Plumbing professionals must take the lead as water efficiency experts, advises PHCC Executive Vice President Gerry Kennedy.

Gerry Kennedy, PHCC Executive VP

Plumbing & Mechanicalrecently interviewedGerry Kennedy, who was named executive vice president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association in early March. Kennedy had been PHCC’s vice president of education and chief operating officer for the PHCC Educational Foundation for the past 12 years.

An educator by profession, Kennedy earned a doctorate degree in adult and continuing education. After a career as a college professor, administrator and dean, he became an association executive in 1982.

PM: What’s job one for a PHCC executive vice president?
GK:There’s no question that we need to program to meet the challenges of a changing marketplace. We develop our educational programs to make contractors more competitive - for example, becoming experts at water efficiency. If we’re not providing that information through our programs, publications and Web sites, we’re not doing our jobs for our contractors.

PM: Is PHCC membership more important during a recession or recovery?
GK:We like to think it’s always important regardless of the economy. It’s probably more important during tough times. I attended a state convention recently in Ohio where contractors were learning about new markets and social media. It’s all about becoming the contractor of choice in your market area. Now is not the time to be out there alone without a support network.

PM: How does PHCC become recognized as a leader in water conservation and energy efficiency?
GK:We’ve always collaborated productively with federal agencies and other associations such as ACCA and RSES on the HVAC side and WaterSense on the plumbing side. In mid-February, we met in our office with a number of subject matter experts. With their help we’ve developed an understanding of the knowledge, skills and abilities that contractors and technicians need in order to be the experts in HVAC and plumbing. The first of those programs will roll out in October at our convention in Las Vegas. Every month after that, we’ll have Webinars, articles on our Web site and programs for our state chapters and so forth.
We think we have a handle on what it is people need to know. These programs will be exciting new additions. One example will be a program on what kind of training, technical information and marketing contractors need to sell WaterSense and Energy Star products.

PM: Why should younger PHC contractors join PHCC?
GK:First, PHCC is where the action is. Business owners who belong to PHCC do so because it is the association of choice for PHC contractors. We are a specific niche market; more importantly, our members don’t stand alone. They have the support of a network with state and national associations.
Also, the national convention program has changed to include a “boutique” tabletop session, more networking with manufacturers and more contractor education.
We have to establish the value equation for younger contractors. We have 100 to 120 people signing up for Webinars every week. With our Webinars, Web sites and social media, PHCC really is the place for them.

PM: What is the top item on PHCC’s legislative agenda?
GK:There are several issues, including health-care reform and the estate tax. Our mantra, however, is to help consumers recognize the importance of using plumbing professionals to work in compliance with state and local laws regarding water conservation.

PM: Do you see contractor best practices groups as competitive or complementary to PHCC?
GK:I think they’re complementary. Anytime you see an organization that tries to raise the bar, you don’t see it as a competitor. If we look at collaborative efforts to raise consumer perceptions of the industry, the cumulative effect will help all of us in the industry.    

PM: How do you describe the difference between the PHCC-National Association and PHCC Educational Foundation?
GK:In October 1986, the PHCC members established the foundation as the educational arm of the association and the industry. The PHCC Educational Foundation doesn’t get involved in lobbying and member services. The association and foundation are compatible organizations, two pieces of PHCC pulling together for the benefit of the contractor.

PM:What do you see as the greatest challenges facing PHCC members in 2010?
GK:  Certainly, No. 1 is the continued economic uncertainty. Members want help in rethinking how they do business. That’s caused us to rethink how we do business, which is why I mentioned the Webinars in making information available to contractors.
In the long run, especially as the economy continues to recover, it’s the deficit in skilled workers and the need to train apprentices through traditional and community college programs. There’s also a deficit in front-line supervisory people, which is almost unseen. These people need all the technical skills plus the skills needed to be supervisors.
In addition, we need to provide continuing education to keep up with all the new products coming on the market. We have to deliver this information to technicians where they work or live. We also need to continue to work at how we do this. Young people are more interested in online training and colorful training materials. This is not necessarily new technology but it’s new in how we use it to reach out to young people.
One more point is for us to help contractors on the business management side. We can help owners understand their numbers - such as for overhead costs and labor productivity. We also can help them understand things like dispatching systems and BIM. These are cost-saving measures but we can’t expect our members to pick up these subjects overnight.

PM: If you had only one message to give to contractors who are not PHCC members, what would it be? 
GK:Without PHCC you stand alone. As professionals, we have to band together. Doing so sparks our thinking and gives us the support we need during the down days. During 127 years, PHCC has done that. For the nonmember, if you’re looking for a home, this is the place.