Have you noticed how few people are attending after hours professional meetings these days? It’s a disturbing trend that extends to virtually all service and professional organizations, way beyond the Supply Chain, but I will keep my discussion within this arena. No matter what the group – ISM, AST&L, WERC, CSCMP, APICS, etc. the general trends for most local chapters and affiliates include declining membership, reduced attendance at local events, fewer local events, and in some cases chapter consolidation or dissolution. In my own, unscientific observations, I have identified two major forces at work here: reduced employer support, and lack of individual commitment. And the usual excuses I hear for not participating in local events fall into five areas:

- “I don’t have time”
- “The subject doesn’t help me in my current job”
- “I can look the subject up on the Internet”
- “I have a LinkedIn network so I don’t need to meet anyone else”
- “My boss/company won’t pay for the cost of a meeting”

Are any of these really valid? I say no, and here’s why.

“I don’t have time” is a copout. We all make time in our lives for the things we deem the most important, and let the less important happen with or without us. So if you as an individual made participation in a local professional group a priority, you would find a way to dedicate the time needed. But if you make professional events optional add-ons to your schedule, you often won’t “have the time” because you didn’t give the event a high enough priority. But if you spend the extra time needed to join and work with the Board of one or more organizations, you’ll regularly meet with other professionals committed to education, expand your network by actually talking with people, and learn new things that will help your career.

“The subject doesn’t help me in my current job” is also a bogus excuse. How can anyone be so shortsighted to think that they already know everything they need to know? With experts telling us that job tenures of five years or less are now the normal career pathways for most of us, we should be reaching out to learn anything and everything we can about the entire supply chain, to be better positioned for a future job. A transportation professional, for example, who’s locked into just the truckload world, and restricted to only knowing about truckload issues, would be almost unhirable in the small package, LTL, air freight, and international arenas. So go to that meeting with the topic that’s not exactly “in your wheelhouse”. You will definitely learn something new, might begin exploring the next phase of your career – and might be able to network with individuals you otherwise would not have met.

“I can look the subject up on the Internet” is perhaps the most dangerous of all. While there is more subject matter on the Internet today than could possibly be held in multiple sets of encyclopedias and textbooks, how accurate is all that? Are you qualified to know what’s right and what’s not? If you doubt this, pick a subject that you know well, and look for further information from at least three, truly independent online sources. I guarantee that you’ll find conflicts, inaccuracies and gaps you can verify. And if this is true for something you’re an expert in, how can you possibly depend on just Internet sources for new knowledge? Another disadvantage of just doing online research: you miss the spontaneous give-and-take with a live speaker and fellow audience members, which often opens entirely new avenues of discussion and learning. I'm not saying abandon the Internet, I’m recommending that it should just be one of your sources, and not a sole source.

“I already have a LinkedIn network so I don’t need to meet anyone else” is, to be kind, horse feathers. While social media sites are a convenient way to stay in touch with old and new friends and perhaps an extended network of acquaintances, you still need to meet people in person (or at least converse with them over the phone) to establish meaningful relationships. If you haven’t met or spoken with those you’re “Linked” to, are they really friends, or just names that grow your contact list? I know one guy who thinks we’re friends, but I never, ever hear from him unless he needs a job. He’s a member of a supply chain professional organization, but only attends meetings – you guessed it – when he needs a job. That’s not networking, and neither is just expanding a list of strangers as your “connections”.

“My boss/company won’t pay for the cost of a meeting” is the weakest excuse of all. So what if you have to pay your own way for membership and local meetings? Most organizations will let nonmembers attend, at a slightly higher rate, hoping to entice them to join. If you have a job, this investment in your skill set, your future, is well worth your time and money. Plus you get the benefit of some in-person networking, which may not reach as many people as a LinkedIn program, but it’s much more personal. And if you’re out of work, making connections, learning new information, and staying in personal contact with fellow professionals is vital to your job search success, and well worth the price of admission. You might even meet your next employer there!

To answer the question posed in my title above - in-person education is dying because you are letting it die! So if I have caused you to re-think your approach to professional organization participation, I have succeeded. And if I have only offended you, I’m OK with that, too, for at least you’ve seen a different viewpoint to consider. Either way, as this article is being published in late October, we’re at the very beginning of most professional organization’s meeting seasons, and there are plenty of opportunities out there for you to enjoy the benefits of in-person education. The choice is yours.

This article is part of the monthly series authored by the Institute for Supply Management’s Logistics & Transportation Group Board Members, who are current practitioners, consultants, trainers, and educators. In future columns, they will continue sharing their views on a number of Supply Chain and Professional Development topics.

George Yarusavage, CTL, C.P.M., CICSM, is a principal in Fortress Consulting, LLC, specializing in Transportation, Logistics, and Sourcing issues and training. He is also the Treasurer of ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group and can be reached at gyarusavage@yahoo.com, or (203) 984-4957. Membership in the L&T Group is open to all current ISM members who are responsible for or have an interest in Logistics & Transportation.