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Three generations of Creter Vault Corp.: left to right, son Matt; his father, Dick; 2-year-old Sean Richard; and his father, Rich, stand among the company's out door granite sculptures.
Growing your own

While some producers look outward to attract the sharpest minds, others focus internally. Creter Vault Corp., a fifth-generation burial vault company based in Flemington, N.J., has succeeded by investing in its people since 1918.

“My father taught me to appreciate people and spend time with them,” says Dick Creter, great-grandson of mason and stonecutter Phillip Creter and current company president. “Having a personal relationship with customers and employees benefits them and the company.”

For example, Creter never searches for qualified drivers because all of their drivers are promoted from within. “When someone in the company wants to move up, they go through the shop and production as an apprentice, then train with a driver and eventually get their CDL,” he explains. “The process takes about five years.” This extensive training may seem unusual, but it makes sense, considering drivers can be a company's highest paid employees.

Creter's investment in employees also reduces costly turnover, and the “brain drain” experienced by some larger companies. Creter estimates about 80% of its 75 employees are long-term, including several who have been there longer than 30 years. Many who are old enough to retire stay on as part-time “ambassadors” to customers.

The dedication of Creter's owners and employees has enabled the company to expand its main precast vault business, by acquiring separate granite and erosion control businesses. Its granite operation produces monuments, countertops, and architectural products. Geosyn, the company's erosion control company, sells dozens of products, including silt fences and a patented offshore concrete reef system.

Today, Dick Creter is sharing his appreciation of employees and customers with his sons, who are both involved in the business. Matt, 23, is project manager for Creter Vault and its granite operations. Rich, 36, is vice president and has worked full time there for 13 years.

Retaining top talent

Not every producer has a line of successors. As much of the industry's workforce nears retirement age, it's just as important to keep good employees as it is to recruit them.

Two years ago, Aggregate Industries was having trouble keeping drivers at its Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia plants, and hired Chris McCoy, a driver trainer and manager. Through a Maryland state employer testing program, McCoy began conducting CDL training and testing onsite. Trainees advance from classroom instruction, to practice (including a simulator), and finally learning from a mentor. The company pays drivers while they are training, and pays their CDL fees. In return, drivers agree to work at Aggregate Industries for one year.

In a year and a half, almost 80 drivers have gone through McCoy's training, with a retention rate of about 95%. The company's investment in employees' careers seems to breed the loyalty that was missing before. Today, Aggregate Industries is proud to be one of the few producers in the region without a driver retention problem.

“This is probably the most important issue to our members,” says Lionel Lemay, vice president of technical resources at NRMCA. “Without drivers, our product doesn't go very far.” In response, the NRMCA has developed a Driver of the Year competition, a Driver Rodeo, a CDL training program, driver supervisors' training, a Certified Delivery Professional program to address safety, productivity and environmental issues, and a Mentor Driver program.

“To retain drivers, you have to show the industry respects them for more than just driving,” says Eileen Dickson, NRMCA's senior director of education. “Ready-mix drivers have to have a lot of industry knowledge and really understand the product to handle anything that comes up on a pour.”

The NRMCA has also launched Seminars, Training & Education Programs (STEPS), supporting continued industry education, increased productivity, and professional growth. Participants can become Certified Concrete Professionals in Business Management, Concrete Technology, Operations & Production, and Sales, Marketing, & Promotion.

It's all good news for Sean Richard Creter, one of many industry leaders to come.