The workforce of the future

By |  June 8, 2016

As a manager, much of my time is spent dealing with our most valuable assets: our people.

When considering the investment made in training, the experiences of success and failure, and the strong relationships we have within our industry, it’s hard to imagine a world with fewer employees. But that’s exactly where we’re headed as an industry.

Chris Upp

Chris Upp

All you have to do is consider the most recent information provided by the U.S. Geological Survey. The data shows there was a 7 percent increase in total tons produced and a 3 percent reduction in man-hours over the most recent five-year period (2010-2014).

Many in the industry use “tons per man hour” (tpmh) as a key performance indicator to evaluate their operations against benchmarks or goals. This trend of an increasing tpmh is nothing new, nor is it something that’s simply a blip along a historical chart. It is our nature, not only as producers but also as human beings, to do more with less.

As an industry, we can thank our vendors and suppliers for developing equipment that makes producing aggregates more efficient than it was even 20 years ago. Advancements in plant automation, crushing and screening efficiencies, drilling and blasting designs, and fleet optimization are just a few of the many things that have helped our operations increase output while reducing the effort in manpower.

Looking ahead

But where does this leave us for the next 100 years? Many operators struggle to find qualified employees who want to work in our industry today. So what can we expect in the future?

The fact remains you can’t rely on automation to change a piece of screen cloth or to repair a conveyor bearing. We are still going to need trained employees to do the hands-on work that is needed. These skilled workers will have to be lured to the aggregates industry through an above-average compensation package and a work environment where they will be challenged to find solutions to new and unknown issues that arise.

While millenials may seem disconnected from reality because of their obsessions with electronics, gaming and social media, there are those who see the value in hard work and seek to be rewarded for it. Employee cross-training will be crucial to maximize the benefits of their skillsets.

It’s nearly impossible to define how technology will change our industry over the next century, but we can all be assured history will repeat itself in this endeavor. Imagine, if you will, autonomous haul trucks, loaders and drills in the pit, flotation cells that size materials, crushers that use non-mechanical means to break rock, and drone deliveries of finished products.

In the future, aggregates will remain a vast resource that provides continued benefits to society. But our miners must keep pace.

Be prepared to change. And, as Jack Welch, the former chairman and CEO of General Electric, says: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

Chris Upp is vice president and general manager of Conco Quarries Inc. He can be reached at

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