For years, The Concrete Producer’s annual Buyer’s Guide has provided a reference for your every purchasing need, from cleaning supplies to new batch plants. But while this issue is a handy resource (some may even say indispensable), we are keenly aware that equipment and materials are just the tools you use to get the job done.

If it weren’t for the expertise of dedicated concrete professionals, the busy hum of plants and trucks would come to a standstill. Unfortunately, we have experienced a significant loss of talent during recent years, with layoffs and workers seeking employment in other industries.

But employment trends are encouraging. In July, Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, reported there were 190,000 more construction jobs than last year (the highest level since August 2009) and more than 100,000 unfilled positions in the construction industry. He quoted a recent “Eye on Housing” blog by the National Association of Home Builders, which predicted “more net construction hiring in the months ahead — if firms can find workers with the right skills.”

Luckily for the concrete industry, the pool of talented professionals is still growing, thanks in part to a succession plan producers set in motion during better times. To date, more than 700 undergraduate students have earned Concrete Industry Management (CIM) degrees, and the first group of CIM Executive MBA candidates will complete the program in March 2014.

The 18-month Master’s program is open to industry professionals with a minimum of five years of experience (not limited to CIM undergrads), who hold supervisory positions or higher. The instruction is mostly self-paced coursework online, and the students meet several times a year at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). The cohort completes its instruction as a group, which, according to Ayaz Ahmed, MTSU associate professor and the program’s coordinator, “is instrumental for grooming executives who network and form relationships that will last throughout their careers.”

Industry feedback has been positive, and the university expects an even larger class starting in January 2014. MTSU will also be recruiting around the world, to add even more diverse and international perspectives to the industry’s growing braintrust.

To learn more about this expanding program, visit www.concrete-mba.com.