Ten years ago, three small concrete producers merged to form United Materials, which has since more than doubled in size. Terri Ketelsen answered an ad for an administrative assistant about this time. After starting her new job, she soon realized she had much more to offer the producer in Wheatfield, N.Y.

Ketelsen, now the producer's human resources manager, wanted the employees to know that they could come to her with their problems and questions. She wanted tobe the middleman who could direct them to the right source.

Ketelsen's desire to assist employees naturally attracted her to safety and training issues. She believes that training makes the difference in helping an employee do a good job, care about his job, and want to stay with the company. To do so, she has worked with the NRMCA and implemented many of the association's training tools.Through her efforts, United Materials won the NRMCA education award in 2000. It still makes her smile.

She also implemented NRMCA's Mentor Driver Training Program and modified it for United Materials. "Mentorship opens up the channels of communication," says Ketelsen. Drivers feel comfortable asking questions and getting help when they've formed a bond with a more experienced employee who is there to help them. "We make sure the mentors are volunteers, because if their heart is not into it, it won't work."

Mentors makes less experienced drivers feel more at ease. "People don't like to ask questions that makes them look like they don't know something. It becomes a problem. By being assigned to someone, they feel more comfortable asking questions because they know there won't be any repercussions," says Ketelsen.

Making confident drivers

At one point, the producer stopped using the mentor program. A little later, a new owner noticed that the drivers who had gone through the mentor program seemed different. Not necessarily better, just different. "Perhaps those drivers were more confident," Ketelsen says.

She listens to employees' suggestions on how to improve the mentor program. "One great employee suggestion was to have a state trooper come in and talk to the drivers," she says. "It's been a huge success. Now, he comes in every year." But it does not mean errant drivers get out of paying any traffic tickets, she jokes.

"The more people feel involved, the more the company feels like their own," says Ketelsen. So far, it's worked. Employee retention rates are high and with help from the mentor training, her drivers came in first and second in the first New York State NRMCA driver rodeo in 2007.

Some may say that perhaps her drivers had an advantage because Ketelsen was one of the rodeo's organizers. But it was something she believed would help train drivers to be better, and her drivers worked hard to win. "The people are what make the company"she says.

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