Should you join an industry association?

By Chintan Sutaria

Thanks to working for my dad’s EMS business during my high school summers, I used to attend SMTA’s monthly chapter meetings. At the time, all I knew was that I liked the lunch they served. Fast forward to today: I own a business that launched at SMTA International Expo in 2015. In recognition of the contributions that being part of the SMTA has played in my professional career and business, I wanted to share some of my learnings: what to look for in an industry association, why it is important to get involved, and how you can get started. 

What to look for


The first thing to look for in an industry association is whether it is legitimately an industry association. Is the association registered as a 501(c)(6) with the IRS? Do people in the industry believe in the organization? Is it well-reputed? You can also judge legitimacy based on whether the association has proper controls. Is there a board of directors? Are officers engaged and fulfilling the association’s mission.

Industry Advancement

If you’re going to pay member dues of an industry association, pick one that is giving you your money’s worth. They should be the ones putting together educational events that people look forward to learning from – not the laggards on the latest fad, telling you what you already know. The association should also be actively seeking to advance the interests of your industry.

For Members, by Members

A sign of a great association is that its members engage in its activities for the benefit of all members. Event planning, publicity, and governance are largely driven by volunteers who share a passion for what the association does. Also, do the members in the association freely discuss their challenges and provide helpful information to their peers? Or is everyone keeping their lips tight? You want a culture of open collaboration to solve the most significant challenges that you (and the others in your industry) are facing.

Why is it important

Expand your Network

Regardless of where you are in your career, getting involved in an industry association can help expand your network to include peers, mentors, and/or mentees. You’ll find that the connections you make will pay dividends in unexpected ways as time goes on.

Learn New Skills

Being in an industry association can give you access to more knowledge than you can digest. For example, the SMTA has thousands of technical papers, hundreds of technical lectures across the globe, and certification courses to help you stay up to speed on the latest in the industry. While you don’t need to spend every waking second of your life trying to learn an industry’s worth of information, it can be especially helpful to have learning resources available on-demand so you can learn what you need when you need it. Tie the learning resources with the expanded network and it can be a powerful way to solve challenges in your job and look like a rockstar in front of your boss.

Build your Brand

When you’re actively engaged in an industry association, it signals to your boss, customers, suppliers, and peers that you are invested in becoming a better professional. Tell everyone about what you do, how you better yourself, and be an evangelist for knowledge sharing in your industry.

Have a Voice

Every industry, including (especially) electronics contract manufacturing, faces issues. Whether you’re worried about tariffs or wanting to establish a standard for product documentation formats, decisions are made by those who show up. Participate in the industry association and you have the option to have a voice in the decision-making process. A great industry association includes its member’s voices through meetings, round tables, forums, surveys, and expos.

How to get started

Attend an Event

This one is easy and doesn’t require a significant commitment. If you’ve identified an industry association in your area (or a national association that hosts events local), then attend one of their events. If there is a cost to attend the event, as your employer if they’ll reimburse you for the expense and/or give you time to attend. When you attend, be on the lookout for the points mentioned above. A sign of a good event is that you feel welcomed, learned something new, and have a desire to come back.

Make Connections

It’s hard to make friends if you only go to one event. But if you start going back regularly, then it will get easier to meet people and form authentic connections. If you find yourself isolated, don’t be shy to approach a group and jump into the conversation – that’s the reason you’re there and it’s probably the reason they are there also. 

Offer to Help

Once you start to feel like you’re getting value from attending the events and you’ve made some connections, approach anyone who looks like they are part of the leadership, organizing committee, or has been around longer than you. Ask them if there is anything you can do to pitch in. If you feel like you don’t have anything to contribute, you couldn’t be more wrong. Whether it is helping stack chairs at the end of the event or taking on a leadership role, each person can contribute. Just like in your job, you should expect to start at an entry-level to learn the ropes and then take on more responsibility as you grow.

The SMTA is a marketplace of ideas for me and the officers have been diligent about fulfilling the association’s mission. It speaks volumes that all of the chapter-level activities are volunteer-run. I’ve gotten to see how the officers weigh speakers, topics, and other key decisions from the perspective of how it benefits members. In hindsight, I didn’t have all the information when I first started attending events, but now that I’ve gotten a brief peek behind the curtains, it has only reaffirmed my belief that the SMTA is a member-focused organization that seeks to promote networking and knowledge sharing. Not sure about which industry association you should get involved with?

Here are a few ideas for where to get started:

- Ask your co-workers what professional organizations they are involved with.

- Go online to Google and search {Industry Name} + Industry Association.

- Check out trade shows to see who is helping organize them or is exhibiting at them.

- Read industry publications to find who is putting out thought pieces and compiling industry data.

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