grew from an average of 3.5 to 3.8, for distributors the scores grew from an average of 2.9 to 3.2, and for suppliers the scores grew from an average of 2.3 to 2.5.
- Leadership Engagement: The number of member companies involved in our leadership committees is also up across the board. For manufacturers, the percentage of engaged companies grew from 32% to 38%, for distributors it grew from 18% to 31%, and for suppliers it grew from 27% to 36%.
- Networking: 24% of manufacturer, 38% of distributor, and 16% of supplier members sent representatives to our 2017 Annual Conference in Hawaii. These numbers do represent slight decreases compared to our numbers at the 2016 Annual Conference in San Antonio. Meanwhile, the percentage of member companies sending representatives to at least one of our Regional Meetings increased, from 25% to 28% for manufacturers, from 22% to 28% for distributors, and from 23% to 40% for suppliers.
- Statistics Programs: Several improvement objectives were met within our portfolio of market information programs, including the collection of regional data from distributors participating in our State of the Fluid Power Industry Survey, participation growth in our new Stats Toolkit as the Stats Toolkit Excel was discontinued, and an increase in the number of large companies participating in our Customer Market Survey.
- Statistics Satisfaction: According to our latest membership satisfaction survey, overall satisfaction with our market information programs grew from 4.06 to 4.07 on a 5-point scale.
- Statistics Participation: Participation in our participation-based market information programs is also up. Average monthly participation in Confidential Shipment Statistics held steady at 94% (in dollar terms) of eligible manufacturer members, while participation in our Customer Market Survey grew from 50% to 67% (in dollar terms) of eligible manufacturing members, and average monthly participation in our State of the Fluid Power Industry Survey grew from 39% to 44% of eligible manufacturer members and from 38% to 54% of eligible distributor members.
- Statistics Conferences: Participation in our Industry and Economic Outlook Conference (IEOC) and Economic Webinars was strong. 48% of manufacturers and 60% of distributors sent at least one representative to the 2016 IEOC, and 94% of all attendees agreed the conference delivered good ROI on their post-conference evaluations. For our Economic Webinars, 42% of manufacturers and 46% of distributors participated in at least one of these programs. These percentages only count those participating when the webinars are broadcast, and does not include those who may have downloaded and watched a recorded session.
- IFPE: A very successful IFPE trade show was held in March 2017. A total of 494 exhibitors rented a total of 169,850 square feet of space, both of which are records for the show. Based on the lead retrieval data gathered from IFPE exhibitors, we know that the number of engineering decision-makers who visited IFPE booths grew from at least 1,426 to 3,735, while the number of C-level executives visiting IFPE booths decreased slightly from at least 4,890 to 4,660.
- Middle School Awareness: We established participation baselines for our Fluid Power Challenge website and Facebook community that will help us set future goals for continuing to broaden the reach of our primary outreach program to middle school students, their teachers, and their parents. Approximately 130 people are visiting our website on a monthly basis and, through their networks, posts on our Facebook page are reaching 750 others.
- Middle School Involvement: While the number of Fluid Power Action Challenge events decreased from 19 to 17 in the past year, the total number of middle school students engaged increased from 1,625 to 1,686. In addition to these students, 10 more schools (50 vs. 40) brought Fluid Power Action Challenge materials into their classrooms, introducing 1,400 more students to fluid power technology and careers. Meanwhile, the number of middle school contacts in our education partner database has grown to 227 people at 168 schools.
- High School Awareness: The number of Student Career Connection programs grew from 6 to 10 this year, providing fluid power company tours and career information to 1,540 high school students. Many of these programs were coordinated by our members in association with National Manufacturing Day.
- High School Involvement: We established a participation baseline in our first Fluid Power Robotics Challenge program. 75 scholarship applications were received, documenting the use of fluid power in the design of high school FIRST robots. In addition, the number of high school contacts in our education partner database has grown to 290 people at 128 schools.
- Tech School Education: Both the number of tech schools in our education partner database, and the number of those schools that report they are teaching fluid power to students have increased in the past year. Our database now contains 196 people at 83 schools in 28 states, and 44 of those schools in 23 states report that they are teaching fluid power to a cumulative total of 2,526 students. To help support those efforts we awarded another fluid power laboratory grant to a 2-year tech school and applied for (but were denied) federal funding to launch a series of fluid power education hubs in some of these tech schools.
- Tech School Connections: Our new Fluid Power Careers Portal launched in January 2017, providing a better opportunity to connect our members to the students being taught fluid power in 2-year tech schools. To date, only 7 students have posted their resumes, but 37 jobs have been posted and the site has been visited by more than 680 people.
- University Education: Both the number of universities in our education partner database, and the number of undergraduate students at those schools being taught fluid power have increased in the past year. Our database now contains 282 people at 63 universities in 32 states, and 17 of those universities in 15 states report that they are teaching fluid power to a cumulative total of 5,723 undergraduate students. To help support those efforts we awarded fluid power curriculum development grants to 2 universities, engaged 9 universities in our first-ever Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge program, and continued our research partnership activities with the academic faculty in the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power.
- University Connections: The number of industry members participating in our various university connection programs increased in the past year. Participation in the Fluid Power Innovation and Research Conference grew from 103 to 115 people, and participation in CCEFP industry engagement summits grew from 26 to 31 people. In our first-ever Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge program, 9 industry representatives from companies other than the host company attended and served as judges in the final competition.