For years, professional associations, such as ISA, WBF and lots of other professional, scientific and technical associations, have been intimately concerned with serving their members. Anybody who is a member deserves to be served, and those who aren’t willing to join should be cast out into the outer darkness, where there is weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Well, as anybody who’s been paying attention knows, there are lots of automation professionals who aren’t joining ISA or WBF and don’t really feel like they are in the outer darkness, and probably would need a complete remedial education on gnashing, should they actually care to do it.
ISA and WBF have awakened to the fact that they could both do their jobs just as well without any members at all! Now this isn’t a call for everybody to turn in their membership cards, or for ISA or WBF to change their bylaws and IRS charters. What I am saying is that “membership” needs to be redefined.
ISA’s Executive Director, Pat Gouhin, 2007 ISA President Steve Huffman, Chuck Micallef from WBF and I had dinner the other night, and we talked about this. Organizations that only serve declining memberships are missing the point. The number of automation professionals isn’t declining; it is the number of them who feel the need to be included in these organizations that’s declining, leaving the question, what should the purpose of these organizations be if not just serving their memberships.
Organizations like ISA, WBF and, for that matter, Control magazine, exist only so far as they provide value. While we provide value to our members, attendees and readers, we need to remember that we also have a responsibility to provide value to all the people who work in automation in the process industries and in all of manufacturing.
How do we do that? Especially in an era when non-joining has become almost a fetish, you can’t just “build it and they will come.”
As the politician said, the best place to be is at the head of the parade. It is a leap of faith that if we just step off smartly, there will be a parade, but if we don’t do it, who will?
Think of the organizations as the leaders of the parade, the members as marchers and the rest of the profession as the cheering throng along the parade route. All are essential to having a parade. All are essential to the wellbeing of the automation profession.
ISA, WBF, Control magazine and the other organizations out there can act as public advocates for issues pertaining to automation professionals. Simply put, we can speak for the automation professionals, whether they are members or not, or whether they read us or not. ISA and the Automation Federation, of which WBF is a part, have an obligation to do this, because as membership declines, the need for someone to speak for automation professionals increases.
Somebody needs to go to government and advocate for automation professionals. Somebody needs to go to industry around the world and explain what automation professionals do, and why they are valuable to every corporation. Somebody needs to provide training and certification, so that automation professionals everywhere are held to the same high standards of education, training and experience.
Somebody has to lead and take one for the team. If not us, who?