As I write this, I’m preparing to head to San Antonio for the 2016 Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors CONNECT 2016 annual conference.

It’s the first event I’m covering in my new role as chief editor of Plumbing & Mechanical, but it’s not the first time I’ve been to a CONNECT conference. Last year, I attended and presented The Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration News’ 2015 Best Instructor and Best Trainer awards, which the magazine had partnered with PHCC to produce.

Between events, I wandered the tradeshow floor, sat through presentations, peeked into training seminars, and watched young HVAC and plumbing technicians put their skills to the test in the apprentice skills competition. I was struck by attendees’ overall eagerness to be there, pay attention, learn, and share ideas. Nobody was “the competition” there; the free exchange of ideas and information was refreshing to witness.

Of course, this isn’t the only industry event that facilitates networking. Many organizations frequently host meetings for members to swap ideas on everything from business management to marketing to training — and more. Meanwhile, other national events, including the inaugural Service World Expo held this October in Las Vegas, bring contractors’ questions and concerns to the center stage.

There’s a reason these events are popular, and there’s a reason they keep growing each year. Smart business owners and managers recognize that nobody can live in a vacuum — that nobody can do this on their own. Organizations like PHCC exist to, among their other important functions, connect business owners with the goal of helping their businesses succeed. Heck, it’s even in the name of PHCC’s conference — CONNECT.

“But I don’t have the time/resources to travel across the country right now,” you may say. That’s totally understandable. If you don’t have the ability to physically attend these faraway industry events, there are certainly other options available.

Industry organizations and service groups often hold regional events within a few hours’ drive that don’t require a significant monetary or time commitment. When I worked for The Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration News, we’d attend several of these regional events every year — from local ACCA chapter meetings to UA events and more.

Online training is another option that is becoming increasingly popular. From technical training to business management courses and beyond, there are numerous organizations out there that provide on-demand training you can participate in from the comfort of your home or office.

Many manufacturers and distributors also offer training, albeit on the technical side. Still, you’re in close proximity with other like-minded industry folks, which presents an opportunity for you to connect and share ideas while also cultivating your technical skills and building your product knowledge.

The importance of networking and learning is not exclusive to your chosen trade, either. We should all be working to better ourselves however we can — it will ultimately only benefit our businesses. For me, that means learning everything I can not only about the plumbing and mechanical contract industries (which I’m working on at events like CONNECT 2016 and Service World Expo), but also learning everything I can about journalism. To that end, I’m currently working on earning my master’s degree in English, and though it’s only my second semester, I can already see how the courses I’ve taken on topics in rhetoric, composition, writing, and teaching have already helped me as both a writer and editor.

The minute we stop wanting to learn about our trades and how to apply that knowledge to our businesses is the minute we open the door and let our competition walk right past us. These opportunities are readily available, so you have to ask yourself: Do you want to be stuck holding the door, or do you want to be the first one to step through?


Check out Photo gallery of PHCC CONNECT 2016