I attend a good number of conferences around the country every year, and having just returned from the 18th National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference & Expo in Chicago, I have had just a bit  of time to reflect on the activities and agenda there. If you are someone who has never attended this or other conferences in the past, you might want to reconsider.  

Clearly there are important educational reasons to take on such an endeavor, but there are other equally important reasons to go. A well run conference is not about simply maintaining your accreditations and designations. It is about networking. It is about broadening your view, and learning what is happening in the industry in which you earn your living. It is about maintaining your competitive edge, in a market rife with consolidations, staff reductions and increasing workloads.

At this year's conference, I spoke in a session that addressed the effective use of technology in the workplace. The main point in this presentation was that people must keep themselves informed and in the know regarding the technical systems we use in the workplace today. New software, broadband and wireless technologies are allowing for increased efficiencies throughout the industry (Read: less people doing more). The theory goes that one will be far better off using the efficiency tools than those being replaced by them. Just ask any of the 505,000 people who filed for first time unemployment benefits LAST WEEK.

While the focus in my presentation was on technology, the lesson applies across the board. Times, and the workers’ compensation industry, are changing, and the informed, networked professional has a far better chance at survival and success than those who remain stubbornly disconnected. Conferences such as these are excellent venues to get your finger on the pulse of an industry, and to make key contacts and alliances that can propel you further in your career. While online services like this blog can give you technical information and keep you updated on many topics, I am a firm believer that they cannot replace the benefits of strong face to face discussion and interaction. To borrow from another point in my presentation – we should never lose the "human" element of our workplace lives. To put it more bluntly, "It’s a people thing". 

Considering the state of the economy, I found this year's conference to be well attended, and there were a surprising number of vendors in the exhibit hall. The session topics were broad and addressed a wide range of issues covering claims management, integrated disability and wellness, Legal/Regulatory, Medical/Behavioral Solutions and Return To Work. The expo hall offered an incredible array of products and services, some of them brand new within the industry. Personally I had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances, and made a few new ones along the way. All in all, a successful event.

There are several good conferences that you can select to attend around the nation. If you want to attend the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference next year, you will find it in Las Vegas, Nevada, November 10 – 12, 2010. My bet is, you’ll find it a pretty good gamble.

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