Ask any precaster what their biggest challenge is, and chances are it’s related to labor and specifically having enough employees to get the backlog of work done on time.
Finding skilled workers – not to mention those who want to work hard and do a good job – can be tough as more people elect to go to a four-year college. But Dalmaray Concrete Products in Janesville, Wis., is looking at a new way to get more students interested in the precast concrete industry.
Dalmaray Vice President Aaron Ausen said they have partnered with Blackhawk Technical College as well as Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development to provide an apprenticeship program for students interested in the construction industry.
“In the past, apprenticeships have been thought of as union-based where people go to become an electrician or carpenter or something like that,” Ausen said. “What the DWD is working on is that anybody can do an apprenticeship. It’s open to any industry.”
Ausen said any company can apply with the state to start an apprenticeship program, and they work with the DWD to create an ideal candidate.
“We look at the course offerings and pick out some of the courses that we think would be a good fit for us,” Ausen said. “They go through that coursework, work at the facility, get credits for everything and at the end get a certification to become a precaster.”
Ausen said the longest part was figuring out what classes make sense for a precaster. He started with business management, problem solving and project management. Next, he mixed in some of NPCA’s Production and Quality School courses so they could enter the Master Precaster program.
“They get credits for all of this, and if they want to, they can specialize in something and go further into something else,” he said. “We offered it up as a way to attract high school kids that get their degree and don’t necessarily want to go to college as an alternate pathway. We’re hoping to get a good crop of kids to get them on a good pathway.”
Ausen said it was an easy decision to start up the program as he feels it’s important to expose high school kids to the industry.
“They are so raw; they aren’t used to other places of employment,” he said. “They are very open-minded as to how things work. We’re trying to find those individuals you can mold and shape.”
Ausen highly recommended other precasters look into starting an apprenticeship program.
“I’m more than willing to talk with anyone about it,” he said. “In precasting, employment is really hard so you have to do more to get what you want. We have to look beyond our boundaries and do anything to get these kids involved.”
Dalmaray’s program is only a couple years old, but Ausen said he’s hoping to continue to try to get more people involved with the precast concrete industry.
“It is hard because it’s a big investment on our side of things,” he said. “We don’t have to pay for school or travel, but we have to be invested in the kid and what they want out of it. It is a three-year program, and you have to be invested in them throughout it.”