A Master Precaster’s continued reliance on education and hard work have paved a path to success.
By Mason Nichols
Josh Gaines has plenty of fond memories from Precast University. But one particular experience stands out from the rest.
Gaines, operations manager at Bartow Precast in Cartersville, Ga., recalls taking the Production and Quality School Level III – Leadership course, taught by Greg Chase, and participating in a roleplaying session with his instructor. In the imaginary scenario, Chase pretended to be a difficult employee and Gaines played the manager tasked with correcting Chase’s poor behavior. The only rule? Gaines could not fire his employee. So you can imagine Chase’s reaction when Gaines quickly fired him anyway.
“This was a situation where I was trying to implement techniques to get the employee to commit to improvement,” Gaines said. “So I pretended to fire him and it caught him by surprise. I said, ‘Well, I’m not really firing you. But if you mess up again, this is going to be the conversation that we have.’
“He’s really good at roleplaying and I seemed to catch him off guard with that.”
That exchange between Gaines and Chase is just part of what makes the National Precast Concrete Association’s Master Precaster program a unique and rewarding experience. Since its inception, 45 professionals have graduated from the program, learning advanced production techniques and skills necessary for continued success and advancement in the precast industry.
For Gaines, who earned his Master Precaster designation in 2014, success and advancement have always been part of the equation. As the son of a third-generation concrete contractor, he knew the meaning of hard work from a young age. Growing up, his father took him to job sites where he would clean tools and help pour sidewalks, driveways and garage floors.
These initial experiences with concrete inspired Gaines to attend Middle Tennessee State University, where he enrolled in the school’s Concrete Industry Management program. Although his instructors occasionally talked about precast, he didn’t think much of the material until a friend showed him what the industry has to offer.
“I had a good friend that sold precast basement walls as a part-time job, and he was always really positive about using precast and sharing the benefits of precast,” Gaines said. “He made a comparison to Legos, and I thought that was pretty neat.”
From there, Gaines’ love for precast grew, inspiring him to learn even more. Just a month before graduating from MTSU, he enrolled in PQS I to enhance his precast knowledge. At the time, he was also thinking ahead and looking for job opportunities that would kick-start his career. The CIM program provided a big boost.
“The economy was really strong then and the graduates in our program were highly sought after, so we had companies beating down our door wanting us to come work for them,” Gaines said. “Michael Tidwell with Bartow Precast found out about the CIM program through NPCA, at which point he submitted a job listing at the school. I responded to that.”
Gaines got the job. He also ended up taking PQS I with Tidwell, president of Bartow Precast and current NPCA Chairman of the Board. The fit at Bartow Precast was perfect for him since working for a company that valued both continuing education and involvement in a trade organization was his goal.
Over the years, Gaines continued to satisfy his hunger for learning by taking additional PQS courses, including PQS II – Technical, PQS II – QA/QC and others. Then, when NPCA officially rolled out the Master Precaster program in 2009, he set his sights on earning the designation by completing all the required coursework. As he enrolled in more classes, he recognized that one of the program’s major strengths is the quality of the instructors.
“They bring such a great experience to the table,” he said. “That’s kind of why I refer to them as the all-stars of the industry. They’ve had their hands in concrete before and have been there and done that.”
Gaines added he is able to integrate what he has learned into his professional work because the classes are specific to the precast concrete industry.
“I enjoy taking things out of the classroom and trying to figure out how to apply them practically to my job,” he said. “That’s one of the things I like – not just sitting in a classroom for head knowledge, but actually trying to see how that knowledge applies to me specifically in the job that I do.”
With Bartow Precast being – in Gaines’ words – “as busy as ever,” having a hard-working Master Precaster on staff makes a world of difference. Today, he continues to strive for improvement while also focusing on the day-to-day grind – a tough task for any precaster. But as Gaines explained, even though implementing some of the skills and techniques learned in the program can be difficult, continued training is critical to success.
“Education is no substitute for hard work, but when you combine the two, you get something really special,” he said. “The Master Precaster program is a great source for the education part of the equation.”
Mason Nichols is the managing editor of Precast Solutions magazine and is NPCA’s external communication and marketing manager.