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Heather Brown, director of the Concrete Industry Management program at Middle Tennessee State University, at World of Concrete with CIM students Kell Harvey (center) and Ryan Horne.

Recruiting and training mid-level managers has challenged the concrete industry for decades. Men and women who have grown up through the ranks often are not equipped to nurture and expand their skills beyond the disciplines they have learned in the field. These include mix designs, batching, and dispatching.

As young people advance in our industry, they have not been exposed to the financial and strategic skills they need to move to the next step in their careers. The Concrete Industry Management (CIM) curriculum at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Murfreesboro has filled this important role as this industry's largest educational initiative.

Founded in 1996, 44 students graduated from the program this past May, and 367 more are now enrolled in the CIM program. In addition, the CIM curriculum has been expanded to Arizona State University, California State at Chico, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Along the way, the industry has pressed MTSU to elevate the curriculum, and sought a way to continue the educational opportunities for the graduates through an advanced degree, effectively creating an MBA in Concrete Management. To learn more, I visited recently with Dr. Heather Brown, the director of the program who holds a PhD in civil engineering with an emphasis on construction materials.

Brown has energized the program since taking the reins last year. We talked about the challenges of the new graduate program, which will admit its first 12 to 20 candidates in the next 18 months. The CIM National Steering Committee has provided the funds needed to apply for a National Science Foundation grant to develop the new program.

When polling industry executives, it became apparent that few would sacrifice their most talented managers for a 36-hour curriculum, thus the need for a distance learning program would be critical. But MTSU's graduate business school did not offer distance learning. Creating a program from scratch would take years.

Specialized curriculum

Instead, Brown would allow the candidates to take the first 18 hours, or half of the degree requirement, of prerequisite courses found in most conventional advanced degree programs at a college close to home. The distance learning portion for the specialized curriculum, or the last half, would provide industry-specific courses. These would include:

  • An advanced production facility course to prepare and train candidates in the planning and operation of ready-mixed concrete, concrete pipe, pre-cast, and other manufacturing facilities to give them the skills to operate a plant at the general manager level.
  • Scheduling and critical path methods to better understand the science of fleet and personnel efficiency.
  • Financial planning and resource management to teach the analysis tools necessary to understand how to employ capital in a sensible growth plan.
  • A study of advanced materials, cutting edge admixtures, and other performance enhancements leading to the newest mix designs, with an emphasis on sustainable development.
  • Advanced troubleshooting, to provide the best options available for remediating problems in the field.
  • The MBA in Concrete Management will be a significant step in fulfilling our industry's educational needs, elevating the knowledge level, and graduating evermore sophisticated managers. I urge you to support the CIM program at all four universities. You can volunteer to serve on marketing committees, support the CIM auction held annually at the World of Concrete, and hire CIM graduates.

    — Pierre Villere is president and managing partner of Allen-Villere Partners. E-mailpvillere@allenvillere.comor telephone 985-727-4310. For more, visitwww.allenvillere.com.