By Mason Nichols
For Arrow Concrete’s Jon Maxwell, the true power of NPCA’s Master Precaster program lies in knowledge transfer.
Heading into the 38th mile of a grueling cycling workout, Jon Maxwell and his trainer could see the end ahead. Maxwell, a high school football player with aspirations of playing in the NFL, pumped every ounce of energy through the pedals of his new bike. He wanted to finish strong, just like he always did as a defensive tackle on the football field.
Suddenly, everything went black.
Maxwell woke up in the hospital. The locking mechanism on one of his tires had given way, causing an accident that resulted in severe damage to his knee.
At 17, his football career was over. But everything was not lost. Just a few years earlier, Maxwell started his first job in the precast industry. His father helped him get the position, which consisted of applying stucco to precast concrete steps. When the accident altered his plans, Maxwell decided to shift focus. He began pouring all the determination he had applied to football directly into his newfound passion for working with precast.
“I loved waking up at 4 a.m. and getting to work,” he said. “And then, as I moved up the ladder, the work became even more enjoyable. I kind of brought football into it, but I wasn’t a player anymore, I was a coach.”
Over the course of the next three decades, Maxwell’s work in the industry took him to Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Alabama and Louisiana. Along the way, he worked for a variety of precast manufacturers. He also spent time with a design firm, which allowed him to enhance his communication skills and see precast production from a different perspective.
In 2011, Maxwell secured a position with Arrow Concrete Products in Granby, Conn., where he currently works as the plant manager. There, he met the Burkhart family, including Kurt, president, and Jennifer, vice president of operations. Maxwell said Jennifer convinced him that he should enroll in Precast University and begin his work toward earning the Master Precaster designation.
“I had taken the first Production and Quality School class before joining Arrow Concrete,” he said. “But Jennifer said to me, ‘Is something you’d like to do?’ And of course, I hopped all over it.”
For Maxwell, Precast University represented the next logical step in his career. He had already obtained plenty of precast knowledge, but the courses, which cover everything from basic production techniques to leadership and beyond, served as a capstone to his wide technical expertise. Plus, he knew completing the courses and earning his gold hardhat would make his family proud.
As he worked through the classes, Maxwell developed an appreciation for many of the program’s instructors, including NPCA professional staff member Claude Goguen, who is also a Master Precaster.
“He’s just a great teacher,” Maxwell said. “If you don’t understand something during a class – whether it’s a webinar or in person – he helps. I couldn’t say anything bad about that man.”
Maxwell also developed an affinity for instructor Greg Chase, who taught him the importance of the mantra, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
Maxwell now thinks more critically about every project before it begins.
“I find myself stepping back for a minute and thinking, ‘Is there a better way?’” he said. “I even ask my guys this question. I believe there are always better ways to do things, and I tell them that just because we’ve done things a certain way in the past doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.”
Maxwell’s knowledge transfer to coworkers has likely been his biggest takeaway from becoming a Master Precaster. By passing the information he’s learned in the classroom along to others, he’s returning Arrow Concrete’s investment each day he’s in the plant.
“I wanted to take everything and bring it back to my crew leaders so that they could help their workers,” he said. “You can go and learn all of this information, but keeping it inside won’t get you anywhere. It’s not going to help you as a plant manager.”
Today, Maxwell coaches those around him with the tremendous expertise he’s gained through his years on the production floor and through Precast University. And in the future, through the support of the Burkhart family, he hopes to spread that coaching mentality throughout the plant.
“I’d like all my crew leaders to become Master Precasters,” he said. “If I get these guys going in the next two or three years, Arrow Concrete will benefit greatly from it.”
Mason Nichols is the managing editor of Precast Solutions magazine and is NPCA’s external communication and marketing manager.