By Kirk Stelsel, CAE
What can a 25-year veteran of the precast concrete industry who has spent his entire career in the plant learn in a classroom setting? As it turns out, a lot, and not all of it specific to precast.
Bill Wilson, quality control manager for Mack Industries’ location in Valley City, Ohio, started working for the company part time in high school and found more than just a summer job – he found a career. The
industry tends to have sons or daughters of a plant owner or an employee continue on after a summer job, but it’s far less common for someone outside of the company to do so. However, Mack Industries has a track record of developing its key talent right out of high school or college as their first career job. The benefit is employees like Wilson grow and achieve solid experience from the basic level and gain early responsibilities. Wilson applied himself to learning the business and has continued to push himself to achieve more within the company and learn about the material that drew him in all those years ago.
Mixing it up
For Wilson, concrete has never been just any building material. His work has allowed him to understand the details of a mix design and how a fine-tuned mix turns concrete into the perfect building material at the mix design stage. Needless to say, concrete has become a passion.
“I kind of like concrete,” Wilson said. “It fascinates me. In my current role I’m QC, so I’m dealing with mix designs on a daily basis, and playing around with the different mix designs is something I enjoy.”
Wilson not only manages four technicians who run the day-to-day operations, he ensures the mix designs he’s creating are following all the proper specifications for the different departments of transportation. He even travels to the company’s other locations to help with their mix designs as needed.
Through his work at the plant, Wilson has learned a lot about concrete mix designs in a way that only hands-on experience can teach. He has seen new products enter the market, experimented, and learned what works and what doesn’t. That type of knowledge is invaluable to him and the company, but he is not one to simply sit back and assume he knows everything. The desire to learn more led him to seek a different kind of education that began with the first course in the Production and Quality School education track offered by the National Precast Concrete Association. The class is part of Precast University and is the first class on the path to the Master Precaster Certification.
The gold standard
When Wilson took PQS Level 1, NPCA was still developing the curriculum for Precast University. So, when new classes were offered, he enrolled. What he learned in the classroom complemented what he had
learned in the plant and offered a fresh way of looking at his everyday tasks.
“Being in QC, a lot of the stuff you go through in the classroom, you go, ‘OK, that’s why this is important,’” he said. “It takes what you’ve learned in the plant and teaches you why. When you’re in the plant, you don’t necessarily know the why, you just know it’s the way that it’s done.”
As the capstone to his roughly five-year pursuit of the Master Precaster designation, he enrolled in PQS III – Leadership, which ended up being the most memorable of his experience despite it not even being about concrete.
“To me, going through the leadership class was my favorite class and the one I took the most away from,” he said. “It was different.
Being in the industry for 25 years, there’s a lot of things you’ve touched upon, and going through the class it makes sense, but you don’t necessarily go through these leadership classes, so by far those were my favorite.”
Graduation proved to be a special experience for Wilson, as it just so happened that The Precast Show 2017 was in Cleveland – 45 minutes from his home. His wife made the drive over to cheer him on as he donned the signature gold hardhat all graduates receive, adding to the sense of accomplishment and pride of finishing the program.
As he thinks through what type of education he’ll pursue next, Leadership NPCA is high on the list. The program, now in its third year, is a natural next step for those who graduate from Precast University with a desire to learn more about leadership.
In addition to pursuing more education for himself, he has also encouraged other employees to seek continuing education opportunities, and perhaps even consider the Precast University program.
“Most of them have done PQS I, and I think it’s important to do the other classes because you learn the why,” he said.
Anytime an employee requests funds to attend continuing education, it requires approval from management. But what makes the experience far more meaningful and beneficial is when management not only approves, but truly buys in and supports the employee, such was the case for Wilson.
“I generated the idea, and I took it to Betsy Mack Nespeca, our president/owner, and our general manager, Jim Thompson, and told them, ‘This is my goal, and this is what I want to do,’” he said. “Both of them supported me 100% with it.”
Through the years, Thompson, as Wilson’s direct boss, would check on how the classes were going, and the two would meet on a yearly basis to talk about Wilson’s goals and what classes he was going to take next. Management support and a willingness to learn on the behalf of the employee creates the perfect environment for not only bettering the workforce but also the entire company and industry. Mack Nespeca continues to challenge Wilson to use his knowledge and teach others to be better problem solvers and quality leaders.
After 25 years on the job, Wilson remains motivated and is prepared to pay it forward by offering the same support to the employees he supervises. The virtuous cycle has begun, as the resulting learning impacts all facets of the company and trickles down to other employees, along with the lesson that continued education is a viable path to advancing your career.
Kirk Stelsel, CAE, is NPCA’s director of communication.