Editor’s Note: In the previous issue of Precast Inc., we examined the history of educational programming at NPCA. Here, the focus shifts to current educational offerings and how the association seeks to continue advancing training opportunities moving forward.
By Mason Nichols
As a graduate of NPCA’s Precast University, also known as a Master Precaster, Frank Bowen recognizes just how critical education is for a professional in the precast concrete industry. Bowen, the director of safety and manager of quality control at Piedmont Precast in Atlanta, is so supportive of advancement through training opportunities that he considers neglecting to do so the equivalent of stepping backward. Quoting Greg Chase, one of his favorite NPCA instructors, Bowen summed up his passion for learning.
“If we always do what we’ve always done, then we’ll always get what we’ve always got,” he said.
In the competitive world of construction, “doing what we’ve always done” will result in disaster. Thankfully, the precast concrete industry consists of owners, managers and plant personnel who understand how critical education is for business. Recognizing the need for continuous improvement, NPCA’s Education Committee is constantly at work, enhancing the programming in place and crafting forward-thinking initiatives to help lead the industry into the future.
Bettering the best
Developed over the course of 15 years, NPCA’s Precast University and associated Master Precaster certificate program serve as the industry standard for precast-specific training. Though the program’s classes have been successful, NPCA Education Committee members recognize opportunities exist for ongoing refinement. Lisa Roache, vice president of sales at Gainey’s Concrete Products Inc. in Holden, Louisiana, and current chair of the committee, said one area of focus is the individual modules of Production and Quality School.
“We want to make sure that even the current programming is still relevant,” she said. “Classes shouldn’t just be created and put on a shelf. They need to be evolving and ever-changing.”
But the committee isn’t only assessing courses included within Precast University. Hoping to expand the reach of training opportunities, the group is also working to provide educational offerings to a much wider array of individuals. One approach involves organizing classes designed for architects, engineers and other industry professionals to earn learning units (LUs) or continuing education credits in their associated fields.
According to Marti Harrell, NPCA’s director of education and training, offering these courses is rewarding to all parties involved.
“Providing professional education allows engineers and architects to earn the continuing education they need to maintain their licenses while the industry benefits through promoting the use of precast concrete products,” she said. “In many cases, the classes result in conversations in which the architects and engineers hear about technologies and applications of precast they were previously unaware of.”
Since 2009, the Education Committee has deployed education programs online in webinar format. These webinars, covering everything from health care reform to lean production processes, have helped connect employees to training opportunities previously unavailable to them. However, to reach an even wider segment of the industry, the committee hopes to leverage the power of technology across the world.
“When we started doing these webinars five years ago, access to technology was sometimes limited,” Harrell said. “But as the tools become more readily available, we’re able to push the education down even further into the plant so that even the new employee who has just started can take advantage of NPCA’s online education. We then create an opportunity for every plant employee to build a career out of precast.”
Roache agrees with Harrell, noting that maximizing the use of technology will help accomplish the committee’s goal of educating as many industry professionals as possible.
“Last year, we did a few webinars and next year we plan on offering a webinar a month,” Roache said. “Utilizing all of the technology that’s out there will help us really get the training even further down in the companies.”
Although many factors play into manufacturing a quality precast concrete product, superior management is a crucial part of the process. Without top-notch leadership, even precast plants with the most qualified production-level employees cannot realize their true potential. As a result, the Education Committee plans to roll out a new program – the Executive Leadership Forum – in early 2016.
The year-long forum will consist of approximately 30 precast plant industry executives. Those who participate will have the opportunity to discuss best business practices, everyday challenges faced at the plant, marketing strategies and a variety of other leadership topics.
“We want the Executive Leadership Forum to serve as a networking platform for the executives in our industry,” Harrell said. “Decision makers will greatly benefit not only from the high-level training, but also the support they receive from others involved in the program.”
Roache also believes the Executive Leadership Forum’s power lies in its potential to create and sustain networking opportunities.
“Part of the Executive Leadership Forum is that we’re hoping the executives really start connecting with each other and get to talk about the things that they don’t necessarily have a chance to discuss with people who have the same issues,” she said.
Even as the Education Committee seeks to target leadership at all plants, some of the industry’s brightest up-and-coming personnel are becoming leaders of their own. Josh Gaines, a Master Precaster and operations manager for Bartow Precast in Cartersville, Georgia, plans to give back to Precast University by teaching the PQS III Leadership module in the years ahead. To prepare for the role, he will shadow current instructor, Greg Chase. Gaines feels that leading the course will allow him to not only guide the next generation of precasters, but also enhance his own skill set.
“It’s a really fun class and I find teaching something helps me to further develop the topic personally,” he said. “Being able to go into a teacher’s role and having to know the principles well enough to teach the students will help me to better implement the concepts personally.”
That’s how the minds of Master Precasters operate – the goal is to continue learning and to share knowledge with others in the process. Like Gaines, Bowen also plans to lead Precast University courses down the road. He attributes this decision to a desire for improvement.
“If we don’t educate ourselves, we’re just going and making concrete blind,” Bowen said. “We need to keep fresh minds on a regular basis, nurtured with new information, new practices, the changes and why the changes need to be made.”
Harrell believes that – through the support of the current instructors – both Gaines and Bowen will be able to bring together traditional precast knowledge with cutting edge technologies and modern production cycles. The result will be an educational program with the most comprehensive training opportunities available in the precast concrete industry.
Always moving forward
The precast concrete industry is in perpetual motion. But even as production processes, best practices and management approaches change, one constant remains: NPCA’s commitment to high-quality, precast-specific education. The only question is: Will you be along for the ride?
Mason Nichols is NPCA’s external communication and marketing manager.