Roundtable panelists search for labor shortage solutions

By |  August 24, 2021

Labor has long been a top challenge for aggregate producers, and new government policies are complicating the issue for those in search of good help. P&Q assembled a panel at the 2021 Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference to explore the very latest producers are experiencing on the front lines, as well as possible solutions to solve an age-old dilemma plaguing the industry. The three Roundtable attendees who sat on our panel were Hanson Aggregates Southeast’s Scott Dickson, Bond Construction Corp.’s Karen Hubacz-Kiley and the Ohio Aggregates & Industrial Minerals Association’s (OAIMA) Pat Jacomet. The panel discussion took place June 3, and the following remarks were edited for brevity and clarity.

Bond Construction's Karen Hubacz-Kiley, center, participated in the 2021 Roundtable panel discussion alongside Pat Jacomet of the Ohio Aggregates & Industrial Minerals Association, left, and Hanson Aggregates Southeast's Scott Dickson. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

Bond Construction’s Karen Hubacz-Kiley, center, participated in the 2021 Roundtable panel discussion alongside Pat Jacomet of the Ohio Aggregates & Industrial Minerals Association, left, and Hanson Aggregates Southeast’s Scott Dickson. Photo: PamElla Lee Photography

P&Q: There is seemingly nothing the pandemic did not impact. This certainly includes an aggregate producer’s ability to recruit and hire good employees. Tell us about your experience over the last 15 months.

SCOTT DICKSON (HANSON AGGREGATES SOUTHEAST): COVID forced senior management to be far 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 are we going to manage this and how we are going to keep the business open.

I can tell you that asking [employees] to wear masks in the middle of July when we’ve also got safety glasses on was not a particularly popular thing to take out to the workforce. That said, our guys appreciated that we didn’t shut the business down and that we were an essential service. We were issuing letters of transit to employees so they could get to work back in April and May (2020) when much of the rest of our economy was shut down. They were appreciative of that.

We actually had a decent retention rate through 2020. Our employees worked with us through COVID. We did reduce our hours somewhat in Georgia. But within about six weeks, I had the operations manager beating on my door [saying] it’s not slowing down as much as you think and I need to go back to 60 hours. So, certainly in Georgia and South Carolina, it was almost a normal year for us. In North Carolina, we did face a little more of a difficult economic situation there with the DOT (Department of Transportation). But we took that opportunity to rebuild some inventories that frankly had been depleted by, I’ll call it, core operational performance in 2019. For 2020, the ability to get some stone on the ground and set ourselves up coming into 2021 was a good thing.

KAREN HUBACZ-KILEY (BOND CONSTRUCTION CORP.): Very similar to Scott, we kind of put our heads down and marched forward. We didn’t lose any employees. Our employees were exceptionally grateful. They were very, very concerned at the start, wondering if this is going to continue how we are going to handle it.

We put in safety protocols. You’re going to social distance. We made sure people weren’t swapping out equipment. If something happened, there were measures put in place to make sure a piece of equipment was sanitized before somebody else used it. If they were with the public, we bought all kinds of pens that nobody touched.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to make more stockpiles because they all left. It was a very busy year for us. We’re very grateful there wasn’t one of us who became sick, either.

PAT JACOMET (OHIO AGGREGATES & INDUSTRIAL MINERALS ASSOCIATION): From a state association standpoint, our board of directors charged us in 2018 with two major goals. One was to get a state gas tax passed, and we were successful there. [The other] was to develop a workforce development program. That was a little slow coming.

Pre-pandemic, we had a lot of momentum. During the pandemic, we were kind of in limbo for about a year. But we’ve picked up a lot of momentum here in the past couple months.

We were successful in presenting to the Ohio Department of Education a program called MACC Tech, which stands for Mining, Asphalt, Concrete & Construction Technology. It’s a two-year program intended for students in grades 11 and 12. Those would be career center or CTC centers where students are still trying to decide where they’re going.

We felt like getting to these young people at an earlier age – before they graduated from high school and started a career or went on to college – was important to at least plant the seed of what opportunities our industries present. We were able to get MACC Tech approved as a credentialed two-year program through the Department of Education.

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