Peer Groups – A Different Kind of Education

Posted on Wednesday, January 6, 2021

By Anne Goyer

There are many types of education—teacher to students, online courses, on-the- job, and more. One program that has been running for two years now is delivering significant educational opportunities for participants. It’s just a different kind of education.

The PCI Peer Group Program, jointly sponsored with the Chemical Coaters Association International (CCAI), brings groups of non-competing coaters from around the country together at a Peer Group member’s plant twice a year. The visit includes an extensive four-hour tour of the facility, where an audit form is completed by each member. “We’re free to speak with employees running the finishing line,” notes PCI’s executive director Kevin Coursin. “We ask questions about various aspects of their finishing operations, observe adherence to safety, look at maintenance and cleanliness of facilities, and more.”

The advantage of being reviewed by your peers in a group program like this is that they are genuinely interested in helping one another. No one is out to give someone a good or bad review, they simply want to congratulate them on the things they are doing well while bringing needed improvements to the attention of the host facility. In addition, a Peer Group member might see something at a member plant that can bring value to their operation.

Peer Group meetings start with a welcome dinner the evening prior to the audit, allowing members to catch up and reconnect in a social atmosphere. The next morning, the group heads to the host facility and gets an introduction to the business from the Peer Group member hosting the meeting. Introductions to key personnel are included, along with a general layout of the facility. With electronic audit forms in hand, members are then released to tour the facility, meet with employees to ask questions, observe finishing operations, and complete their audit report.

After the half-day audit is complete, the afternoon consists of business presentations and roundtable discussions. Each Peer Group–there are currently three–is facilitated by a PCI and/or CCAI staff member who keeps the program on track during on-site meetings. Audit results are compiled overnight and then reviewed the next morning by the entire group, along with the appropriate staff from the host company.

“This is the kind of feedback and input that is greatly appreciated,” states Jeff Rochester, owner of Pacific Powder Coating. “Getting your peers to look at your facility with a different set of eyes has been so helpful in pointing out areas of improvement for us. Likewise, in visiting my peer facilities, the satisfaction of helping others while getting the value of their experience has been personally rewarding and has helped my business immensely. Peer Groups are a great way to learn more about your industry, grow your business, and meet some awesome people.”

Allison Lee, general manager and partner of Coatings Plus, is also extremely grateful for the program. “We were completely new to finishing when we purchased a powder coating job shop several years ago. We had so much to learn. Being a part of the Peer Group program has enabled us to learn things much more quickly and much more in-depth. This type of education has been invaluable for me and our team. I know I can call on our Peer Group members with a question and within a very short amount of time I have helpful answers.”

Obviously, the in-person Peer Group meetings came to a screeching halt in 2020; both the spring and fall meetings were cancelled due to the pandemic. But thanks to virtual platforms, all of the Peer Groups continued to meet regularly throughout the year. At the outset, discussions focused around the various challenges each company was facing with coronavirus. As time went on, discussions expanded into understanding how to apply for the government’s PPP program, internal protocols to keep staff members safe, and discussions on how businesses were doing in the various parts of the country.

Most of the Peer Group members were deemed “essential business,” so very few ceased operations altogether. There were times that business slowed, especially in the spring, but for the most part business rebounded, and several members were doing very well throughout the summer. The information exchange that happened through our Peer Groups during this extremely difficult time in American manufacturing delivered the kind of education that was very difficult to get anywhere else over the previous eight months.

Without a doubt, the Peer Group audits have led to many improvements by various members over the past two years. These types of improvements have also been part of the discussions in 2020 during virtual meetings. “Hearing about the improvements reinforces the value of the program,” notes facilitator Bruce Bryan. “During a recent virtual meeting we reviewed the audits of previous visits to four of our Peer Group member facilities. In every case, changes had been made following our visits. The changes included improvements in safety, overall efficiencies, quality, and some significant cost savings.”

“The Peer Group program is exciting because we know how much those who are participating get in return,” says Coursin. “It’s been particularly satisfying to listen to peer group members discuss challenges faced over the past year and how they have been dealing with them. While there were some tough discussions throughout 2020, it was definitely helpful for participants to be able to talk with others facing similar situations. That’s what makes the Peer Group program so valuable.”

The program is a member benefit for all PCI and CCAI Custom Coater members. There is no additional cost for members to participate in a Peer Group beyond travel expenses to get to meetings. “Custom coaters who think they are too busy to participate don’t realize the value that the program offers,” states Bryan. “I’d encourage all Custom Coater members to begin taking advantage of the program today; we’re ready to launch more groups!”

People learn in different ways. Some learn by reading, others learn by visuals, some by doing, and many by a combination of the three. The Peer Group program provides valuable education regardless of how you learn. Already a PCI Custom Coater member? Visit www.powdercoating.org/PeerGroup to join a group! Not a Custom Coater member yet? Learn more here: www.powdercoating.org/join.

Anne Goyer is president of Goyer Management International and a PCT contributor.