Sika Corp. finds great value in working closely with CIM program. Shown here, Director of Recruiting for Sika Corp., Karin Franz, interviews students for internships and full time positions at a recent Patrons meeting. (Courtesy of New Jersey Institute of Technology)
By Sara Geer
Many children aspire to become doctors, police officers or firefighters. Fewer kids wake up one day and say, “I want to work in concrete.”
The NPCA Foundation Board of Directors is exploring ways to connect producer and associate members with educational programs that will encourage students to dream of career possibilities offered by the concrete industry.
Marti Harrell, NPCAF’s managing director, said the board wants to continue focusing on recruiting quality people into the industry and educating students about precast in 2015.
“When we make a presentation to a university engineering class we may only get a few engineering students to ultimately join the precast industry, but if we make them aware of precast in their roles as designers, engineers or sepcifiers, that’s equal to a win for us,” she said. “That’s why we are starting to see the benefit of members who have built relationships with local schools and professors.”
Engineering students learn a lot about concrete as a material, but courses specifically about precast concrete are rare. Related programs and courses can be created if universities are approached, and students and precasters can benefit from the partnership, said Harrell.
John Ohmes, CEO of Champion Precast in Troy, Mo., said working with the local technology school, Lincoln-Pike Technical Center, has helped the company hire valuable employees who possess basic welding, diesel mechanic, pneumatic or automotive skills. The partnership has lasted for 10 years and every May, close to graduation, the company tells the school how many positions it has open for students to apply.
“The school regularly sends quality applicants,” Ohmes said. “They have the basic skills, plus some skillsets that are directly related to our business.”
Ohmes recommends that precast plants start working with schools since other similar companies are also struggling to find good employees. The partnership created with Lincoln-Pike has been a good luck charm for the company, he said, adding that students hired possess a higher success rate and a good work ethic.
If working with a vocational school is not an option, there are other ways for precast companies to get involved with schools.
Paul Heidt, general manager of Garden State Precast Inc. in Wall Township, N.J., participates every year in the Construction Industry Advancement career fair sponsored by the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association of New Jersey. He helps college sophomore and junior construction students gain valuable interview skills for landing an internship and hires interns through the program at the same time.
“This is also our time to sell ourselves to people who are possibly going into contractor offices,” Heidt said. “We sell ourselves not only to the students, but to the other companies that are presenting at the career fair. Then they know who we are and a little bit about what we do.”
Heidt also volunteers to teach a night class about precast at the New Jersey Institute of Technology as part of its Concrete Industry Management program. He focuses the course on the general idea of what precast is, how the process of ordering and deploying products works and what a career in precast can offer the students.
The benefit of continuing to teach the precast course year after year is that Heidt continues to see his former students in various jobs in the construction industry. They may show up at the engineering office reviewing his company’s submittals or become a project manager at a contractor’s office. He gets a thrill seeing the penetration his course has created for the industry.
“It allows the student to pick up a phone and call someone instead of sending back the submittal with an ‘I don’t know’ answer,” Heidt said. “They have enough knowledge of what precast is and understand how to start a relationship, network and communicate what exactly is needed.”
The ultimate goal for NPCA membership involvement is to influence the next generation of students to consider precast concrete careers, yet more participation is needed.
This is the main message Jamie Gentoso, vice president of marketing and key accounts at Sika Corp., wanted to emphasize. Teaching Concrete 101 at NJIT, she sees how the companies love to hire future employees from the CIM program and don’t mind giving monetary donations to improve and enhance the program to draw the best and brightest students. However, a company’s time is needed just as much as money.
Gentoso said time could include having the owner or plant manager give a presentation or lecture, inviting students to visit the plant or being a student mentor.
Teaching students about concrete gives her a fresh look at the industry. Gentoso sees what students are going through and can help shape what they are learning. This is great for the industry as a whole since what’s missing from most engineering programs is an in depth understanding of concrete and all of its possibilities, she said.
“Many times engineers utilize a standard set of plans and specifications for concrete products,” she said. “But I think the opportunity for students to understand the manufacturing process and materials even before they get out of school is very important.
“When they join the workforce armed with this knowledge they are more likely to think precast first and second, think outside the box and be more innovative in design.”
For Megan Stenftenagel, an architectural student at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., a plant tour taken at ATMI Indy LLC helped her understand how precast can be integrated into the design process. Knowing precast’s strength, structure and assembly time, she is able to design durable and even artful buildings, she said.
Stenftenagel saw how precast is economically used for wall panels, floor panels and various other building parts that are produced off site.
“In my studio projects, I can now imagine how precast walls are made in the plant rather than thinking they just appeared in a sketchbook,” she said.
John Gress, business development manager at ATMI Indy LLC, said the partnership made with BSU opens lines of communication and possibilities for building materials architecture students never would think of using. Students are starting to see the value precast offers to the marketplace. Also, it sets future work in motion for the company. He envisions this first plant tour organized with the school becoming an annual tradition and a long-lasting partnership.
“If they don’t know about precast, they won’t draw it,” he said. “And if they don’t know what the capabilities are, it’s never going to cross their minds. So when opening your plant, you also open the door that allows that to all happen.”
Pick up the phone and call
These examples of members working with schools and creating relationships with students can easily be achieved by making a simple phone call.
Darryl Cloud, president of the NPCA Foundation and national sales manager for Concrete Sealants Inc. in Tipp City, Ohio, said members can contact a local school and talk with the outreach representative or career counselor in charge to find out what types of courses are available.
The NPCAF board realizes that the partnership is a two-way street – schools need students to join these programs and individuals need to be aware that there are high-paying technical careers available at large corporations and small family businesses. Therefore, next steps for the board include bringing highly qualified academicians into future discussions to help focus efforts to promote concrete technology education programs and create more links between schools and precasters.
Cloud said Luke Snell, P.E. at Western Technologies, has agreed to be one of the professionals joining the board during Committee Week 2015 in Indianapolis. His comments, along with others involved, will offer direction for achieving this goal.
“We’ve had business professionals come and talk with us, but we now need people with tremendous academia knowledge to tell us how to think and what to do,” Cloud said. “We’re looking forward to hearing what they can offer us and how we can shape these programs to be even more impactful for students and our membership going forward.”
Sara Geer is NPCA’s internal communication and web manager, and is managing editor of Precast Inc.