Concrete won't be established as the preferred building material unless the industry promotes itself to a labor pool that has increasingly few incentives to work long hours in bad weather. Industry leaders recognize the need to develop talent to meet future labor demand, as shown by the continuing development of Middle Tennessee State University's Concrete Industry Management program and initiatives at the high school and grade school levels.
The industry will need more people like the following individuals, who make a difference by promoting value-added concrete to, and partnering with, contractors and specifiers and recruiting other young people for the industry.
Title: Sales representative
Company: Van Der Vaart Inc., Sheboygan, Wis. Four ready-mix plants (28 trucks) and two block/building supply operations (eight trucks) supply industrial, commercial, residential and agricultural projects in four counties in east-central Wisconsin. Subsidiaries include Tri-County Ready Mix & Excavating Co., Sheboygan Concrete and ready-mix supplier C. Harvey Co. Inc.
How long with company: 18 years
Training/education: Various positions in the field, including general laborer, crane operator, mixer driver.
Why I chose concrete production: After high school I worked as a laborer and intended to get into heavy equipment and excavating. I found I liked working with concrete and working with people in the field.
Industry's biggest challenge: Number one, aggregate supply arrangements. In our area, no one wants a pit within five miles of their home. So high-quality aggregates have to be trucked in from farther away, increasing end-product cost. Number two, large companies buying small firms or running them out of business. I'm concerned about a lack of competition that increases concrete's end cost. This may lead to higher prices, resulting in use of concrete as a secondary product, not the product of choice.
Having worked in the field, Lohr has a customer's perspective. This helps in a service- oriented market dominated by front-discharge delivery, pumping and conveying. Lohr expands Van Der Vaart's market by promoting these services and residential concrete uses.
He works a booth at local home shows, promoting colored concrete, including stamped flatwork and decorative walls. Lohr figures that market has tripled the last five years. "Before, nobody did decorative concrete. Now we have two customers who do nothing else," he says. "We've done colored poured walls, sidewalks, patios, even colored driveways with brick borders."
The Sheboygan County Home Builders Association recently changed its bylaws to name Lohr president. In the past, only builder members, not associate members, could serve as president.
"Value-added is about the only thing you can sell in a competitive market," he says. "Having a full-time sales rep (himself) on the road helps, too." This enables Lohr to check on every customer's project, schedule orders for the rest of the week and offer a value-added "product of the week."
Lohr also promotes the industry by drawing on his eight years of mixer-driving experience when he attends orientation day for juniors and seniors at local high schools and recruits drivers. Lohr turns the seasonal nature of the work to his advantage. "I tell them they can still enjoy ice fishing in the winter," he says.
Title: Sales/marketing amp; operations coordinator
Company: Ready Mixed Concrete Co., Omaha, Neb., subsidiary of Lyman-Richey sand and gravel operation. Omaha/Council Bluffs, Iowa, paving market accounts for 50% of concrete sales. Has supplied concrete for total reconstruction of I-80 in the region for most of the 1990s. Eight permanent plants, 175 mixer trucks.
How long with company: 15 years
Training/education: Associate's degree in Construction Technology, Northeast Community College, Calmar, Iowa. ACI Level I-certified and completed NRMCA Short Course on Concrete and Aggregates.
Why I chose concrete production: My interest started in high school and continued through college courses and hands-on applications. Concrete is a unique and versatile building material, and advances in cement and admixture technology will present complex future challenges.
Industry's biggest challenge: The labor issue. We need to encourage and properly train concrete finishers. Today's concrete is stronger, less permeable and more durable, but that presents challenges in placing and finishing techniques. We need to work closely with contractors to ensure that owners obtain the expected final product, a product that stands for quality and that will be specified again and again.
After starting as a QC technician and QC manager, Deetz had a position created for him, one that gets production and sales to work cohesively. "I'm the tie that binds central dispatch, sales and delivery," he says. Another ongoing task is selling specifiers on concrete.
Deetz notes that local producers can profit from the Federal Highway Administration's recent prodding of state DOTs to adopt specifications for strength, thickness and smoothness, as has the Federal Aviation Administration. He hopes the Nebraska DOT follows Iowa's lead and moves toward performance vs. prescriptive specifications.
But achieving hardened concrete properties like exceptional smoothness depends on customers' own skilled workers, Deetz notes. "If we don't develop concrete finishers, we won't have anyone to put our product down," he says. "I see the quality of workmanship taking a step back every day while concrete is getting more sophisticated."
What skills are important to someone in Deetz's position? "I had several communications courses in college, and lots of students didn't take them very seriously," he says. "But learning phone etiquette was just as good an asset as any technical training I had."
Title: Projects coordinator
Company: PRM Concrete Corp., Pawtucket, R.I. Offers colored, high-strength and exposed-aggregate concrete and supplies residential, commercial, industrial and state projects. Currently supplying caisson concrete for Providence Place Mall. Company has 19 mixer trucks and six dump trucks.
How long with company: 15 years
Training/education: Bachelor's in Industrial Technology, Rhode Island College, Providence. MBA in Operations Management, Bryant College, Smithfield.
Why I chose concrete production: I've always been interested in equipment and plants, and I like the experience of working with construction teams to get a project done.
Industry's biggest challenge: Adapting to change. Just because we did it one way for so many years doesn't mean it's right. There's usually a better way. The industry has to be less interested in yesterday's order and more interested in future relationships with customers.
Squeo appears to be a QC manager, but he'd tell you he's also a design consultant, and, in a sense, a sales rep. He often custom-designs mixes instead of trying to fit a standard mix to a given project. He also believes in disclosing mix characteristics in the form of a professional presentation during pre-pour meetings to prevent last-minute surprises, i.e. load rejections.
When he was pursuing his MBA, Squeo wrote and presented a paper, complete with overheads, entitled "Ready Mixed Concrete 2000: Statistical Applications for the Concrete Industry" for a quality control course. The paper stresses that quality control is service. It addresses, among other topics, the importance of aggregate testing and the options of overdesigning (no experience with specification) vs. statistical process control (experience with specification). Squeo now makes similar presentations in pre-pour meetings. He's trying to prevent a situation in which the specifications writer informs the contractor of a variable such as soil quality on the actual pour date. If a pre-pour meeting isn't feasible, Squeo says, the