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Legacy Not Lip Service…

The LEEA community should approach today’s challenges with the steadfastness of its founding fathers, says David Mullard, business development manager at Straightpoint.

I was honoured to be among guests as the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) celebrated 75 years at a parliamentary reception, held at the Terrace Pavilion, Houses of Parliament in mid-July.

As attendees heard, the origins of LEEA can be traced back to wartime Britain in 1944, when a small group of competing companies came together to address what they perceived as a serious threat to their livelihoods. On 3 June, nine people representing eight chain testing houses met at the Great Eastern Hotel, near Liverpool Street Station, and the idea to form an association was conceived. Several weeks later, a draft set of rules and regulations was drawn up and a decision was made that, regardless of size, all members should be considered equal, both in terms of influence and financial contribution.

We owe a lot to those founding members for encapsulating a set of core values that we still adhere to today. The reception epitomised that with individuals from all types of businesses, many of whom compete for the same customers every day of the week, coming together to celebrate an association that continues to campaign for its shared goals and combats common threats. Even in the years I’ve been around the association’s work, I’ve detected vast growth in terms of membership numbers, profile, and transformation of the Huntingdon, UK headquarters.

However, without resolute commitment, the London Chain Testers Association (the original name) wouldn’t have lasted a single year. It’s important to be mindful of that after LEEA used the event in one of the world’s most famous buildings as a launch platform for its 75th year initiatives, including the 75:75 Military Transition project; the Think Lifting schools engagement initiative; and the Apprenticeship Standard.

LEEA celebrated 75 years at a parliamentary reception at the Houses of Parliament.

LEEA celebrated 75 years at a parliamentary reception at the Houses of Parliament.

All were well pitched to attendees and designed to get wholesale buy-in. It’s notable, for example, that a great number of LEEA employees are formerly of the military, as are many representatives of member companies. I’ve lost count of connections I’ve made with lifting professionals who were once in the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), the division of the British Army that maintains the equipment it uses. Meanwhile, the Think Lifting and Apprenticeship Standard campaigns are entwined in the lifting industry’s battle against an ageing workforce.

I want to emphasise that reality.

Challenge of the century

There remains an overwhelming sense that engaging the next generation is the biggest challenge the association has had to face in its 75-year history, and one it has got to overcome long before the centenary celebrations in 2044. It is no coincidence that two of the ‘big three’ endeavours attached to the latest milestone revolve around young people (and folks leave the military still relatively youthful too). Thus, there were a number of occasions when that generation was referenced in parliamentary reception speeches, and the reaction of the room was interesting; it crackled at times, nervously.

There was forced laughter at one point when a presenter suggested that attendees exemplified an ageing workforce on the day. True enough, look over either shoulder and there were a lot of ageing, white men in the room. The industry is becoming more diverse—a number of young people and women were also in attendance—but it’s got a long way to go. I wonder if in the Great Eastern Hotel back in 1944 they stared at a precipice quite so daunting.

Another speaker tackled prejudices and stereotypes head-on. I paraphrase, but the comments were something along the lines of, we’ve all eye-rolled at the supposed shortcomings of our teenaged relatives. I detected a guilty look or two in the Terrace Pavilion, as though our own attitudes as an industry to younger people could be improved. A lot of LEEA’s initiatives are about making lifting more attractive to them, but we’ve also got to be more attracted to the assets of young professionals too. Paying lip service to this crisis won’t do. Yes, a young person would be lucky to find the lifting industry but we’d be fortunate to have them too.

I read with interest a recent article by Baz Trewhella, LEEA’s learning and development projects specialist, about establishing an apprenticeship standard for the lifting industry. As he discussed, a draft proposal to develop an occupational standard for the provisionally titled ‘Lifting Equipment Technician’ apprenticeship has now been devised, following a meeting of the Trailblazer Working Group (TWG) convened by the association. I welcomed comments that this apprenticeship will have a breadth of scope that ‘taps the shoulder’, as he put it, of the many sectors where lifting is involved. That ubiquity and diversity of lifting gear is a great selling point.

LEEA encouraged attendees to pledge their support to recently launched campaigns

LEEA encouraged attendees to pledge their support to recently launched campaigns

Building bricks

Other trades, such as brick-laying; carpentry; and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) seem to do a better job of presenting themselves to young people; yet, they’re arguably less diverse and challenging. We’ve got to make sure that we promote ourselves better by driving Think Lifting and the Apprenticeship Standard (and the 75:75 Military Transition project) but also tick the boxes other industries do in terms of pay, mentorship, training, career progression, etc.

I was encouraged by LEEA’s comments that the new apprenticeship scheme will be 95% provisioned, meaning small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can’t so readily reach for the excuse that they are unable to afford apprentices. Once an apprentice begins their time at a company, it’s then up to the employer to show the lifting industry for what it is. They can only do that by exposing them to the best parts of the industry and not limit their learning to mundane tasks. LEEA’s marketing campaigns and buzzwords, however worthy, will be futile if industry doesn’t better do its bit to present the lifting industry as a profession that reaches places other jobs cannot access.

It’s a sector that has taken me to some fascinating places over the years: shipyards, construction sites, railways, nuclear plants, dams, power plants, telecom towers, go-ape courses, wind turbine construction plants…even a tiny offshore oil platform. It’s like a VIP backstage pass where you get to see how stuff is built, maintained, upgraded, and dismantled. What other careers can the same be said about? Some jobs only expose an individual to a tiny part of a shipyard, construction site, or railway project. Grumpy cynics would point to the ‘butterfly minds’ of young people. I think a thirst for diversity and variation is only natural. And we can offer it as an industry.

It’s technologically advancing too, which is something we can better portray. Tell someone I work ‘below-the-hook’ and they might not be inspired, but explain that my company’s handheld display unit has a range of up to 700m (2,300ft.), and its software package displays and logs data from up to 100 wireless load cells simultaneously, and all of a sudden it competes with some of the most state-of-the-art markets around. Our ‘traditional’ sector is evolving too. My company’s new single capacity load cell, for example, introduces Bluetooth technology to existing and prospective customers still utilising outdated mechanical force measurement products.

Ongoing feedback suggests we’re at the dawn of the most exciting era in the lifting industry’s history. But it’s also going to be the most challenging.

Dave Mullard
Business Development Manager, Straightpoint
dmullard@straightpoint.com

David Ayling (left), aka Mr. Loadlink, was, of course, among attendees at the parliamentary reception.

David Ayling (left), aka Mr. Loadlink, was, of course, among attendees at the parliamentary reception.

Wall of shame…

Don’t expose your audiences to claptrap, warns David Mullard, as the business development manager at SP returns from KL.

Do you know the weight? What if you are wrong?

Have I got your attention?

I hope so. If not, I probably still have a better chance of getting it than if I’d have shown you a PowerPoint slide with a photo of my company’s headquarters behind an animated marketing slogan. You know the presentations I mean; the ones that go on to list the products a business provides, how many employees report for duty every day, and why it cares about its customers more than its competitors.

Wayne Wille, my counterpart in the States, always tables those hard-hitting questions at the start of his training sessions and presentations:

Do you know the weight? What if you are wrong?

It gets the room’s attention. In some cases, one can even see the delegation quizzing themselves behind widened eyes: I think we know the weight. Did we check? Who double-checked? How did we measure it? Was it recorded? What if we did get it incorrect? Is the crane we’re using of high enough capacity? What if something goes wrong? Have we done everything possible to make the application safe?

A PowerPoint presentation that resembles a catalogue is likely to come across as claptrap.

A PowerPoint presentation that resembles a catalogue is likely to come across as claptrap.

Wayne clicks through the next couple of slides. He has worked closely with a U.S.-based distributor to gather examples of damaged lifting and rigging accessories that have been inspected and removed from service. Some of the photos are jaw dropping: hooks that have opened under load; shackles that have bent; master links that have broken; lifting eyes that have sheared; etc. It often causes the audience to shift a little in their seats, as though the backs of their chairs all of a sudden become uncomfortable.

They wonder: What if this happens to us? Do we always know the weight? Are we sure?

The presentation becomes something of a Wall of Shame, where lifting and rigging flaws are exposed. It’s not an exercise in naming and shaming but more a case of revealing how common overload situations are and how easily they can be prevented by using a load cell. Further, it outlines the dire consequences if that advice isn’t followed. There’s a neat slide named “what happens if you don’t” that sums it up nicely.

That collection of worn and damaged rigging gear serves as a learning tool—they can see what went wrong elsewhere and use that to improve their own safe lifting operations and ensure they don’t feature in a future presentation! The main takeaway is an emphasis on the importance of proper inspection of lifting and rigging gear and on preventing overloads.

Wayne has perfected a powerful method of engaging people in his content and helping them to understand the importance of knowing the load. It’s true that ‘know the load’ is our recently-adopted company mantra—and we acknowledge that we’re in a commercial business—but giving that tagline substance and cause it what folks buy into, as Wayne realises.

Rising in the east

OGA attracted a quality demographic.

OGA attracted a quality demographic.

I was mindful of my colleague’s skill as a presenter when I prepared for a recent trip to Malaysia for the Asian Oil, Gas & Petrochemical Engineering Exhibition (OGA), which took place 18-20 June at the Kuala Lumpur (KL) Convention Centre. My itinerary was multifaceted in that I was to spend time on the exhibit of our new Malaysian distributor, Goforth Corporation, and deliver a number of presentations to its representatives and other delegations. An area where Wayne also excels is in tailoring his content for the audience of the day and I too was sure to pitch my messages and hone technical detail to the expertise of the listener.

It’s a widely overlooked presentation strategy, yet it’s a no-brainer. Think about it: a teacher giving a revision session to a Year 11 class about to take a GCSE exam (tests that are usually taken here in the UK by students aged 15-16, after two years of study) is going to package information differently to a peer giving an introductory lesson to a bunch of Year 7s who have just started secondary or high school. It’s the same in industry: some people need to know what a load cell is and how it works, while others already have a background knowledge akin to that of the presenter. It’s easy to lose the attention of a roomful of engineers if they feel patronised.

It takes time before a presenter is equipped to deal with all eventualities, even on their chosen specialist subject, and researching demographics in advance is advisable. I’ve spent a number of years expanding my material that I can now tweak and manipulate depending on the usual variables: number of people in the room, amount of time available, levels of expertise, grasp of English, experience with SP equipment, and so on. I always have a plan but build enough flexibility into it to react to the audience and endeavour to involve them as much as possible.

The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone who is preparing to speak to a group of people, or those embarking on a career path that might require frequent public speaking, is to work on knowledge, passion, enthusiasm, and authenticity before perfecting PowerPoint visuals or aesthetics. Of course, it helps if one is lucky or astute enough to earn a living in a field that interests or excites them, but it’s possible to be passionate about something that isn’t necessarily a life-long hobby. Absolutely, fine-tune the seminar and practice so content can be delivered to a time schedule in a digestible format, but an audience remembers most that which is put to them with fervour. I hope Goforth’s community felt I came somewhere close to achieving that.

Team Goforth seemed to enjoy my presentation at its Selangor headquarters

Team Goforth seemed to enjoy my presentation at its Selangor headquarters

University of life

Education and training is generally underrated in business. I know I reached for a school-day analogy above, but too often people think they’re free of learning once they enter the workplace. To SP, ongoing training is the cement that holds us together with Goforth and other global partners. We’re constantly sharing information about products, applications, end user markets, evolving best practices, and so on. We don’t want anyone going into the field with a flight-case full of our equipment with only a generic understanding of what each item does. It’s important that when users have questions, our distributors can answer them, at least in most cases. Wayne’s Wall of Shame proves that some marketplaces still have much to learn.

Generally, we should more readily learn from others. Wayne is just one person within and beyond SP that I admire and respect. As is evident in his presentation style, Wayne has an engaging persona and has cultivated some fabulous client relationships. Regular blogger Mr. Loadlink (aka David Ayling) is another. As I take on greater responsibility throughout my career I certainly ask myself with increasing regularity: ‘What would Dave do here?’ I admire Mr. Loadlink’s drive, energy, passion and business courage, for example. His ability to take a chance on something and then make sure it works out is inspiring. His mentorship has been priceless for me and most memorably of all it has always been fun.

Goforth’s busy OGA exhibit.

Goforth’s busy OGA exhibit.

Mr. Loadlink can even go in the opposite direction and make you feel like you’re along for the ride. On a handful of occasions he’s sought my counsel and I’ve tried to coax him down an alternative path, but he’s chosen to stick to his original idea. However, he always did so in a way that still made me feel part of the decision, not at odds with his way of thinking. I admire that, even if it does turn out to be some kind of Jedi mind trick, passed down from Obi Wan Loadlink, a distant cousin!

All that said, always be you. Regardless of what I’ve learnt from Wayne, Dave and others, I’ve only ever tried to be David Mullard. To emulate anyone too closely detracts from the personality that people want to engage with. I’ve had many forgettable encounters with individuals who were pretentious and whose personal brands were a facade. Whether you’re on a stage, on a trade show booth, conducting a site visit, or somewhere different altogether, authenticity is vitally important. A hallmark of all the successful people I know is a belief in the courage of one’s convictions, as Mr. Loadlink proves.

Who’s in your Hall of Fame?

Thank you for reading.
Dave Mullard
Business Development Manager, Straightpoint
dmullard@straightpoint.com

It’s always a good sign when people have questions after a presentation.

It’s always a good sign when people have questions after a presentation.

It was a pleasure to spend time with Goforth and its community at last month’s (June) OGA.

It was a pleasure to spend time with Goforth and its community at last month’s (June) OGA.