Solving the worker shortage problem

By |  December 1, 2014

Pit & Quarry Roundtable LogoWhere are aggregate producers to turn for their next generation of employees?

Producers, manufacturers and allied trade representatives discussed the hiring challenge the industry is currently facing at the Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference in Cleveland. Those who participated in the discussion didn’t come to a singular solution, but the conversation shed light on the issue and explored potential solutions to a problem that may grow in the years to come.

“If people were aware of the work we had to do in our country, people would be attracted to the industry,” said Fred Gross, vice president at FLSmidth Excel. “My kids are all out of school. You talk to them and meet their friends, and no one talks about going into the aggregate industry, the construction industry, the mining industry.”

The industry must do a better job reaching out to kids directly and promoting itself, said Jeff Heinemann, vice president of construction at Sandvik Mining & Construction.

“We have to develop very robust co-op programs to bring them along while they’re going to school,” he said. “So when they do graduate they’re saying, ‘This is exactly what I want to do. I enjoyed it. It’s a great industry.’

“We’ve got one guy on our payroll,” Heinemann added, “who has 53 years with the company. There is no way I can replace him. It’s impossible. If you’re not doing succession planning, it’s tough [to find employees].”

The last recession was a turning point in the labor pool for some employers.

“We lost a lot of people with the downturn of the economy – a lot of field people that we haven’t replaced, and we haven’t brought up a lot of man strength,” said Keith Whetsel, a quarry superintendent at Essroc Cement. “When we need to fill a position, we need somebody to fill that role who comes in qualified, and it’s been very difficult to do sometimes.

“Mechanic positions are ones that have been particularly difficult to fill, Whetsel added.

“They need to have the time to learn and develop a skillset, especially for some of the diesel mechanics,” he said. “There’s very limited availability out there for a plant to have its own diesel mechanics anymore and a training program to bring them along.”

One solution discussed is to target military personnel because they’re accustomed to using heavy equipment and working in the elements.

“I think that’s a good pool to pull from,” said Jeff Carlisle, national sales manager at Douglas Manufacturing.

Another roundtable participant discussed how his company started its own welding school from which it can draw prospects. The company first promoted the school in the local newspaper and was overwhelmed with candidates. The welding school now gives the company the chance to size up potential employees and hire ones who possess the skills it particularly values.

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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