Industry leaders discuss infrastructure, workforce challenges

By |  February 22, 2019
Photo:From left, Vicki Kitchin, the executive director of the Build Indiana Council; John Harper, the 2019 National Asphalt Pavement Association chairman; John Grote the director of Association of Equipment Manufacturers’ 2019 construction equipment sector board; and Randy Lake, the 2019 National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association chair discuss infrastructure legislation and workforce challenges at the 2019 AGG1 Academy and Expo in Indianapolis. Photo by Joe McCarthy

From left, Vicki Kitchin, executive director of the Build Indiana Council; John Harper, 2019 National Asphalt Pavement Association chairman; John Grote, director of Association of Equipment Manufacturers’ 2019 construction equipment sector board; and Randy Lake, 2019 National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association chair discuss infrastructure legislation and workforce challenges at the 2019 AGG1 Academy and Expo in Indianapolis. Photo by Joe McCarthy

Senior leaders from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) and the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA) came together at the 2019 AGG1 Aggregates Academy & Expo in Indianapolis to discuss legislative opportunities and workforce challenges facing the aggregate and asphalt paving industries.

John Grote, director of AEM’s 2019 construction equipment sector board, John Harper, 2019 NAPA chairman, and Randy Lake, 2019 NSSGA chair, comprised the panel that addressed infrastructure and workforce questions. Vicki Kitchin, executive director of the Build Indiana Council, led the discussion from the show floor.

A plan in 2019

The panel agreed 2019 is a prime year for a major infrastructure bill to be passed by Congress.

“We’ve kicked the can down the road for too long,” says Harper, who serves as the senior vice president at Construction Partners Inc. “So, it’s time to do this.”

Harper explains funding that has traditionally gone toward infrastructure maintenance now needs to contribute to improvements. Additionally, he says states need to know federal funding is coming for these projects so construction groups and aggregate operations can plan for the demand.

Lake, the president of CRH Americas Materials, agreed, saying aggregate producers are looking for security and a sure plan, along with a true fix to the Highway Trust Fund.

“Shoring up the fund is critical,” says Lake, who also stressed the importance of long-term infrastructure funding.

Lake explained that the political environment to pass a long-term infrastructure bill is in good standing, but it is important to get this done before the next presidential election.

“If we don’t do something now it might be another few years before we have this opportunity again,” Lake says.

The future employee

Kitchin then turned the conversation toward the workforce challenges facing the industry.

Grote, the global vice president of sales for Grote Industries, says working in a small town presents some challenges in and of itself, but his company is always looking for “high tech people” to work in the industry.

Training younger people and hiring veterans provide both a long-term and short-term solution to staffing challenges, Lake says. Veterans represent a skilled labor group that can make an immediate impact while training for high school students, or those in trade schools can be the solution down the road.

Harper agreed, stressing the importance of engaging the younger workforce early with a positive message.

“Once we get these workers, we need to show them they are in a good environment and are on a good career path,” Harper says.

Harper also emphasized the importance of showing trade work is a good career. Lake agreed, explaining that the profile of employees is going to change over the next decade because of how technology has impacted the industry.

Joe McCarthy

About the Author:

Joe McCarthy is an Associate Editor of Pit and Quarry Magazine. You can contact him at jmccarthy@northcoastmedia.net and at 216-363-7930.

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