Locksmith Ledger caught up with ALOA Director of Education, William M. Lynk, who has been with the association for approximately 25 years, and ALOA Executive Director, Mary May, who has held various positions at ALOA for nearly 40 years. As they noted in our interview below, the association is doubling down on its efforts to provide high-quality education and training opportunities that locksmiths not only want but need, while also providing valuable resources, programs and initiatives for 2024. ALOA’s Apprentice and Mentorship programs, for example, are a big focus for 2024, and will help to attract, mentor and train the next generation of locksmiths.
In the interview, they also talk about upcoming events and conferences, including ALOA’s main conference and trade show, July 22-28, 2024, in Las Vegas. “The trade show portion of the conference is falling on a Saturday and Sunday, so be sure to take note of that schedule change,” notes May. The conference will be held at the South Point Hotel & Casino, which has everything attendees will need under one roof, from restaurants to entertainment to gambling, of course; it is Vegas after all! “We always seem to get a great turnout and reception when we do it in Vegas,” adds Lynk.
Locksmith Ledger: What are some of the overall goals for ALOA for 2024, in terms of education, training opportunities and providing the necessary resources and events for locksmiths?
Lynk: One of our goals is to make sure we make education accessible to all our members, and even non-members who may become members. We have a variety of things that we are doing to make that happen. We have webinars that people can join right from their workplace or at home. We have hands-on classes right at our training center in Dallas. We have online testing through our certification program that locksmiths can take any time, sometimes from at home and sometimes at a test center. There are all kinds of opportunities for locksmiths to advance their education.
We also have distributors’ trade shows that we're working with, and an upcoming one is with Banner in March. I am working with John Hubel, ALOA Associate Director of Education, to promote our certification program within our training.
We have another convention, our SafeTech Convention, which is April 22-27 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and there's a whole array of people throughout the country that can go there to learn about safes, in general. Additionally, we recently held our first automotive convention, and that automotive division was started as well to meet a need by locksmiths. We're trying to fill in the different niches for our members so they can get this training in a variety of different ways. We are finding out that there are locksmiths who are attending now to specialize in certain areas, whether it’s automotive or safes or whatever.
LL: On the education front, what are some of the areas where ALOA is looking to expand offerings or range of topics?
Lynk: We've had major manufacturers come to us and ask, “how can we help support education?” They see what we're doing, and they want to be part of it, which is what we want too. So, we created something John and I call the ALOA Industry Educational Support program. And what that simply means is we're coming up with ways that the manufacturers, distributors, associations – any group or even individuals who want to support education can do that. And in return, we can offer them a variety of different things. Now this is different than a sponsorship, which in the past if a manufacturer sponsored a 2-hour class, it meant that all you could talk about is what that manufacturer offers, and typically you cannot mention anything else. But with this program, if we are offering an 8-hour class, we cannot be tied down to a single manufacturer – we must deliver neutral content for those 8 hours. If locksmiths are taking a full day class, for example, on small format interchangeable core, we could have many products from many different manufacturers that must be discussed, looking at all the differences between them.
There will be opportunities for manufacturers to get involved, get increased visibility within the program, but we will stay brand neutral in our classes, and that way we can still get support from them and at the different tiers or levels they will get more from us. We have so many incredible instructors that give so much of their time, so the idea is that we want to be able to fund our instructors at a very reasonable rate.
With so much information being put out there on YouTube and other media, we're in a situation now where there's too much information out there; it’s an overload and you don't know what's true and accurate. When you take courses from ALOA, you know that they are taught by industry experts, and the information is going to be accurate and correct, because it is our role to ensure that we are supporting our members with accurate and quality information.
LL: What are your thoughts on helping to attract the next generation of locksmiths as some of the older generation of locksmiths begin to retire?
May: You know a lot of our members who have been with us a long time, they learned from their fathers and grandfathers. We don't have that today. The younger people are not, as you know, following suit as their parents or grandparents once did, so one of the challenges that we really do have is reaching the next generation of locksmiths. I know John and Bill are working on connecting with some of those career centers in the high schools and colleges and trade schools, things like that. We just need to find another way to recruit people into the industry, period.
For example, one area that may be good to look at for young talent is the IT industry, because someone may start off in an IT department and then see how integrated it can be with electronic access control and locksmithing, so we need to look at new advancements and technologies and how those can attract young professionals to our industry.
Lynk: Yes, this has been a concern not only in education but to all ALOA board members because, as Mary pointed out, many of our locksmiths are older and retiring, so we need reach out to this next generation and show them what we can offer them as an association. Toward that goal, what we've started at the ALOA convention, John and I came up with an idea of a Mentorship program and an Apprentice program. For the Apprentice program, as Mary points out, we're going to have to start thinking of ways to work with high schools because high schools have certain career pathways. We must figure out ways to work with youth at the high school level, as they look to colleges, trade schools, and possible career options.
And then what's also important is mentoring those young locksmiths who start at our convention, which is a great way for many of these young locksmiths to get started. We want to make sure we don't lose them, and we want our locksmiths who are already established to work with the younger ones, even if it's, you know, not physically in their area. There's also phone calls and video conferencing, so if they have a question, they can call their mentor.
LL: On the education front are there some other areas ALOA is looking to expand offerings or range of topics for?
Lynk: Yes, and we are trying to find out what our members want and need. For example, a lot of our locksmiths are fantastic craftsmen – they know the trade inside and out – but where some of them are lacking is in running a business. They were never trained to run a business, so they are lacking good sound business practices. You know you can't just walk out there and say I'm going to start a shop because I'm a good locksmith and go in day-to-day and not have a business plan; it’s like being at sea without a rudder. What we want to do in our certification program is make sure that we support our locksmiths with good business understanding, whether it's a class that they can take from us or a comprehensive test to make sure they are understanding the basics.
I know locksmiths will say they need to know more about safes, or more about automotive, or general locksmithing, or whatever, and yes, they need those things, but what they're not realizing is many cases, is that they need the business knowledge, too, or their business is not going to grow, and could falter. We want them to be prepared, so that's something that we're going to incorporate into our certification program to assure the locksmiths have the most chances for success, not only in their skill level within the trade but understanding basic business practices.
We understand there are areas like access control that are growing in the industry, and that we have some locksmiths who are going to work in residential, and some locksmiths who may do a lot of commercial and will need to know more access control. So, we want them to be versatile and have that business savvy, regardless of what areas they specialize in.
LL: What are some trends you are seeing within the locksmithing industry?
May: One trend that is really concerning us is consolidation within the industry. With all the mergers and all the buyouts, it is really affecting our association and probably some of the small businesses as well. It really affects them when they have fewer suppliers to go to or, you know, this kind of becomes a monopoly on different products that locksmiths need day in and day out. So that is an issue, and a growing trend that we are watching. Also, for our trade shows, it means fewer booths and exhibitors, which is a challenge for us because the attendees want to come to the show to see more and not less, you know? So that affects our bottom line and is a real issue for us.
Lynk: If you look at manufacturers 20-25 years ago, there were a lot of different individual lock companies, for example. Now, with all the mergers, it’s like one big company, so there just aren't as many individual manufacturers as there used to be out there anymore. You know, as an association we want to work with all our manufacturers, and they're starting to reach out to us again to support what we're doing and that's good. The goal is to make sure we can help them and help our locksmiths.
LL: What are your goals in terms of increasing membership for the association for 2024?
Lynk: The real salient point here is – without our members, we don't exist! We couldn't do any of the things we're doing now without their support. We’d like our members, non-members and the industry to understand that increasing our membership is vital to allow us to continue to do all the top-quality things that we have done. Our instructors are the most talented and skilled in the world in this field and we can't continue to do that if we don't have members supporting the association.
Anybody who is thinking about “well, should I renew?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes, you should!” We need you to support what we have to offer, so we can continue to expand on and offer more of what you, our members, want and need, like we discussed earlier. In addition to having the best trained instructors, we have some fantastic volunteers in our membership who are stepping up to the plate to help. So yes, we want our membership to increase so we can continue to do what we're doing and do more this year.
May: One of the reasons I believe why the members are staying with us for so long is because they know they can call us anytime and we'll do whatever we can to help them. We’re always available, and we're easy to access as well. So that is important to us here at ALOA – to always be available for our members anytime, to call us if they’ve got a question. If we can't help them, we will find them an answer somewhere. We pride ourselves on good customer service and we really care about helping the industry however we can.