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SMTA President Martin Anselm and Membership Vice President Rob Boguski outline the SMTA’s new vision and structure for membership. In the plans they share here, Anselm and Boguski paint a vision of a dramatically changed—and improved—membership structure, adding value for each membership level and encouraging increased corporate and personal engagement in SMTA’s programs.
Nolan Johnson: Martin, start us off with a quick introduction and then we’ll ask Rob the same question.
Martin Anselm: I am the current president of the SMTA. I was elected last year, and I am in the middle of my first term. I was on the board of directors for six years and have been involved with the SMTA on the executive level for quite a while. Prior to that, I was very involved at the chapter level for the Empire chapter here in Western/Upstate New York. I am currently an associate professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and do research in electronics, manufacturing, and packaging. I worked in industry for over 12 years at Universal Instruments doing root cause failure analysis and customer support.
Rob Boguski: I’m a member of the SMTA Global Board of Directors, completing my second year of a three-year term. I’m currently the organization’s vice president of membership. I’ve been active in SMTA for about 12 years, initially at the chapter level as a chapter officer and, most recently, at the board of director level. My company, Datest (Fremont, California) has been a corporate member for all of those 12 years. We are test and failure analysis engineers.
Johnson: There is word of proposed changes for the SMTA membership structure. Give us an overview of those changes.
Boguski: After an extensive period of internal discussion, both at the HQ board level and at the chapter level, it was decided to take a hard look at the current SMTA membership structure. Out of that discussion, we made the decision to redefine and simplify the current membership categories. The decision was made to reduce those down to six categories to make them easier to understand and to use them as a vehicle to promote greater engagement in our organization. The new categories are: individual memberships, developing nation individual memberships, student and retiree memberships, and then three new categories of corporate membership, which we have designated as bronze, silver, and gold.
Johnson: This sounds like a fairly dramatic change in membership structure. What are the drivers for this?
Anselm: Rob mentioned a moment ago there was a bit of confusion in terms of the number of memberships we have, so that’s the first reason. The second reason is we’re really looking to increase engagement. The main driver here is that we want to encourage new companies, new young professionals, to participate. We’re creating these three levels of corporate membership to help these corporate organizations get involved with the SMTA and utilize the benefits of becoming a member. The other categories—the individual, international, and the retirees, and student memberships—those aren’t changing. The motivation is to take these corporate memberships and make them easier to understand the value, so it’s easier to justify the renewal every year. For example, a company with a silver membership can see exactly what the benefits are for that level compared to the gold and bronze levels.
Johnson: What’s the transition method for current corporate customers? How is this going to affect them?
Anselm: The transition is going to happen on January 1, assuming that our bylaws are changed. We are a volunteer organization, and we have to go through a voting process to make these changes to our membership structure. Moving forward, we’re asking current members to pay the new rates once their renewal comes up in 2022.
Johnson: I’m sure there’s got to be some communication and proactive work on SMTA’s part to help the corporate members transition over.
Boguski: Yes. This is a bylaw change. This is not something that Martin or I dictate. We have to persuade our membership that this is worth doing and show them the benefits. Initially, the board has to vote on it twice by the stipulations of our bylaws and then we have to submit it to our general membership, so the rollout is going to happen in phases. Initially, we are presenting it to our membership meeting with individual chapters, explaining the benefits, giving it to them so they can give it to their members; in turn, they will make it understandable and spread the word far and wide. Between now and August, when our entire association membership votes on this, we’ll be going to individual chapters to do this, then beyond that, we’ll do it in wider venues. So, for example, when SMTAI meets in Minneapolis in November, we’ll be promoting it there. Martin will give his annual report on the state of the organization and this will be prominent among the agenda items he discusses.
Anselm: We’re hoping that this doesn’t come as a surprise to our current internal membership and hopefully will be another methodology we use to market ourselves to prospective members. As we roll this out, we’re doing all the proper due diligence to get the word out. Part of that is speaking with you today. We’re hopeful that the impact will be a positive one.
Barry Matties: I’ve had a chance to review the changes. It looks like you are bringing more value to the membership.
Anselm: That’s correct. We’re not taking anything away from the current offering. Some levels will have an increase in cost, but that cost will be somewhat neutral if you begin to engage more with the association: go to events, get more of your employees a membership that we’re giving away in higher quantities. As an association, we’re hoping to see more participation in headquarters-sponsored conferences, and more individual memberships that are being given out by the corporate members to their employees. We see all that as a benefit.
Matties: You’re moving away from site membership to more of a global membership structure for the corporations.
Boguski: That’s correct. This is a very important change in the membership structure. Historically, companies have taken memberships, have enrolled, and they’ve been site-specific. With this new structure that is no longer the case. If you’re an EMS company, for example, that has five manufacturing locations scattered around the country—or even around the world, for that matter—you may enroll members from each of those sites under the umbrella of a single membership. For example, let me add flesh to those bones and describe it in terms of the three levels of corporate memberships. The bronze category enables a company to enroll 20 memberships, the silver category enables a company to enroll 50 memberships, and the gold, or “top,” category enables a company to enroll 200 memberships. You can get a lot of people in there under one cost. When you take that one cost and divide it by the number of memberships it becomes very affordable, especially when you say each of those members is now eligible for all of the benefits in the checkbox that you see on the website and we’ve added some additional things. Training is a good example of that, and we have some very attractive discounts as they relate to enrolling in various HQ-sponsored events, SMTAI, website advertising, and so forth.
Matties: Obviously, by doing this, it just streamlines the entire renewal process for a corporation. They don’t have to worry about multiple invoices in multiple locations.
Boguski: That’s the idea.
Anselm: That was brought up by one of our chapter presidents. He’s a huge advocate for our organization and does sales for us. He said that, with this new corporate layout, he’ll be able to sign up two new corporate members almost immediately. I think it will streamline quite a bit.
Matties: Now, Rob, you mentioned the membership levels, such as gold, will have 200 memberships. Those are individuals throughout any location. They have access to training and, if I recall, you’re including at least one training video or program with that membership.
Boguski: That’s correct. For example, if you’re a large company and you enroll 200 members, potentially each of those 200 members has the opportunity to enroll in one free training course per year for the duration of that membership. We currently offer seven training courses on the SMTA website in various topics related to electronics manufacturing and this is near and dear to Martin’s heart because he was the originator of that whole program. This kind of builds on something we did a year ago. When the shutdown first happened, we offered many of these training courses for free to attract people and that was wildly successful. We took that benefit and extended it as an integral part of this new structure. We’re hoping it’s going to have an attractiveness in and of itself that will build and enable memberships to grow.
Matties: I think these training programs are quite good and quite targeted to areas that people should be paying attention to today.
Anselm: We’re excited too. We have Mike Konrad leading the training program now. There will be new training courses rolled out every year. We’re trying to move toward a 201-level set of training as well. It’s not just for the introductory engineer, line technician, quality technician, or quality engineer; it’s also moving toward people who are trying to do troubleshooting. When we rolled out the program initially, it was very much a 101-level course. In these courses, there are over 100 slides in each one, with quizzes in between. It’s pretty comprehensive, and we’ve gotten very good feedback. We’ve actually rolled out one in Spanish, and all the others have closed captioning in Spanish as well. Like Rob was saying, a year ago when we were giving them out for free, it was a huge uptick in the number of trainings we gave in that month. We saw that as another opportunity to change the membership and give this out to our members as a big benefit.
Dan Feinberg: When you’re talking about the new rates, obviously the rates have changed, and the value is going up. I want to just clear my assumption that the rates went up.
Boguski: They did.
Feinberg: The different rates increased based on the category?
Boguski: Yes. Taking the three corporate categories, the bronze level is $1,000, the silver level is $2,000, and the gold level is $5,000.
Anselm: To expand on that, previously our global rate was $1,950. We are hopeful that those global members, who only had 11 member logins, will transition primarily to the corporate silver, which is $2,000, so it’s only a $50 increase and they get 50 members instead of the 11 that they had before.
The bigger cost impact is for just the regular corporate and the professional. In the past, the corporate rate was a $550 annual fee. We are hoping a lot of those will move over into bronze, which is a $450 increase annually. As we were saying earlier, there are quite a few additional new benefits associated with that switch. They now have 20 employee members that they can add, whereas before they had just one. That’s a big benefit. They will have the training and discounts at events which will easily provide larger savings than the $450.
Matties: I think the training itself probably offsets that increase.
Feinberg: I was just going to say that it sounds to me, depending upon the volume of memberships that the company needs, in some cases the rates may actually go down, but certainly the value seems to be going up.
Anselm: Rob did a great job considering either users or suppliers in the benefit. And I think the memberships themselves can offset the cost for users. If you’re an EMS company, you may not exhibit at SMTAI, but you’re going to want to go there to see what new products there are. You can recoup that additional cost just from having more of your engineers involved with the SMTA through training, networking and education through either the knowledge base or the conferences. For the supplier, you can sort of double down. Not only can you get the benefits of going to our events and getting booths and discounts, but then you can also get more of your employees involved. We looked at the big bucket of membership categories that we have in these corporate memberships and tried to make sure there was a benefit for all companies involved.
Boguski: In the bronze category, it entitles a corporate member to a 10% discount, should they elect to be an exhibitor at SMTAI; a silver member is entitled to a 15% discount; and a gold member is entitled to a 25% discount. If they choose not to be an exhibitor at SMTAI and decide, well, I’d rather just take advantage of SMTA’s website, you get the equivalent discount for website advertising. What’s more, you also get the same discounts for various HQ-sponsored events and conferences. For example, the Harsh Environments Conference, the Counterfeit Conference, WLPS, etc. There are about six or eight conferences that we do. PanPac is another good example. Throughout the year, members will be entitled to discounts there as well. This is what we call HQ-sponsored events. We say it this way to distinguish these events from chapter-sponsored events. Chapter-sponsored events, expos, and so forth will continue as they always have. They’ve always had their own member/non-member structure and that’s not going to change.
Matties: I want to ask about the discounts for the HQ events as you’re calling them. When you’re talking about discounts, you’re saying that if the participant has to pay a ticket price to come to the conference, they’re going to get those discounts on the purchase price of that ticket admission?
Boguski: That’s correct.
Matties: All right. What if a corporate member wants to send more attendees than their membership allows?
Anselm: They can use individual memberships for the overage. This discount will only apply to people who have an SMTA membership number. If a corporate gold wants to benefit from that discount, they have to get all 200 of their employees. Of course, management could say “Hey, quickly sign up so that you can get the benefit.” That particular member may not intend to be a long-term member, but we’re hoping that when that member realizes all the other benefits, the training, the knowledge base, and all the papers they have access to, they’ll stick around.
Matties: For companies being able to send people to these conferences for a discount, I think that’s more reason for people to send them to the trainings.
Anselm: I wanted to mention this earlier, in terms of the why’s. In today’s day and age, it’s too easy for either new or existing engineers to Google the answer to questions. We are a nonprofit association fighting that norm, for lack of a better term. We’re trying to make it much easier for people to sign up and become members. If an organization, a corporate member, recognizes the value of the SMTA, we’re hoping they will renew their membership and then pass those benefits out to their employees. I envision a situation where you have a new engineer, either in mechanical or electrical engineering, who doesn’t know much about the electronics manufacturing or test industry; this is all too common. I’m at RIT and we teach it here, but whenever I talk to my colleagues who are hiring new engineers from different programs, they don’t even know what a BGA is. So, you hire a new individual and then you say, “Hey, go take the component training class from the SMTA. It’s free for members.” They will then very quickly begin to learn the vocabulary of what our industry is all about.
Our training classes are put together by topic experts in the SMTA who have been kind enough to provide content to us over the years and narrate those classes too. We’re trying to break down the walls because I know when I was a new engineer, it was pretty intimidating to go to SMTAI and involve yourself in hallway conversations. You always felt like you were way behind the curve, but if you can do some of that training online and get educated in advance, maybe read a paper from the knowledge base and come prepared with a specific question, I feel like that engineer may be less nervous about getting involved in the conversation.
Johnson: This new structure seems rich in new benefits for corporate members. You alluded earlier those two corporate members who were inclined to join just because of this new structure. What’s been the reaction when you’re talking with potential members out there? How are they responding to these changes?
Boguski: So far, quite positive. We are test driving it, test marketing it, both within chapters and with some of our HQ-level meetings. We have an event each month called Water Cooler Fridays where we invite chapter officers to come and for an hour we have what is essentially a skull session where officers can bring any and all questions they may have about SMTA and talk to board members and staff. At our most recent meeting in early June, Martin talked about the new membership structure. Martin, I think you would agree with me, it was quite well received. There were some questions of clarification as you would expect but, generally speaking, everybody was very excited about the simplification, the new benefits, and the new corporate structure. That has also been my personal experience going to the chapters.
Again, this is not something that just dropped from the sky. This is a product of a wide-ranging consultation. I spent a good part of the first quarter of this year talking to chapters all over the country and all over the world, in some cases. I went as far as Penang to solicit opinions from people. Repeatedly, I heard, “What can you do to simplify the membership?” I also heard the theme of “I don’t even know how to explain our membership structure to a prospective new member. What can you do to help me out there?” This is a direct result of a lot of those consultations. So, yes, it has been very well received thus far. By our mere presence here today, we’re not taking anything for granted. We’ve got to convince our membership this is worth doing and there are some inherent risks. We are hoping that, on balance, they’re going to work out. It’s quite a project, as you can imagine.
Matties: What do you see as the risks?
Anselm: One is the elimination of the professional membership level. That was developed not that long ago. We were hoping for a bigger impact. The professional level membership was one that was primarily focused on reps. That may be a small company of five employees or less as stated in the definition. It only gave you a single member log-in, but it was hoped that those professionals could benefit in some of the corporate and global corporate membership benefits. They wanted to have access to those.
that is a $250 membership that doesn’t exist anymore. Will that professional go to the $1,000 bronze, or will they revert back to where they were previously, which was probably an individual membership. That is a fairly large risk. The way we’re promoting it, however, is that at $250 you have to make up $750. At bronze level, you can do that fairly easily if you go to one or two conferences per year. If you only went to SMTAI, maybe that isn’t enough. If you go to the Counterfeit Parts Symposium, in addition to SMTAI, you’re in a net zero, plus each of those five employees can now all become members, not just one.
Matties: And oftentimes, that particular segment of the membership is most interested in the networking benefits from SMTA and so the events would be the most appealing, in any case.
Boguski: Right. Also, the data we have shows that currently we have 40–45 members in the professional category. As a percentage of the whole, it’s a rather small percentage. We’re hoping we can be sufficiently persuasive to not discourage the majority of those members so that they can make a decision that fits their business best for them. Hopefully, many of them will go in the bronze direction, but as Martin just said, some will probably go in the $95 individual direction, which again, is not changing. It’s there, it’s still our largest category, and we expect it will remain that way.
Matties: With the professional membership, you said they had one login in any case, and an individual membership will be in that same capacity?
Boguski: That’s right.
Matties: What was the other risk, Rob?
Boguski: It is for things like major events, SMTAI being the most obvious. We’re going to be offering booths at a discount, so will the revenue loss to our organization be offset by greater participation? That is the big intangible right now. We’ve modeled it. When I was first presenting this to the board, I ran through a bunch of financial scenarios, good and bad. We have some notion of what it’s going to be, but we won’t know until we try it. The first SMTAI to take place under this new structure will be fall of 2022. We’ve got some preparing to do.
Matties: It sounds like your message is that the memberships are changing, but the goal is greater engagement with the industry on all levels—be it the training, more members coming in and utilizing the services, attending the conferences—because if you’re increasing engagement, you’re increasing value to the industry.
Anselm: We are an organization led by its members. All our board members are members themselves and we’re elected. Our hope and effort is that these changes really benefit the members. There is a bit of a financial loss, at least initially. If anything, this COVID pandemic has shown us we have been properly run from previous board members and previous presidents like Jeff Kennedy, and others. We’re a pretty stable organization, so even if we had a little bit of an impact on the short term, it really shouldn’t affect us all that much.
Boguski: We have to be introspective; we have to use this time to reflect on the state of the market and where we fit in it. Traditionally, the joke has always been that SMTA is the “soldering society.” One of the things we’ve taken the opportunity to do in the last year is reflect on what electronics manufacturing means more generally and SMTA’s place in it. Hopefully this is a successful attempt to better align our organization with the priorities and interests of our members. For example, we’re broadening the scope. We’ve broadened our mission statement to not just encompass electronics assembly, but electronics manufacturing generally, and you see that concretely in the events that we put on, in some of the webinars that we’ve been sponsoring in the last year on a very wide variety of topics, not just having to do with solder paste and placement technology.
That’s very integral to what we do, and it always will be, but we do other things. We do topics related to additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, Industry 4.0, automotive electronics, and supply chain difficulties; we’re going to continue to do that. Hopefully, we’re matching the desires of our membership and this structure reflects that.
Anselm: We’re looking at our membership as affinity groups, whether it’s quality engineers or process engineers or test engineers; how can we engage in those categories and add value for certain sets of skills that may exist in the electronics assembly space, not just the circuit board assembly space?
Johnson: Martin, you work in academia; the industry is looking to bring in new talent. How does this new structure with the membership benefit a student or a university program?
Anselm: We did not change the cost for a student membership. Because these changes are primarily at the corporate level, the student may not see a direct benefit out of the box. We’re trying to get our local chapters more involved with the student chapters, and as we increase the involvement of corporate members, there may be opportunities to reach out to student chapters. The other sort of indirect benefit is if these students get hired to these corporate organizations, then they can have access to training that they may not have had at a university level.
Happy’s on the call today too. He’s been pushing really hard for various different organizations, the SMTA included, to get more involved at the university level, not only in board fabrication, but also in electronics assembly and circuit board assembly topics so that the universities recognize that there is a big need. The students that I teach here at RIT get snapped up pretty quickly even before they graduate. I routinely get companies emailing me in May asking if I have any available candidates. And I’ll say, “All of my graduates had jobs in January or December because they went on a co-op, or they were searching that early and they already had a bunch of interviews and they’re gone.” There is definitely a need. I don’t know if our changes directly impact the student level, but we’re hoping the impact will be seen in the industry as a whole and, at least indirectly, at the student level.
Matties: What are the next steps?
Anselm: There are two things that we will be able to anticipate. First, hopefully this gets voted in next month. Should it pass, then we’ll have between August and December 31 to prepare. The other thing is members will renew on a rolling basis, so if they want to have training, they wouldn’t be able to do it until they renew in the new format. Hopefully that will spread out some of those training signups as well. We’ve thought of that, so we’ll see how it goes, but like you said, it’s all positive.
Matties: Do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share on this topic?
Anselm: We’re excited as board members. Personally, as the president of the association, I’m excited as well. If this goes well, it will be my legacy. There’s not going to be a whole heck of a lot of things that I’ll be able to accomplish in two to four years that will be remembered as much as this. It’s something that the board talked about for years. I’m proud of the fact that training has really pushed this forward to be something that the board wants to undertake. We have a wonderful board of directors right now. Rob is one of 11 members who are really engaged, interested, and committed to improving the association. Not enough can be said about our current board members, our executive director Tanya Martin, and her staff that supports and runs our organization. It’s a big deal, but we’re hopeful that it will make the organization much stronger in the future.
Boguski: People are starting to get excited. I had been working on this for almost a year before Martin joined as president. We went through a large discernment process last year, figuring out what we do in the current realities. How can we stand out? How can we change what we do to make it attractive to new people? Now we’re putting that in concrete, as you can see. Hopefully, we get our membership’s consent in the coming months, then comes the implementation phase, and things get really exciting. We’re already starting to feel it. When we test drive this to selected members and officers, they get pretty jazzed about it and they want to go out and talk about it, so there’s momentum building here.
Matties: Well done, guys. Thanks for your time today.
Anselm: Thank you.
Boguski: Appreciate the opportunity.