Concrete producers are traditionalists. Maybe it’s because we work on a 28-day-cycle. But more likely, it’s the reality that it’s difficult to profit in a low-margin, high-volume business. While adopting traditional values has been a historical avenue for success, managers are recognizing that changes are on the horizon.
During the last recession, producers streamlined their management ranks. In one of the greatest losses of talent ever seen, some industry watchers suggest almost 40% of all management positions were cut.
In 2016, an improving market is bringing two conflicting trends to the refilling of the ranks of managers in the concrete production industry. First, experienced managers who survived the massive cuts are now retiring at increasing rates. Their departures bring about the loss of the producer’s collective consciousness and historical perspective of purpose.
To replace these traditional executives and to replenish the missing layers of middle managers, producers are turning to millennials. Gray hairs and suits are being replaced by ballcaps and chinos.
One of the leading influencers in 2016 is the influx of the millennial generation. Forbes magazine projects that three out of every four workers will be a millennial by 2025. This growing workforce segment was born between the 1980s and 2000.
The leading concrete industry trade associations are recognizing the need to help quicken millennials’ inclusion into their members’ ranks. Every association has developed initiatives that encourage young leader activity. The NRMCA has developed training courses in sales, production, and quality control. The American Concrete Institute and the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute use student membership to build professional relationships early.
At the National Precast Concrete Association’s 2015 Annual Convention, young leaders were invited to participate in an open session during which they discussed their challenges. Two participants were Richard Alvarado and Drew Wieser. Both millennials are now in similar key management positions, yet they entered the industry in different ways.
Richard Alvarado: Bridging the Gap
Alvarado joined Western Precast Concrete in El Paso, Texas, after a career in the military. He never thought he’d stay when he was hired in the producer’s delivery department. Western discovered Alvarado’s sense of order fit well into its business. Now he is the operation’s general manager.
Coming up through the ranks, Alvarado didn’t sense any problems as a millennial. He thanks the insights provided from the plant’s long-term manager who has recently retired. “I learned a great deal from him, not only about production, but the industry,” Alvarado says.
As with any millennial, Alvarado admits he can be restless for improvement. With ownership support, he has been slowly bringing new technology to his operation.
Alvarado feels that a key element in his position is reaching out to new employees. While the plant has a strong core of experienced employees, retaining good new help can be difficult. Most new hires see their employment in a plant as only temporary, a stop to somewhere else better. He is working to create an environment in which new employees are mentored by others. But he admits it is difficult to convince his millennial-aged charges that there is opportunity in concrete production.
For more on Richard, visit www.westernprecast.com.
Drew Wieser: Transforming the Tradition
Wieser is a third-generation concrete producer. When an opportunity arose to reopen a production facility for Wieser Concrete Products just outside of St. Louis, the Wisconsin native moved south. Wieser’s focus on how to interact with millennials is more customer-centric. He has been developing nontraditional approaches to reach current and new customers. He’s found that customers have a sort of “Amazon” mentality to purchasing. They want information to be online 24/7 and are not willing to submit the purchase order with too much interaction. This makes the traditional approach of relationship sales more difficult. “We still need to connect with our customers personally, but our next new customer will likely find us on the Web rather than in the phonebook,” Wieser says.
Looking toward his own company, Wieser feels that he has an advantage over managers his age in other organizations. His family business has always been an open dialogue. So input from all family members is expected.
For more on Drew, visit www.wieserconcrete.com.