I had a fantastic time during this week’s World Millwork Alliance (WMA) plant tours of three diverse companies based in Houston.

I met another group of engaging, funny, down-to-earth people who are passionate about their work. I learned a lot about another part of the fenestration industry. I ate some great Texas food and experienced some warm Texas hospitality.

But the trip also gave me a chance to reflect on the changes sweeping our businesses, both technologically and demographically.

WMA, which recently changed its name from the Association of Millwork Distributors after 50 years, wants to stay relevant as its membership ages and heads into retirement. So the organization first rebranded itself and, this week, relaunched a redesigned website — www.worldmillworkalliance.com — to focus on interactivity and connection. (It’s not a coincidence that the new WMA logo prominently features the tagline “Connections That Matter.”)

“I think it needed to be something more than a static website,” WMA president Joe Bayer of Bayer Built Woodworks, Inc., told me this week. “We needed more interactivity to bring more of our members together to share more information. It’ll be a huge improvement going forward. There’s a lot of excitement around it, especially with the new name change.”

In a recent blog post on the new site, WMA CEO Rosalie Leone writes:

“We’ve evolved everything – our brand, our focus and our relevance to every fact of the millwork industry. Why is this change imperative? The world has changed. The economic downshift of the last ten years means that in order to succeed in this new climate, our businesses must work smarter….be better. Our industry is changing, and it is WMA’s duty, as a leader in the millwork trade, to leap forward to face those changes head-on.”

One of the biggest changes is the future pipeline of workers.

Much like you, we hear anecdotal reports from all over the construction industry about how hard it is to find good employees – or employees, period. Many of the older workers who left during the Great Recession aren’t coming back. Compounding that, vocational education isn’t a big deal in our public schools anymore. That means fewer and fewer young workers starting on the ground floor.

And as for moulding and millwork, many in the industry admit it’s not the sexiest niche in the construction field.

To combat that talent drain, WMA is investing a lot of resources and energy into its GenNEXT program, which is aimed at those in the industry ages 35 and younger. It’s part of WMA’s goal to “build a bridge from millwork’s centuries-old history to the 21st century and the next generation of millwork leaders.”

That was evident during the Houston plant tours. GenNEXT attendees were given specially marked badges, and members of the WMA leadership seemed to make a real effort to reach out and engage with them. Also, companies that sent GenNEXT attendees received a substantial discount on their registration.

Will WMA’s efforts to stay relevant succeed? Let’s hope so. A lot is riding on it.

At the very least, taking steps now should help this important American industry avoid a staffing crisis further down the road.

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