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Workforce a central theme of GCAA workshop

By |  March 22, 2022
Kenny Knowles, vice president of Georgia operations at Vulcan Materials, served as chair of the Georgia Construction Aggregate Association’s Management Workshop & Expo Committee. Photo: P&Q Staff

Kenny Knowles, vice president of Georgia operations at Vulcan Materials, served as chair of the Georgia Construction Aggregate Association’s Management Workshop & Expo Committee. Photo: P&Q Staff

Kenny Knowles has worked in the aggregate industry for 23 years.

Knowles was around during the run-up to the Great Recession and in the years that followed. Never, however, has he seen a workforce dynamic at play like the one in effect right now.

“In the run-up to the recession, we never had a problem getting labor,” says Knowles, vice president of Georgia operations at Vulcan Materials. “Now, we would have some folks who would say ‘oh, pay me a little bit more,’ or switch jobs for a quarter an hour more. But this is like something I’ve never seen before.”

Perhaps the hardest part of the new reality is that producers don’t have ready answers to the problem at hand.

“We’re trying to figure out what steps to take, but labor constraints will probably be what slows [growth] curves down,” Knowles says.

Because producers across Georgia face a labor shortage, leaders at the Georgia Construction Aggregate Association (GCAA) selected the changing workforce as the theme of their 2022 Management Workshop & Expo. The workshop drew more than 600 attendees to Cobb Galleria in Atlanta, featuring a slate of speakers who addressed the labor topic head-on.

“People have never come to the association saying we as an industry want to tackle the problem versus each individual company,” says Jeff Wansley, executive director of GCAA. “They are saying that now.”

Problem solving

The Georgia Construction Aggregate Association Management Workshop & Expo drew more than 600 attendees to Cobb Galleria in Atlanta. Photo: P&Q Staff

The Georgia Construction Aggregate Association Management Workshop & Expo drew more than 600 attendees to Cobb Galleria in Atlanta. Photo: P&Q Staff

Those who presented at the GCAA workshop included Darren Hicks, vice president of human resources at Vulcan, who discussed attracting, developing and engaging a diverse workforce. Michael Whitener, vice president of product support sales at Yancey Bros. Co., touched on the concept of retention during the ongoing Great Resignation. BuildWitt’s Aaron Witt addressed solutions to the industry’s workforce problem, while a presenter from Brewton-Parker College suggested former inmates as an overlooked resource.

“We’ve got to get creative,” says Travis Miller, regional vice president and general manager overseeing north Georgia and Alabama at Martin Marietta, who serves GCAA as board president. “It’s almost like we’ve lost a whole generation of workers through retirements. The federal stimulus is keeping people on the sidelines.”

According to Miller, the industry isn’t fully reaching the younger demographic that could serve the industry well for decades to come. Producers need to connect with that generation where they reside, he argues.

“GCAA is going to get on Instagram,” Miller says. “It’s on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, but we really need to take a look and blitz as an industry association. We’re also going to visit technical and vocational schools. Jeff can take a producer member [to] every different one just to say ‘here we are.’ He’s reaching out to some of his contemporaries in other states that have a template, as well.”

The industry’s labor challenge is reaching a crescendo just as aggregate operations are about to get busy.

“It’s concerning,” Miller says. “We’re going to have to think outside the box to hire people without experience. We’d love for them to have any kind of experience, but they’re just few and far between now.”

Outside-the-box technologies such as autonomous haulers are an answer to the labor shortage, as well.

“A process improvement manager for us is talking about autonomous trucks,” Knowles says. “The cost of doing that, in the short term especially, is something we’re going to have to look at.”

Knowles expects another tech push to come related to automated plants, although he says most producers are fairly ahead of the curve there. Remote operations for mobile equipment are yet another potential opportunity, he adds.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

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

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