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How to Involve the Industry's Next Generation

SEMA News—March 2014


Involving the Next Generation

Chris Kersting, SEMA President and CEO Organizations such as SEMA put a good deal of attention on long-range, strategic planning. One truly long-range initiative at SEMA is about engaging with the younger members—and future members—of our industry. The next generation really is the future of the industry. But let’s face it: If the association doesn’t pay close attention and evolve, it’s like asking the next generation to drive their father’s Oldsmobile—and folks in our industry know exactly how that doesn’t always work out!

Among SEMA’s most prominent youth programs are the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund, the Young Executive Network (YEN) and the “35 Under 35” recognition program—all examples of well-received association programs.

Less visible are a number of other association activities aimed at creating opportunities—programs that even the most involved SEMA members might not be aware of.

For example, there is the student program at the SEMA Show, which gives SEMA-member companies an opportunity to interact with the future workforce of the automotive aftermarket. To make that happen, we bring scholarship winners and other graduating students to the SEMA Show so they can meet with key players and identify companies they may want to send résumés to. The program had record participation this past year, involving more than 400 students from 45 colleges and technical institutions.

Another SEMA youth-development activity will take place this summer when SEMA will embed a team of 10 YEN members into the Hot Rod Power Tour to give them the opportunity to connect with students, enthusiasts and SEMA members on a national, grassroots level. The young people in this group will spend their days visiting local vocational and technical schools and their afternoons with enthusiasts and SEMA members gathered on the tour. They will share insights with students about careers in our industry and gain a chance to build a broader network of contacts.

Another new initiative came to fruition at the 2013 SEMA Show: the SEMA Launch Pad. The Launch Pad gives us a way to spotlight the commercial aspirations of young SEMA entrepreneurs so they may more easily acquire the resources needed to move their inventions forward.

It was also encouraging to find ways to see that students from technical schools were included in vehicle builds for the SEMA Show. The WD-40 F-150 buildup allowed students from the Alex Xydias Center of Automotive Arts to meet with factory reps who guided them through the installation of performance parts on this year’s SEMA Cares charity vehicle. The WD-40 F-150 will be raffled off in April (purchase your raffle ticket here). Another build, this one at the Show, allowed students from technical colleges across the country to completely customize a Jeep over three days under the guidance of Omix-ADA employees. In both cases, these interactions provided students with the opportunity to learn how to work with performance parts as well as give them quality time with member companies that may want to hire them in the future.

Through these efforts and others, we are making progress in meeting the next generation of SEMA members and helping to attract qualified young talent to work in our industry. And we’re also working on how to stoke these next generations as consumers of our industry’s products.

There is currently an open Key Initiative at the board level that seeks to identify an effective role for the association in kindling excitement for performance aftermarket lifestyle products. Our initial research suggests that the most productive consumers to court would be in the 26–34 “millennial” age range, so the goal of reaching younger consumers overlaps with our goal of connecting our industry to consumers on a broader scale. This is an area that will take some time to assess and decide how to deploy resources, but the advent of social media leaves us encouraged that some good work might yield progress on this front as well.

—Chris Kersting, SEMA President and CEO