If you think jobs are hard to find, just imagine the plight of a December 2011 graduate in education. After 4 ½ years of study, entry-level teaching positions are hard to find.

My daughter tells me she sees two options: Work as a substitute teacher or stay in school and earn a master's degree. Neither seems to present the great financial relief I've been waiting for. In practical terms, she has one option. If she earns a master's degree, her hiring opportunities fade. Schools won't pay the premium salary she expects with an advanced degree.

Her only option is to substitute teach. Only with experience will she become marketable. Her classroom success will differentiate herself from the crowd. In a few years, once she has demonstrated to herself and her employer that she's committed to the profession, earning the advanced degree will be the necessary next step for advancement and tenure.

The employment picture is similar in our concrete industry. Many professionals now find themselves in positions where their experience may be valuable, but the next step is uncertain. The challenge for many will be, how to convert practical experience into managerial talent.

This is a great time to ask this question and to commit to a plan. Almost every senior manager with whom I have spoken in the last six months is worried about staffing for middle management positions. Just visit our THE CONCRETE PRODUCER Network group on LinkedIn to see the coming opportunities. The number of job openings is increasing, and most are in middle management.

New degree

Fortunately for us, our industry's leadership has foreseen this need. Last year, Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and the National Steering Committee of the Concrete Industry Management (CIM) program announced preliminary development of an executive-type MBA in CIM in its focused curriculum on the concrete and construction industry.

The program will be presented by the Jennings A. Jones College of Business on the MTSU campus in Murfreesboro. Accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Jones College is one of the largest business schools in the U.S.

The development phase of the program is nearing completion. Soon, MTSU will accept applications for the August 2012 initial class. Those who get in early on this new opportunity will definitely have a leg up on leadership positions in the next few years.

This is not a program for the faint of heart. It's an 18-month-long commitment, administered in 10-week blocks. The format will include distance learning, webinars, and on-campus visits to MTSU.

Also, acceptance is not a certainty. An applicant must have a minimum of five years of experience in the industry and hold at least supervisory positions or above in his or her respective organizations. Academically, all participants will have at least an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution of higher education.

The concrete industry needs this program. We need leaders who not only have the practical experience of day-today operations, but managers who can parlay what should happen into what does happen.

If you are interested in learning more about the CIM MBA, e-mail Dr. Troy Festervand, Associate Dean, Jones College of Business, at fester@mtsu.edu or telephone 615-898-2368. You can visit CIM representatives at booth GC11 at World of Concrete (Grand Concourse across from the World of Concrete Bookstore).