Responding to the feedback of members who participated in a series of focus groups over the summer, the TRMA board of directors is exploring ways to enhance the association’s training curricula, government affairs advocacy and information-sharing opportunities.

Jim Cristman

“We received the most feedback on these three specific areas,” said Jim Cristman, vice president of manufacturing at CITGO Petroleum Corporation’s Lemont refinery, and TRMA’s incoming chairman for 2011. “So we’ve asked our standing committees to incorporate three focus group suggestions in their activity planning for the coming year.”

More than two dozen representatives of 48 member companies participated in the focus groups, which were designed to pulse members on whether the association is meeting their needs and expectations and what it can do to improve. “What we want to be is what you want us to be,” is the way 2010 chairman Rick Szalach, refinery manager, ExxonMobil Joliet Refinery, put it at the annual dinner in April.

The focus groups were facilitated by consultants from Northern Illinois University. They questioned participants about the challenges facing their companies; what they perceived TRMA’s major assets to be, and what new initiatives and resources would benefit them.

It should come as no surprise that much of the feedback centered on training, for both the employees of member companies and those of outside contractors. Members consider the existing training to be among TRMA’s greatest assets, yet they made suggestions to enhance it.

For example, it was suggested that standards be toughened for contractor employees taking basic training at Three Rivers Safety Center, or that bilingual training be offered.

While TRMA has an aggressive in government affairs agenda, focus group participants stressed the importance of regional advocacy and suggested that TRMA forge collective action with other industry associations. Action is needed at both the state and federal levels, they said.

Participants also recommended creating more opportunities for members to network and share information, especially with respect to safety, HR practices, plant reliability and environmental issues, to name a few. They also suggested that TRMA help members access state and federal grants, people seeking work and contractor performance information.

Others think that TRMA should utilize more electronic communication tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, discussion groups and blogs. Web-based training was another suggestion.

The standing committees obviously have their work cut out. They are to present their recommendations at the November meeting of the TRMA board and the board hopes to give final approval in January.

But the bottom line is that TRMA members find the association’s services to be valuable and did not stint their praise for the “knowledgeable and effective TRMA staff and training instructors.”