The Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) serves approximately 2,600 firms involved in heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, plumbing, piping, and mechanical service. The trade organization is the go-to resource for the industry, offering everything from educational opportunities and technological initiatives to advocacy. The COVID-19 crisis has brought out the best in the organization as the team works to provide the support the industry needs during this challenging time.
“Our current focus here the last couple of months has been mostly COVID-related, trying to get the resources to the members – and really the industry as a whole – about how contractors can adapt their companies to make sure they’re meeting the needs of the customers and also handling the COVID issues that come up,” says President Brian Helm. The response showcases MCAA’s flexibility. “I think our core benefit is that we can adapt to whatever the industry needs and whatever our members need, and definitely COVID is a good example of that,” he says.
Most MCAA members provide essential services so they are on the job during the quarantine. MCAA is guiding these members on how to work safely in the midst of a global pandemic. “There are some unique requirements that come up with COVID,” Helm says. “We need to make sure that we’ve got the right personal protective equipment in place. We need to make sure that everybody understands the health and safety requirements of this health crisis we’re in.”
One of the challenges is responding to questions with no easy or clear answer. “We’re running a lot of ‘what if’ scenarios,” Helm says. “What if a member of your family tests positive – do you still go to the job site the next day? What if you just have a sore throat and that is your only symptom? – do you still go to the job site the next day?” These are tough scenarios to hammer out and MCAA is partnering with the industry to develop best practices. “[We are] working with all of our local MCAA affiliate associations in each city, and also with our labor partners to make sure we have a cohesive strategy for dealing with COVID-19.”
Another issue MCAA is addressing is how to apply the ‘force majeure’ or ‘act of God’ clauses in construction contracts. For example, what happens if a special part needed for a project is manufactured in Wuhan, China and will be unavailable for another four months? MCAA is walking members through the negotiation process. “We are making sure that we keep that communication open and provide resources for our members so they can help address those issues early,” says Helm. “We have some good resources to understand the impacts of COVID-19 from a contractual standpoint.”
Education is a key service that MCAA provides and the team wants to ensure that members continue to have access to educational materials during the crisis. Until now, the organization has provided in-person classes and seminars. “We’ve definitely evolved to try and do as much of that online that we can,” Helm explains. “Most of it so far has been COVID-related because that’s front and center of everybody’s mind. But we’re adapting so that we can start providing the typical resources that we do all the time.”
The Institute for Project Management and the Advanced Leadership Institute are two flagship programs that MCAA wants to keep providing. Helm says that these two initiatives are better delivered in person, but the team is working to adapt them to an online structure. This includes the possibility of hiring the same instructors and professors for online classes and opening registration up to all members as a temporary solution. “The intent is to be able to go to back to those key offerings once the world goes back to normal, but in the meantime we’re doing as much as we can online.”
One exciting offering now available online is the Dispatchers Professional Development Training Program. This very popular class is designed to help new or experienced dispatchers advance their careers, improve their job satisfaction, understand the important role they play in their company, and enhance their ability to contribute to their company’s success. “Dispatcher training is not something that most of us learn in college,” Helm says. “And if you weren’t a dispatcher yourself it’s pretty hard to train somebody new to be a dispatcher, so we offer a program.”
Educational offerings like the Dispatchers Professional Development Training Program that address the needs of specific jobs have “really been well received in the industry,” Helm says. In response, MCAA has been working to increase job-specific training programs.
MCAA hosts multiple conferences each year, including the Technology Conference, MCAA Safety Directors Conference, The Annual MSCA Educational Conference, and the Women in the Mechanical Industry Initiative (WiMI) Conference. COVID-19 has certainly impacted these annual events. “A lot of those are getting pushed into the fall instead of being scattered throughout the year. And we’re still trying to address when to pick back up with those and try and get back to normal with our conference routine.”
MCAA’s initiatives provide general support to members and the industry as a whole. WiMI celebrates and supports women in the industry. “That’s an initiative that we’re really proud of and that we’re spending a lot of time on,” Helm says. In addition to the annual conference, MCAA is “able to provide a network of women in the mechanical industry that can share ideas and information.” This communication ranged from general information, such as how to run a particular software program, to more gender-specific issues, such as how to deal with a work environment that does not feel welcoming to women.
The Innovative Technologies Initiative is another key MCAA initiative. The organization is “handling a lot of the research and development of technology so that contractors don’t need to do it on their own in a bubble,” Helm shares. “We’ve got MCAA staff that are working with software and hardware manufacturers to research the latest trends and designs and things that are coming up to benefit the industry from a technology standpoint.” MCAA has research reports available on everything from 3D scanning technology, Microsoft HoloLens, and robotics to BIM software and safety apps. “The list goes on and on.”
Of course, at the core of MCAA’s mission is labor relations. The organization is “really focused on facilitating the relationship with the United Association, which is our labor counterpart, and making sure we’re providing resources for each other to get the best out of the industry,” Helm says. The COVID-19 crisis has only strengthened this commitment. “[With] the uncertainty going on in the world and in our industry, we’re working hand in hand with our labor partner to make sure that we’re on the same page legislatively with the government and also on the same page with approaching the projects that we’re on and really filling in a lot of the gaps that I don’t think other trade organizations would be able to. We’re out in front.”
The team is bracing for the ongoing economic impact that the COVID-19 crisis is likely to bring. “It’s hard to believe that we won’t have at least six months – and maybe even 24 months – of struggle getting back to full employment in the country – not necessarily in construction, but in the country [as a whole],” says Helm. Fortunately, MCAA and the broader industry are both ready to weather the storm. “We’re expecting that. We’re prepared for it. We have seen recessions before in our industry and I think we have a pretty good idea of how to adapt to that.”