By Mason Nichols
Jefferson Concrete Corp.’s Mark Thompson has built a small army of leaders through the Master Precaster program.
Having a Master Precaster on staff provides tremendous value for an owner or manager. Thanks to the knowledge gained from courses that cover everything from the fundamentals of precast production to quality control, a Master Precaster stands poised to tackle any issue in the plant.
But why stop with just one Master Precaster on staff, when a company can draw from the knowledge and skills of many?
That’s exactly why Mark Thompson, vice president of Jefferson Concrete Corp. in Watertown, N.Y., currently has six Master Precasters. A seventh recently retired, and his eighth and ninth will graduate at The Precast Show 2017 in Cleveland.
Thompson has always recognized the importance of National Precast Concrete Association’s educational programming.
“I find that the notion of education is a bit contagious in our operation,” he said.
Rick Durdon and Tim Campbell – both integral to operations at Jefferson – are two Master Precasters who possess the technical expertise and leadership skills Thompson has come to rely on from graduates of the program.
From the moment he entered the workforce, Rick Durdon, lead man in Jefferson’s quality control department, has had a passion for construction. Some of his previous jobs included erecting steel buildings and pouring concrete for basement walls. Though he had never worked with precast before, Durdon was excited to learn of an opening at Jefferson in 1997.
After securing the position, Durdon performed a wide variety of tasks. He manufactured several different types of precast products, cut rebar and ran the plant’s mixer system. Eventually, Thompson asked him to work in the quality control department. This led to a conversation about Durdon continuing to refine his skills through involvement in NPCA education. He happily accepted, attending his first class several years before NPCA rolled out the Master Precaster program. The class, “The Fundamentals of Precast Concrete,” introduced him to many important concepts.
“I liked the course because it showed you where to place the rebar, spacing and chairs,” he said. “It helped you learn the differences between right and wrong, which I think is something that everyone should know.”
Durdon recalls the effectiveness of instructor Mel Marshall’s demonstration during the class, which made use of a foam cushion to explain the placement of rebar and how the material performs under stress.
“That’s something that I will remember for a long time,” he said.
Over the years, Durdon has used the information he’s gained from the Master Precaster program and applied it to his work at Jefferson. The classes have also made him a more confident employee and have allowed him to pass on what he has learned to others in the plant.
Today, Durdon remains committed to learning to ensure he is ready for whatever project comes next. More than anything else, he is thankful for the opportunity Thompson provided.
“If you take care of Mark, he takes care of you,” he said. “Having him invest in me makes me feel great – like I’m a big part of the company.”
Since 1993, Tim Campbell, lead man in the manhole department, has worked with plenty of concrete. But prior, his only experience had been mixing it in a wheelbarrow while working on a small calf farm.
During the more than two decades that have passed, Campbell has seen his fair share of precast concrete products and projects. Along the way, he’s gained plenty of knowledge, culminating in his graduation from the Master Precaster program in 2014. And it all started with a simple conversation.
“One day, Mark called me into the office and asked me about my plans for what I wanted to do at Jefferson,” Campbell said. “I told him that I wanted to learn more and that I wanted to grow.”
He also informed Thompson that it was his intention to eventually work in the office. Recognizing Campbell’s ambition, Thompson signed him up for NPCA educational programming. Campbell was thrilled, and as he began taking courses, he grew fond of the way the material was presented.
“In the classes, they would teach you different methods and techniques as well as the reasons why we make certain decisions,” he said. “It’s one thing to be in the plant and working and know how to do something. But it’s also important to know why.”
Though Campbell learned much from all of the courses in the Master Precaster program, he said he benefitted significantly from Production & Quality School III – Leadership. Thanks to Greg Chase’s expert instruction, Campbell explained he has been able to work more efficiently and effectively with his fellow employees.
Additionally, through taking the courses, Campbell said he has become a more confident and passionate worker.
“The Master Precaster program helped me evolve into someone that wasn’t just doing a job,” he said. “I was pouring passion into what I was doing, and the more I learned, the more I felt I had importance to Jefferson Concrete.”
Campbell continues to do his part by passing the knowledge he’s gained along to fellow workers at Jefferson. As he continues to strive for advancement, he remains appreciative of everything Thompson has done to set him up for success.
“I’m there to support Mark and Mark supports me,” he said. “We will keep going no matter what it takes.”
By investing in the future of his staff, Thompson is fostering a culture of advancement at Jefferson.
“The program creates leaders within our building with the right knowledge and the right skill set,” he said. “If you create the right type of leaders who can do what Rick and Tim do, leaders become teachers. And teachers are what I want.”
Thompson will continue to rely on his Master Precasters to push Jefferson forward, with the hopes that their leadership will keep education in the plant as contagious tomorrow as it is today.
Mason Nichols is the managing editor of Precast Solutions magazine and is NPCA’s external communication and marketing manager.