CSBE membership is composed of committed, hard working, competent engineering professionals coming from different sectors of the industry. A majority represents academic and governmental institutions with brio. I have obtained my engineering degree by attending lectures delivered by members devoted to educating the upcoming generation. I often interact with highly regarded members representing governments when navigating technical and regulatory issues. Most would agree though that the private sector is probably underrepresented. This assessment is certainly not unique to CSBE. Most professional associations acknowledge this imbalance to various degrees.
Having worked for a large food manufacturer for more than thirty years, I suggest that two main reasons moderate the enthusiasm for getting actively involved in professional associations such as CSBE. The first one is simple and literally applies to me as you read these lines: Views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to me, and not necessarily to my employer. It is not that my views are particularly earth chattering. It would just be inappropriate for me to placard my opinions with my company’s logo. Messaging from most serious companies is understandably crafted with great care by public relation experts, professionals like us. Their goals are to concisely capture the essence of, and enhance the value of the brands companies market. The stakes are too high to leave public communication to well-meaning but unprepared employees. This corporate imperative limits the degree of freedom employees could enjoy when participating in public speaking. Although the disclaimer loosens up the reins, the reality is that any public engagement remains constrained for private sector members.
The second reason for low participation is attributed to profitable time management, stressing here that time is money. When working on my Master’s degree at Macdonald College of McGill University, my thesis supervisor was Dr. Raghavan. After months of long hours sweating on fulfilling the academic requirements and completing lab experiments, I complained to him about the heavy workload. I naively was looking forward to working normal hours. I remember distinctly that he removed his glasses and stated with a gentile smile, the kind you would expect from a caring mentor, that I had picked a profession that did not offer a nine-to-five workday. (It is worth noting that this impromptu chat with Dr. Raghavan took place on a Sunday morning in his office. Students could always expect to see him catching up on his academic and research obligations on weekends). Since that day, I have never worked banker’s hours nor have I wanted a thirty-seven and a half hour workweek. Exciting challenges to overcome have been too many, the drive to deliver superior business results too strong and frankly the expectations from my employer too implicit. Consequently, the prevailing perception has been that the business case to allocate time and effort to organization other than the one signing our paycheques has been difficult to make.
Difficult but not insurmountable and arguably necessary. At the individual level, getting a fresh perspective on the industry is a sure benefit. Employees who want to stay current and sharpen their skill set will find that networking with industry professionals offers the opportunity to meet people, uncover fresh solutions to old problems and share best practices. With personal development comes job satisfaction and improved retention. At a societal level, it is becoming abundantly clear that climate change, food safety and waste throughout the supply chain, availability of productive irrigated land, animal welfare are only a few of the many problems that need to be aggressively tackled. It would seem that tight collaboration amongst all industry sectors is critical for effective progress. In that vein, the efforts invested over the years by CSBE to rebalance its membership makeup need to continue. That is what I intent to work on as well.