Why local participation is declining
The basis for my thinking comes from the fact that my local American Industrial Hygiene Association section is having a hard time getting people to attend meetings. They are even having a hard time getting people to volunteer to become officers of the local section. From my perspective, low turnout at local meetings is a growing problem for many AIHA local sections.
We're now "recycling" officers from years ago and have teamed up with the local safety society (ASSE) and hazardous materials group (CHMM) to hold joint meetings so that we can fill more than one dinner table at a restaurant.
This lack of local participation is ironic and puzzling. Years ago I helped form our local AIHA section and served as its first president. I also helped form the CHMM group for our area and was this group's first managing director. So it's from this viewpoint that I make the following comments.
Back when local groups were being formed, there were very few people who could be called professionals in these areas. Most of us were just beginning our careers. Only a few people held degrees or certifications in the field. We were a strange lot when we came together. We held a mixed bag of educational and work backgrounds, but there was a common bond. We wanted to know more about industrial hygiene and hazardous materials.
In the early days we had large turnouts at local meetings. We'd get more people at one dinner meeting then than the local AIHA section can turn out in almost a year of meetings now. The irony is that our local professional community is now much larger. But members just don't seem interested in bending ears and rubbing elbows with their peers at local meetings anymore.
Why the disinterest?It's important to note that current leadership is not at fault for poor turnout at local meetings. The main reasons given for not coming to meetings are: "I'm too busy" and "The meeting topic doesn't interest me." It seems many of us (including me) have used these excuses quite often.
Look at the "too busy" excuse. We're all very busy now. Our jobs are expanded and more is demanded of us at work. But were our jobs really that much easier years ago? I don't think so.
What about our personal life? Attending a local meeting, especially at night after work, does require a sacrifice from family and personal interests. But this sacrifice is nothing new. What's different now? Are younger members, those who are the most likely not to show up at local section meetings, less ambitious about their career and more concerned with personal interests? Perhaps. But this may also be a general mood in society.
More than being too busy, the "meeting topic doesn't interest me" excuse might have valid points. We are now better trained. We know more. Additionally, a wider range of information is available to industrial hygienists today than years ago. An important reason for attending local meetings years ago was to get to know the people who could help answer your questions. The amount of information we can get from the computer alone amazes me.
So given better training and more and better access to information, especially from computers, technical topics covered at local section meetings may be of little interest to many members now.
Participation is importantI'm a strong believer that local section participation, especially for people new to the field, is very important and valuable. Here are just a few reasons:
1. Being busy is one thing, setting priorities is another. Your career should be a top priority. To understand your career and succeed at it might require more than a typical eight-hour day. Local participation should not be viewed as working overtime.
2. The best peer-support comes from one-on-one interactions in face-to-face meetings. You lose something in peer communications if it's only done by letter, phone, fax or modem.
3. A very good way to learn leadership is by being an officer in a local section. Employers look to hire and promote people with leadership experience.
4. Friends are usually found among people with common interests. Local sections bring people with common interests together.
5. A computer holds a wealth of information. But remember, people feed computers information. Sometimes questions can only be answered by your peers at local section meetings.
6. If you're looking for a new job or how to advance in your current position, you can obtain lots of good ideas at local section meetings.
Perhaps the best reason for getting and staying active in local sections is to give something back to your profession. Many IHs are thinking globally these days. By participating locally too, we can help make the entire professional community better.