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Forging Connections: The Importance of Networking for Steel Professionals

In the fast-paced and tight-knit world of the structural steel industry, networking and building relationships is crucial to the ongoing success of your business and career. Attending industry events and tradeshows like SDS2 Summit or NASCC: The Steel Conference and engaging with professional organizations at the local and national levels are great ways to build meaningful relationships, elevate your reputation within the industry, and enhance your professional growth.  

Below, we talk about five key reasons why you should make more time for networking in your busy schedule and start building meaningful connections within the steel industry.  


Expand your business opportunities

Despite the growing opportunities for businesses to market themselves online, word-of-mouth referrals and personal connections will always be more impactful than how you appear online or on paper when it comes to growing your list of customers and business partners. This is true no matter what industry you’re in, but for the world of steel construction, where trust and reliability between fabricators, detailers, structural engineers, and other stakeholders, can make or break a project’s budget and timeline, personal connections matter that much more. A handshake and conversation with the right person at a trade event could put your name or business at the top of the list when they’re looking for a new subcontractor, client, or business partner—or when someone else in their network is asking for a reference.  


SDS2 Summit 2023 in Omaha, Nebraska.


Attract new talent (or find a new boss)

The same principle applies when you are looking to grow your detailing teams or find new employment opportunities. While you may not want to strictly limit your search for employment or employees to the people you know, personal connections and word-of-mouth referrals can provide a major advantage. Instead of basing decisions off resumes and interviews alone, having a direct or indirect connection allows you to put names to faces, get a feel for how personalities might mesh, and find professionals with common goals and expectations.  

Even if you are not immediately looking to expand your team or make a career change, you never know what the future will bring. With the recent explosion of remote work for steel detailers, employers and employees both have greater flexibility in who they choose to work with. Staying abreast of who’s who in the industry and building relationships at industry events now will help jumpstart your search when the time comes.


Discover new ideas

Learning and networking often go hand in hand, especially if you’re attending industry-specific networking events like NASCC or SDS2 Summit, which are chock-full of informative sessions on the industry’s hottest topics, from advances in technology to project- and product-specific tips and tricks.  

In addition to learning from the presentations themselves, seeing who speaks and attends these sessions is a great way to identify people with shared interests and knowledge you might be able to tap into in the future. There is often time between sessions to meet the speaker or other attendees to follow up with questions, share your own insights with them, and exchange information.  

Outside of organized events, having good relationships with others in the industry that you can talk to and share ideas with is vital, especially today when construction workflows and technology are undergoing so many rapid changes. When you have good relationships in place, you can keep in touch with how others are approaching and solving problems, dealing with market changes, implementing new technology, and more.  


Protect your mental health

Like many professions in the construction industry, burnout and mental health issues are a growing concern among steel professionals, especially for those working remotely or in isolation, such as subcontract detailers. Steel detailing is an especially high-pressure job with a growing list of responsibilities, and detailers’ roles are often overlooked, underappreciated, and—as many detailing professionals today would argue—underpaid. But no matter what your role is in the project lifecycle, you’re going to feel the pressure of higher stakes, tighter timelines and budgets, and constantly shifting technology landscape in different ways. It’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to your mental well-being.  

That’s why it’s so important to build a solid network of industry contacts and friends in the profession who share your passion, concerns, and struggles. At minimum, simply having people to talk to can help you feel less isolated and boost your morale. At best, coming together can help you find creative solutions to common problems that affect your mental health and business success.  


Gain insights into other roles

While the construction industry at large has taken great strides in recent years to break down information silos through collaborative software and better workflows, some silos are inevitable as individual stakeholders all have to protect their own interests. Getting to know individuals on the other side of party lines—whether that’s a detailer, fabricator, engineer, erector, or technology vendor—and understanding their limitations, concerns, strengths, and expectations can help you find common ground and develop mutually beneficial solutions.  

SDS2 Summit 2023 in Omaha, Nebraska.


No matter where you’re at in your career, building and maintaining your professional network can open vital doors for your growth and fulfillment in the steel industry. It’s important to remember, though, that networking isn’t just about growing your list of followers on LinkedIn, collecting business cards at trade shows, and climbing ladders. 

Networking is most rewarding when you’re building authentic relationships—that means following up with your new contacts after you meet them, offering your own time and value wherever you can, and showing genuine interest and curiosity in what others have to say.   

If you’re looking for somewhere to get started, you can find a great, supportive community of steel professionals in the SDS2 user community. We offer an online forum where users can help troubleshoot questions, specialized opportunities for beta testers, and an engaged presence on social media 

Better yet, you can join us at our annual SDS2 Summit, where users from around the world come together with industry leaders, various technology vendors, and SDS2 development and support personnel for two jam-packed days to learn, mingle, and share ideas.