In our latest edition of Women in Fluid Power brought to you by Fluid Power World, Mary Gannon is joined by Caryes Allen, vice president of Higginson Equipment in Burlington, Ontario and the incoming chair of the Canadian Fluid Power Association. Notably Allen is the first woman to lead that organization and has big ideas to move it and the industry forward.
Gannon and Allen discuss the importance of education at the college and primary and high school levels and how she is working with the CFPA to get more fluid power training into Canadian post-secondary schools. She also talks about her history in her family-owned business and the exciting challenges of being a part of the fluid power industry.
A lightly edited transcript follows.
Mary Gannon: Hello and thank you for joining us for another edition of Women in Fluid Power brought to you by Fluid Power World. I’m Mary Gannon and today I’m joined by Caryes Allan. Caryes is a great example of a woman doing great things for the industry. She is vice president of Higginson Equipment in Burlington, Ontario and is the incoming chair of the Canadian Fluid Power Association. Notably Caryes is the first woman to lead that organization and has big ideas to move it and the industry forward. So thank you for being here with us Caryes.
Caryes Allan: Thank you so much for having me.
Mary Gannon: We’re pretty excited about everything you’ve been doing over there at the CFPA. You’ve been involved in the board for a couple of years now, correct?
Caryes Allan: Yes, that is correct. For two years now.
Mary Gannon: And now you are the incoming chair, so that had to be a pretty exciting moment for you. Can you tell us a little bit about how that happened and what you plan to accomplish in your term and how long is your term?
Caryes Allan: Absolutely. So I’ve been part of the CFPA for just over two years now. How I got started was just, I attended an AGM. I then joined some of the committees, so the regional event committee and the education committee. After that I became the chair of the education committee and two years ago, just after a short little while of joining the CFPA, I moved up quite quickly. I became the vice chair of the CFPA. So after two years my term was up and then I got promoted to the chair of the association, which I was voted in by the board at our last AGM and I’m very honored to be the first female chair of the association.
Mary Gannon: And you have some interesting ideas on kind of how you’re going to tweak membership and grow the association. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Caryes Allan: Yeah, absolutely. So we are continuously growing. I hope to continue the growth in our industry. I mean it’s a huge industry and I’m very excited that it keeps on growing. Some of the ideas that I have are mostly around education. So in Canada, most of our college programs do not run fluid power anymore. And that is because they couldn’t fill the seats. We’ve started working with IFPS and doing a hydraulic certification review session and then as well doing the training afterwards. But the issue is, it’s a very intense review course. So I mean you can’t just grow out of there out of high school. You do need some time to be able to get your knowledge and that’s where the colleges need to come into play. So we are working, we are trying to work with colleges Canada-wide to be able to kind of determine like a career path in fluid power and be able to offer all of those courses, fill the seats and then have a certification and that’s where the IFPS will come in. So a lot of the stuff that I want to do in my two year term comes down to working with the colleges, working more closely with the government to be able to put all these programs in place and just, you know, kind of continuously grow the pipeline. I guess you can say.
Mary Gannon: That’s a fantastic goal because we have the same problem here in the US, there’s just not a lot of fluid power training going on. There are some schools that have it and the NFPA just like you guys are working to change that. So let’s hope that both your organizations are successful. I can’t wait to kind of see when you guys get some schools coming on boards and universities coming on board, we’d love to hear about that. So you are the VP at Higginson Equipment. Can you tell us a little bit about Higginson and what you do there?
Caryes Allan: Yeah, so Higginson Equipment is a manufacturer and a distributor. So we manufacture Aaron hydraulic cylinders and then we are a distributor for fluid power and pneumatic products. My current role is concentrating on the finance and as well as the production planning of the shop. So I do oversee all of the manufacturing and I plan all the jobs as well as I do all the finance part of the job.
Mary Gannon: Higginson is a family business, correct?
Caryes Allan: That is correct. So my dad is the owner and that is how I got involved. So I’ve been working here since I was 12, so a very long time, not to date myself, but I’ve kind of worked my way up and started stickering catalogs, worked in shipping and receiving and just kind of worked my way up. The only thing that basically I don’t do is run any of the machines, but otherwise I can pretty much do a lot of the other things.
Mary Gannon: So you’d know all the operations and how it all goes forward. That’s the greatest thing about a family business.
Caryes Allan: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s great because then you can fill in where people are on holidays and you can fill in those gaps seamlessly.
Mary Gannon: Now women in fluid power are still pretty rare, but there are a lot of women in family businesses. Is that kind of how you decided to stay in the business because it was a family business or did you like what Higginson stood for and the industry that it was involved in?
Caryes Allan: Absolutely. I mean I would say it’s a bit of both. As I said, my dad is the owner. So I kind of, I got brought into that. But I mean I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the challenges that we face. I enjoy problem solving and most of all I liked the customer service aspect of it. So I do like helping people. So anytime I can help a customer and go above and beyond, I will for sure make that happen.
Mary Gannon: Back to your work on the CFPA with education, do you kind of plan on targeting any women programs or young girls in STEM? Anything with the Fluid Power Action Challenge, anything like that that you can kind of get younger people involved in besides the college level?
Caryes Allan: Absolutely. For sure. Yeah. So we do have our local challenges and our national challenge. So these are geared to grade eight students. And what we do is we try to promote always having a female on the team. This year at our local challenge in Toronto, we actually had our first all girls team, which was amazing to see. So when we first started these challenges years and years ago, we would only see the male students, the guys, the whole boy team. Now we’re actually starting to see it. It’s definitely more diverse with two females two males. Sometimes we have three females, sometimes we have one. So it is great to see and just promoting that within the grade eight level. Sometimes they don’t know. Right? I mean our kids might know because you know, mom and dad work in this industry, right?
But some of the other industries that people might work in, those kids don’t know about the fluid power industry. So it’s great when we target the grade eight because we have a video that we showed them just about what is fluid power, right? Cause I mean they don’t know. They don’t know that it’s everywhere. They don’t know when you go to a roller coaster amusement park that there’s fluid power there. They don’t know that it’s on trains and airplanes and just the diversity of it. So I think that by targeting those grade eight students and even just they can then see the fluid power is everywhere. And I think that with those challenges is great. And it’s, back to your comment about the women in fluid power, it’s great to see that the females are starting to get interested in it just because they don’t know, right?
Sometimes they think this might be like a dirty industry. You got to get your hands dirty or anything like that, which you can, but there’s so much more that you can accomplish in this industry. So I think that that’s what we need to target too. It’s not just about working in a shop or running a machine. There’s graphic designs when it comes down to marketing, there is the administrative assistant, there’s the finance, the HR, there’s so much more, even running machines, there’s nothing wrong about that. I mean, we have a club student right now that’s a female, and she absolutely loves it and she wants to be a scientist when she’s older, but she started just to work on the machines. Just so that she could see what it’s all about.
Mary Gannon: Absolutely. Great. Getting hands on is definitely the best way of learning for sure.
Caryes Allan: Absolutely. And that’s where most, a lot of our members do offer. They work with the colleges and stuff like that, which is good. And you know, we just have to still continue promoting that women in the fluid power.
Mary Gannon: Absolutely. And when you were talking about all the different roles that women can have, there is a lot of opportunity. What do you think that women can bring different perspectives and kind of help move this industry forward? Do you think that there’s a difference of managing or things like that that we can kind of bring into the industry? What do you think about that?
Caryes Allan: Absolutely. I think that I’ve made a few comments about the pale, stale and male in our industry and not trying to offend anybody, but just even when I started the CFPA, it was all guys in the room, right? Now it’s starting to bring more females. And I mean we have a different set of skills and I think that that brings to the table huge things. I think that women sometimes can be a little more organized. They can bring different management styles to the table. And even just other skills that women can do in general can bring a lot, can bring a lot to the table. And I think that we are seeing more and more CEOs of some of these larger industrial fluid power companies are run by women, which is amazing to see. And I think that that’s just going to continue along. And I think that now that it’s starting, I think it’s just going to grow from here and just continue to [crosstalk 00:10:00]
Mary Gannon: Absolutely. And I think one thing, I know that you have children, I think as working mothers, we are amazing multitaskers and I think that’s a great skill to have in any type of management roles. So for sure.
Caryes Allan: Absolutely. Yeah. I think that multitasking is a must when especially being a mom and then working and even just what’s thrown at you on a day to day basis at work.
Mary Gannon: Absolutely. One final question before I let you go. I’d love to like hear what your favorite part of the industry is. What do you really love about working in fluid power and dealing with the fluid power market every day?
Caryes Allan: I think just the challenges. Like there’s so many, it could be troubleshooting, it could be a customer is in a breakdown and just helping them. My role here is not on the technical side of it, but for me, I love helping people that is my ultimate thing that I love to do. And in this fluid power industry, there’s always a customer in a breakdown or something needs to get shipped out or this person forgot to order something. So I think just the overall of helping somebody and being able to help them get out of a jam and help even their customer if they aren’t the end user is what I is what I love the best.
Mary Gannon: I think it is interesting when you see some of these manufacturers just kind of how they are customizing things and working so quickly to help their customers. So that’s a great story there. Any, any other thoughts you’d like to share? Any thoughts, any advice you’d like to share to anyone new coming into the industry, whether it be young women or men? How do we get this industry moving forward with new blood?
Caryes Allan: I think the biggest thing is, we as all of our associations, so CFPA and NFPA does a great job. We just need to educate the younger generation. And I think that they just need to have an open mind of what fluid power is. It’s not … There’s so much more and we’re such a growing industry and we’re such a stable industry. Right? So I think that that’s what we need to get across. We’re not going anywhere. We are a very stable industry as a whole. So I think that that’s what as the generations grow up, they’re looking for that sustainability and I think that that’s one of the things that we need to show is that we’re not going anywhere with all of this IT and IOT and stuff like that. Fluid power is not going to go anywhere. So I think that other markets are going to disintegrate and I think that we’re always going to be here. So I think that that’s what we need to promote to get that younger generation to be able to fill our pipelines, to keep this growing.
Mary Gannon: Wonderful. Absolutely agree. We have the power density and breadth of industries that we impact that it’s definitely not going to go anywhere.
Caryes Allan: No, absolutely not.
Mary Gannon: Well thank you so much again for joining us today Caryes.
Caryes Allan: Thank you so much.
Mary Gannon: I’m looking forward to seeing the great things you accomplish at the CFPA and moving forward with Higginson.
Caryes Allan: Thank you so much for having me today.
Mary Gannon: And thank you to all of our listeners for joining our Women in Fluid Power podcast series. For more industry news and updates, visit fluidpowerworld.com