THEabor has long been a major challenge for aggregate producers, and new government policies complicate the problem for those looking for good help. P&Q convened a panel at the Pit & Quarry 2021 Roundtable and Conference to explore the very latest producers encountered on the frontline, as well as possible solutions to resolve an age-old dilemma plaguing the industry. The three roundtable participants who participated in our panel were Scott Dickson of Hanson Aggregates Southeast, Karen Hubacz-Kiley of Bond Construction Corp. and Pat Jacomet of the Ohio Aggregates & Industrial Minerals Association (OAIMA). The round table took place on June 3, and the following notes have been edited for brevity and clarity.
P&Q: There is apparently nothing that the pandemic has not had an impact. This certainly includes the ability of an aggregate producer to recruit and hire good employees. Tell us about your experience over the past 15 months.
SCOTT DICKSON (HANSON SOUTHEAST AGGREGATIONS): COVID has forced senior management to be much more communicative. With me as a middle manager down to our hourly employees, it was important to share exactly what our expectations were going to be, how we were going to handle this and how we were going to keep the company open.
I can tell you what to ask [employees] wearing masks in mid-July when we also wear safety glasses was not a particularly popular thing to take into the workforce. Having said that, our guys appreciated that we didn’t shut down the business and that we were an essential service. We were issuing transit letters to employees so they could get back to work in April and May (2020) when much of the rest of our economy was shut down. They appreciated it.
In fact, we had a decent retention rate through 2020. Our employees worked with us during COVID. We have reduced our hours in Georgia somewhat. But in about six weeks I had the operations manager knocking on my door [saying] it’s not slowing down as much as you might think and i have to get back to 60 o’clock. So certainly in Georgia and South Carolina it was an almost normal year for us. In North Carolina, we faced a little more difficult economic situation there with the DOT (Department of Transportation). But we took that opportunity to replenish some stocks that had frankly been depleted by, I’ll call it, baseline operational performance in 2019. For 2020, the ability to put stone on the ground and prepare for it. approaching 2021 was a good thing.
KAREN HUBACZ-KILEY (BOND CONSTRUCTION CORP.): Very similar to Scott, we kind of bowed our heads and moved forward. We have not lost any employees. Our employees were exceptionally grateful. They were very, very worried at first, wondering if this was going to continue how we were going to handle this.
We are implementing security protocols. You go social distancing. We made sure people weren’t trading equipment. If anything did happen, measures were put in place to ensure that equipment was sanitized before anyone else used it. If they were with the public, we would buy all kinds of pens that nobody touched.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t do more stocks because they are all gone. It has been a very busy year for us. We are very grateful that none of us got sick either.
PAT JACOMET (OHIO AGREGATS & INDUSTRIAL MINERALS ASSOCIATION): From the point of view of state associations, our board of directors entrusted us with two major objectives in 2018. One was to pass a state gasoline tax, and we succeeded. [The other] was to develop a workforce development program. It was a bit slow to come.
Before the pandemic, we had a lot of momentum. During the pandemic, we were in a bit of limbo for about a year. But we’ve gained a lot of momentum here over the past couple of months.
We were successful in introducing to the Ohio Department of Education a program called MACC Tech, which stands for Mining, Asphalt, Concrete & Construction Technology. This is a two-year program for grades 11 and 12 students. These would be career centers or CTC centers where students are still trying to decide where to go.
We thought it was important to reach these young people at an earlier age – before they graduate from high school and start a career or go to college – to at least sow the seed. opportunities offered by our industries. We were able to get MACC Tech approved as a two-year accredited program by the Department of Education.