By Allie Finkell
In the coming years, the millennial generation will emerge as a dominant demographic in the business arena, becoming the majority of consumers and employees. While some industries are slow to accept the changes necessary to attract and retain talent, market to younger consumers, and just generally stay relevant, the wood flooring industry is fortunate to have a trade organization focused on adapting and equipping us for success in these fast-changing times.
In an effort to foster a connection between generations, make newcomers feel at home in the industry, and to prepare the next generation of board members, the NWFA debuted the Emerging Leader Network at the 2017 Wood Flooring Expo in Phoenix and held a networking reception to gauge initial interest. Though it’s not overly hard to convince young people to show up for a free cocktail, it can be difficult to generate engagement with millennials after “last call.” The attendance was overwhelming, and the large number of sign-ups after the event reinforced the need for a group within NWFA that speaks to members of the youngest age group. A second networking reception, sponsored by Zenon, was held at the 2018 Wood Flooring Expo in Tampa and was met with equal enthusiasm as the prior year.
The Emerging Leader Network is open to industry members under 40 years old and is managed by the NWFA and a council of 8-10 members. After the 2017 event, the council has been meeting via conference call every quarter and held the second in-person meeting at the 2018 Expo. Since inception, a council chair and board liaison have been appointed to facilitate the group and to relay network activities to the NWFA Board. Additional committee chairs will be appointed to lead the implementation of the 2018 network objectives.
So many wood flooring professionals are brought to the industry through family businesses. This multigenerational component of our industry is one that makes us strong, but also can be a tough environment to break into as a newcomer. Given the current shortage of qualified labor, it is critical that our industry recruit, train, and retain the best talent from outside our current group. One of the biggest missions of the Emerging Leader Network is to welcome the newest members and expose them to the vast resources available through NWFA. It also serves to connect them to other people in their age range and stage of career. This social element makes the network appealing to potential members, but is more than just a place to “hang out.” Studies routinely show that job satisfaction is more affected by the people one works with than the job itself. The social event at Expo creates an open environment to new members, providing an opportunity to meet peers from across the industry, and a more fulfilling Expo experience for those who need a way to break into the tight-knit community of wood flooring.
The Emerging Leaders Network is also aimed at enhancing professional networking. Since the commonality of the group is age, not sector, members on opposite ends of the flooring spectrum who might not ever have a reason to meet are connected. For example, those of us who are on the pre-finished engineered side would rarely cross paths with a site-finished contractor, but the relationships I’ve made through the Emerging Leaders Network have already had a meaningful impact. Having a liaison to the board, and being sponsored by the NWFA, also creates a connection between experienced members of the organization and the millennial group, establishing mentor relationships and avenues for career development.
In the coming weeks, members of the network will be asked to provide input on what they think the Emerging Leaders’ 2018 objectives should be. Council members are creating a list for consideration, and the membership will ultimately set the agenda via an online survey. While it’s always nice to have a “reason to party,” the Emerging Leaders Network is much more than a social organization. Engaging new members and seeking out feedback from the next generation is critical to the ongoing success of NWFA and the strength of our industry.
September 11-13, the Emerging Leaders will hold its first stand-alone meeting in Washington, D.C. in conjunction with the Hardwood Federation’s annual Fly-In. The Hardwood Manufacturers Association (HMA) will be bringing its NextGen Leaders Council to the Fly-In as well, providing a unique opportunity for the upcoming leaders from across the hardwood products industry to learn and work together to educate our congressional and senate leaders.
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a member or learning more about the Emerging Leaders Network and associated events, please visit nwfa.org/emergingleaders.
Allie Finkell is Executive Vice President at American OEM and Emerging Leaders Council Chair. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.