Researchers, industry practitioners and professionals from over 50 countries form the collaborative working platform of the International Institute of Welding. Award winning CEO, Luca Costa, discusses his career, current role and rapid digital transformation within the organisation.
Founded in 1948 by the welding institutes or societies of 13 countries with a united mission to advance the welding and joining industry through a worldwide network, the International Institute of Welding now comprises associations from more than 50 countries.
This unique international cooperation is achieved through annual and intermediate meetings of IIW working units and boards, technical working, shared projects, events, publications and web-based communications. The outcomes are shared throughout the world – promoting optimum use and innovation in joining technologies, international standardisation and quality through education, training, qualification and certification of both individuals and companies to achieve a safe and sustainable world.
Leading such a diverse global institution will always involve practical challenges in terms of cultural differences, time zone barriers and communication issues. Adding in the impact of a global pandemic, effective rapid digitalisation becomes more important than ever. Award winning, Luca Costa, CEO has devoted his entire career to research, education and training within the welding industry. Here, he tells us about his progression to the senior role within this international not-for-profit, gives an insight into its responsibilities and aims, and discusses the challenges and outcomes of implementing digital transformation.
From graduating as a mechanical engineer focusing on welding, to being appointed as the CEO of this reputable international organisation, your career has been dedicated to industry related research, education and leadership. Could you briefly talk us through this journey and the roles you’ve undertaken at the IIW?
Yes, it’s fair to say that I’ve spent all my professional life within the welding industry, as after having received my doctorate from the University of Genoa, I embarked on a career focused on training and education within the industrial metalworking sector. I started working at the IIS (The Italian Institute of Welding) as a teacher and researcher but also gained valuable industry experience during this time.
In 2013 I was given responsibility for training the department, guiding projects, and dealing with the digitisation of training at all levels. In parallel to this, I served as the Italian delegate to many technical working units and committee of IIW, and Chaired the Health, Safety and Environment Commission for eight years. I became a Member of the Board of Directors of the IIW in 2011 and since this time I’ve served as Vice President (2011 – 2014), Chairman of the Technical Management Board (2014 – 2017) and Treasurer ((2017 – 2019). In 2019, I applied for the position of CEO and was appointed to commence duties on January 1st 2020.
The IIW differs from most other international organisations in that it’s not-for-profit and is governed by Italian law. Can you tell us more about its membership, aims and objectives?
Members of the IIW are welding institutes and associations representing their own countries. Membership comprises welding associations from approximately 50 countries, with more nations continually indicating interest. Our community of experts includes more than a thousand individuals worldwide (“the who’s who in welding”) and is constantly growing. The Institute is recognised as the largest worldwide network and centre of reference for welding and allied joining technologies. It operates as the global body for the science and application of joining technologies, provides a forum for networking and knowledge exchange among scientists, researchers, industry and educators.
Through the work of its Technical Working Units, the IIW is recognised as a standardising body approved by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) to develop standards in the field of welding and related processes. The IIW Journal “Welding in the World” has been registered in Thomson Reuters Science Citation Index® since 2009.
The IIW International Education, Training Qualification and Certification Programmes for welding personnel and companies are also recognised worldwide. The systems developed for education and training are paving the way towards one global education and qualification system for welding personnel, and several thousand individuals and hundreds of companies proudly own an IIW Diploma or certificate.
Aside from the day to day running of a global institution, did you have any specific plans for further development of the IIW?
Yes, I was selected to implement the IIW Strategic Plan 2018 – 2023. This plan focuses on the IIW vision ‘to advance welding and joining through a worldwide network,’ as well as its mission – ‘linking industry research and education to the advancement of welding and joining for a safe and sustainable world.’ My role was to improve the delivery of services for our members, marketing the IIW to industry with a special focus on multinational companies. The overall aim being to get the IIW recognised as the best international provider of certification and best practice, ensuring the highest standards for all welding projects with global scope and impact.
Another area I’ve concentrated on is the reorganisation of suppliers and outsourced savings to effect savings of 18 per cent when compared to the previous year. In a year where the pandemic has limited our revenues, these cost savings have proved essential and enabled us to end the 2020 financial year with a significant positive net result.
Leading a collaborative global platform through a pandemic must be extremely challenging. Can you tell us how you’ve had to evolve and how digital transformation has enabled you to communicate with your members?
Clearly we’ve had to reconsider and reinvent many services as the pandemic impacted our ability to travel to visit members and stakeholders.
Traditionally our activities had been based on face-to-face meetings with participants coming from all over the world to meet at least twice a year. Our Annual Assembly and International conference was a highlight in the calendar, attracting between 550 and 1000 participants who met for a full week at a different venue each year. More than merely an annual event geared towards research, training, qualification and certification in welding, these events are opportunities for members to meet, socialise, establish long-lasting friendships and feel part of a global community.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic in March the Board of Directors had no option but to cancel the 2020 Annual Assembly due to be held in July in Singapore. However, I’m delighted to report that the IIW enabled me to turn this disaster into an opportunity, and three months later via digital transformation and the support of a dedicated team, the event was restructured and adapted to an online environment. Sessions had to accommodate different time shifts, meeting and voting procedures needed to be adapted to digital, and awards and speeches also had to be transformed for a digital audience. The resulting online event attracted almost 650 participants, 50 sessions and 150 hours of meetings. Financially, income raised was only 25 per cent lower than that budgeted for a face-to-face event.
The logistics involved in moving such an event online are immense. Did you meet with any hostility and what barriers did you need to overcome?
Well, yes, given we had to manage both cultural and technological barriers, with no firm procedures and policies in place, and given the limited time available, it was close to a nightmare! Many of the members were anxious about presentations and discussions being managed appropriately in a digital / online mode. They also failed to realise the costs involved in implementing technology to cope with mass participation (more than 200 participants at some meetings) and that we needed to recuperate costs.
Also, many community members were unfamiliar with online meeting tools and needed guidance on how to present, share content and vote. It was indeed a sharp learning curve, but one which has given us invaluable experience for the future.
Will Annual Assemblies continue to be held online or do you hope to revert to face-to-face meetings when circumstances allow?
Our 2021 Annual Assembly was also hosted online with even greater success, extra social online events and further development of networking capacity, but we do intend to revert to face-to-face assemblies when we can.
However, the imprint of digital transformation will remain, as many meetings and events will be now run remotely. The mindset of community members has now changed, and given the rapid evolution of digital tools, further digital transformation will become possible.
The IIW is recognised as the largest worldwide network and centre of reference for welding and allied joining technologies. For further information, news and events, please visit iiwelding.org