By Bridget McCrea
For young precast professionals, NPCA offers a wide range of services and support designed to not only assist their transition into the industry, but also nurture them throughout their careers.
Standing at 80-plus million strong, born between 1980 and 2000, and currently aged 16-to-36, the millennial generation is the largest in history. As it continues to make its way into the workforce, this generation has very different traits and characteristics than its predecessors. For example, as the first generation that’s never known life without the Internet, millennials tend to rely heavily on social networking in both their personal and work lives. And while they’re known to show loyalty to a cause, millennials aren’t necessarily joiners by nature.
“In many organizations, membership has dropped, prompting some to suggest that this generation simply aren’t joiners,” wrote Steven Worth in “Membership and the Millennial Generation: A Whole New World.” “While they will not show loyalty to an organization like previous generations did, will show loyalty to a cause. Membership organizations must therefore articulate a clear and compelling cause, mission and purpose.”
Courting emerging leaders
The fact that millennials might be tougher, or maybe just different, to crack than older generations comes as no surprise to organizations that watched membership numbers fluctuate over the last few decades. Where the 78 million baby boomers may have grown up in an era where joining was both necessary and desirable, their children have been exposed to different options that don’t necessarily align with traditional membership in industry and trade organizations.
For young precast professionals, NPCA offers a wide range of services and support designed to not only assist their transition into the industry, but also nurture them throughout their careers. From continuing education and widely attended national conferences to one-on-one networking opportunities, the organization has been connecting both present and future leaders in the precast concrete industry since 1965.
Andy Hayward got involved as soon as he joined his family’s business, Panhandle Concrete Products in Scottsbluff, Neb.
“We started going to NPCA shows and events when we were kids,” said Hayward, quality control and production manager for Panhandle. “Even today, there’s still a large family presence within the NPCA at those events. The older generations are retiring or moving on, and we’re starting to see a lot of new faces and future leaders emerge.”
Five years ago, Hayward started joining NPCA committees as a way to get more involved in the organization. In 2014, Hayward joined the NPCA Foundation Board of Directors. Since 1989, the NPCAF has provided scholarships to more than 100 students enrolled in civil engineering, architectural and construction-related curricula. NPCAF’s philosophy is to introduce the features and benefits of precast concrete products to help create a more educated specifying community.
While Hayward said baby boomers and Generation X continue to dominate most of the groups and foundations he’s joined, he has seen more millennials taking the step and getting involved. Keeping that joining momentum up over the next few years will be important as a way to help others understand the value of membership and participation.
“We need to step up as a generation and get involved with the groups that support our companies and our industry as a whole,” said Hayward, who sees the precast concrete industry as a friendly, helpful place where people aren’t afraid to share ideas with one another. “While many of us are out there competing against one another on a daily basis, we’re all pretty open to sharing information and brainstorming together.”
Start with small steps
Hayward said a good first step is to simply visit precast.org to check out the plant resources, certification, education, meetings and publications offered to members and the general public.
“There’s a wealth of information right there online,” Hayward said. “You can learn about the educational offerings, see what committees are available and read the group’s magazines.”
Hayward also relies on NPCA’s website to look up technical information and research, find other producers in his region and then connect with them to discuss relevant topics and trends. Other valuable online resources include lunch and learn templates to help members engage with local specifiers, web-based courses and webinars.
“It’s amazing what you can learn about your organization by just spending a few minutes on NPCA’s website,” Hayward added. “New offerings are being added all the time, so the odds that you’ll discover something that you weren’t even aware of are pretty high.”
The next logical progression is to attend The Precast Show and/or the annual convention.1 Hayward said young members attending their first NPCA show will probably be surprised at the level of camaraderie among members, industry leaders, associate members and suppliers.
“The social aspect of our industry is one of the best, particularly when it comes to meeting different suppliers and producers under one roof and over a couple of days,” Hayward said.
In return for the time spent attending events, Hayward said he gains knowledge and insights that would be difficult to accumulate and digest in any other setting.
“The big rewards come in the form of networking, knowledge and education, all of which are critical to success in today’s changing business environment,” Hayward said. “There’s always some newfound knowledge to be gained, some problem to figure out or some application to learn about. The experience is invaluable.”
Supporting companies, families and individuals
For Jesse Wingert, business manager at Concrete Sealants Inc. in Tipp City, Ohio, associate membership in NPCA dates back three family generations.
“We’ve put a lot into the NPCA both as a company and as a family,” Wingert said. “In return, the organization has given a lot back to us, including valuable mentoring experiences and a solid knowledge base that’s helped us move forward as an organization.”
As he surveys the three generations that are currently leading or working in the precast industry – and those industries that support it – Wingert sees more to be done. He said the fact that 83 million millennials are either in or entering the workforce while 75 million baby boomers are exiting it creates both challenges and opportunities for the industry.
Add rapid technological advancements to the mix and you wind up with a business landscape that requires different and innovative approaches. For example, customers no longer rely heavily on phone calls, faxes or in-person visits from precasters. Instead, they want to be able to use their smartphones and tablets to place orders directly from the job site and with very little human contact.
“Right now we all need to focus on how the environment is changing and what’s ahead,” said Wingert, who sees NPCA as the perfect platform for collecting, reviewing, and then sharing relevant information and data. Armed with a broad spectrum of knowledge that “can’t be found anywhere else,” he said NPCA helps bring together geographically dispersed members in a very social manner that’s well suited to millennials who thrive on such connections and interactions.
“I’ve seen members from the northeastern U.S. interacting with others from the Southwest to figure out problems and come up with better methods for their own customers,” Wingert said. “That’s just one example of how NPCA brings together otherwise unrelated entities to share their experiences in the precast industry and expand their knowledge bases fairly quickly. If you want to become an expert in our industry, you have to be involved with the NPCA.”
Rolling out the red carpet
As a long-time NPCA member, Chris Fitzpatrick understands that not all generations communicate and operate in the same fashion. A member of Oldcastle Precast’s operational excellence team in Denver, Fitzpatrick said getting younger members interested and participating requires an innovative approach that includes tools that older members may not be as inclined to use such as Twitter and Facebook.
“The younger generation of leaders is caught up in social media,” Fitzpatrick said. “They want instant access to everything.”
The good news is the same basic principles that helped earlier generations, such as networking and sharing ideas, work just as well today. For example, a few years ago, Fitzpatrick was attending an NPCA conference when he learned about a new product line to help Oldcastle create a new approach to an existing product.
“We’re using that on a job right now,” Fitzpatrick said. “That really makes me feel good about our association with and involvement with the NPCA.”
Knowing that tomorrow’s industry leaders may need a slight nudge to get involved with NPCA and with the precast industry as a whole, Hayward said potential members need to know that the group is very warm and welcoming. For example, NPCAF is working to get even younger members on board and integrated into the precast industry while they’re still in school.
“Collectively, we’re all working to ensure that precast concrete is the material of choice for engineers, architects and specifiers,” Hayward said. “Ultimately, our goal should be to always make precast concrete the premier construction material out there. We’re already doing a pretty great job of that, but we also need to keep working together – and get the younger generation involved – in order to maintain and surpass that level.”
Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer who covers manufacturing, industry and technology. She is a winner of the Florida Magazine Association’s Gold Award for best trade-technical feature statewide.
1 NPCA’s 51st Annual Convention in Austin, Texas, is Sept. 28 – Oct. 1, 2016. Information on NPCA meetings can be found at precast.org/meetings