Aggregate production season in full swing

By |  June 15, 2018
Photo courtesy of Kevin Yanik

Rainy and cold weather persisted, but summer is here and labor and production demands are on the rise. Photo by Kevin Yanik.

The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s Young Leaders Annual Meeting outside of San Diego this spring offered a nice getaway for P&Q to escape the winter that would not end.

Rainy, windy and bitterly cold days persisted in Cleveland through April, and it took until the first weeks of May for us to develop confidence spring is here to stay and that summer is legitimately around the corner.

Northeast Ohio was hardly the only region to combat unseasonably cold and wet weather this spring. Plant startups were delayed in a number of areas, including in the Upper Midwest, where reports of foot-high snowfalls prevented some aggregate producers from getting production underway on time.

Still, optimism remains the sentiment of the day. Producers are eager for the months to come, and manufacturers continue to experience high demand for their equipment. In some instances, manufacturers are battling to keep up with demand.

While most producers require parts or fully assembled machines “yesterday,” equipment backlogs aren’t necessarily a bad problem for the industry to have – at least relative to the more challenging stretches of recent memory.

The one very real challenge we continue to hear about as we visit with producers and attend industry events is labor. This isn’t a new challenge for the industry – it’s been there for some time now – and it’s difficult to grasp whether or not the industry at large is making headway to solve this problem.

P&Q visited three aggregate operations in the month leading up to this issue, and all three discussed the challenge of finding and keeping quality people. These operations have 20-, 30- and 40-year employees whose skills are essential to production, maintenance and other key areas. Many of these veterans have already moved into retirement, and more will reach a retirement age over the next few years.

Some producers have been fortunate to replace outgoing veterans with up-and-comers who, first and foremost, show up and, secondly, exhibit an interest in the work they do. But not every producer had such luck.

On the bright side, labor was topical in the mainstream media over the last few weeks as states hosted primaries for governor, senator and other elected positions. We heard political candidates talk trade schools and training programs and how we should promote these as a healthy means for people to establish careers for themselves. Promoting the trades and drawing young people into them is essential to solve this labor problem for the aggregate industry.

Hiring more women is another area the industry should explore. Producers brought this topic up unprompted on two of our recent site visits. In both cases, the producers shared glowing remarks about the performances of their female employees in quality control and as a heavy equipment operator.

The aggregate industry is overwhelmingly made up of men. But with labor cited as a top challenge from coast-to-coast, it makes good sense to embrace the full population for jobs rather than limit our recruiting to merely half of it.

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