By providing workplace professional development opportunities, precast concrete manufacturers can help reduce employee turnover, improve loyalty and enhance the career paths of valued team members.
By Bridget McCrea
It would be hard to argue with the value of lifelong learning. Whether the goal is to update skills for a specific job, prepare someone for a new position or develop a personal interest, the time and effort results in enhanced skills, an expanded knowledge base and greater personal capabilities. This translates into real gains in the manufacturing environment, where both employees and employers experience the benefits.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 51% of companies offer undergraduate educational assistance and 49% provide graduate educational assistance.1 Beyond formal education options, many companies offer training courses, online educational opportunities, certification courses and other ways for their workers to continue their lifelong learning journeys.
For employees, continuing education can help fill skills and knowledge gaps, provide information about industry advancements, encourage exploration of new career directions, and polish their resumes for future opportunities. For precasters that offer continuing education opportunities, the rewards come in the form of heightened employee engagement, improved loyalty, better retention and less turnover.
Filling in the skills gaps
Whether it’s a recent college grad, a long-time employee or a new executive, everyone can use a little extra education during his or her career. A Texas A&M University study uncovered a growing need for skilled workers in the area of advanced manufacturing, including the use of new technologies and advanced processes to manufacture products of high value.2 The report’s authors note that U.S. government employment data reveals a lack of skilled workers in the manufacturing sector. Additionally, there is concern over the job-readiness of college graduates and the potential gaps in skill sets needed to be successful in an industrial setting, especially in the fields of engineering and manufacturing.
At Panhandle Concrete Products in Scottsbluff, Neb., Andrew Hayward, quality and production manager, said the company offers a variety of continuing education opportunities for staff members. The company uses online webinars, meetings and short video clips to help keep employees up to speed on the most important changes in precast processes, industry trends and customer preferences.
“We get everyone together in one room, show the videos and then talk together as a group about the topic at hand,” said Hayward, who pauses the presentations at certain points to explain specific topics and brainstorm ideas with the group. “I talk to our employees about their experiences and discuss how this new information and/or the process changes can be applied at our company.”
Hayward added that he often turns to educational offerings from the National Precast Concrete Association to round out Panhandle’s continuing education program. Most recently, he used the organization’s content across four different production/safety meetings. He especially enjoys having a large catalogue of online options at his fingertips so they can log on and get the information into practice right away.
Hayward loves NPCA’s short, how-to videos, which serve as a refresher for workers who need bite-sized chunks of continuing education. Featuring topics like applying form oil or consolidating concrete, the clips can be quickly accessed on an as-needed basis.
“It’s always good to go back every six months or so and get a refresher,” said Hayward, whose team also attends NPCA webinars. “The options range from broad topics for entry-level employees to very technical topics for veteran workers.”
To administer its continuing education, Panhandle makes time during company hours – especially on slower days – for employees to attend Precast University3 and work on their Master Precaster coursework. Currently, three staff members have graduated from the program and a handful of others are working through the program. In return, Panhandle gets a workforce that’s continually evolving and learning.
“It’s important to keep on top of the trends and new specifications in the industry,” Hayward said. “We want our employees to know what’s out there, whether it’s a new piece of equipment or a new way to build something. It helps them stay sharp and keeps us ahead of the game.”
Walking the walk
NPCA member Rosetta Hardscapes of Charlevoix, Mich., highly values continuing education on numerous fronts. The company creates webinars for producers, many of which require help working through common challenges.
“We developed a job costing webinar and sent it out to our entire network,” said Rosetta Hardscapes Operations Specialist Aaron Ausen. “We had about 30 executives and sales professionals come to learn best practices on how to cost our products, which showed us that this was a real issue that attendees needed help with. I’m a big believer in well-rounded continuing education.
“(NPCA does) a phenomenal job at not just pulling in business and industry experts, but giving attendees the chance to learn from other folks who have actually ‘walked the walk.’”
Meeting younger generations halfway
As younger generations of workers make their way into the precast industry, most are looking for different benefits, perks and job experiences. Generations Y and Z both gravitate toward companies that offer ample workplace development opportunities.
The proof is in the numbers. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the biggest draw for millennials in the workplace is the opportunity for progression (52% of millennials surveyed say this makes an employer an attractive prospect).4 Asked which benefits they would most value from an employer, millennials named training and development and flexible working opportunities over financial benefits.
NPCA Vice President of Technical Services and Professional Development Marti Harrell said these and other realities should prompt more manufacturers to develop new or enhance existing continuing education offerings.
“Precasters have to meet these younger generations halfway, and one great way to do that is by giving them expanded educational opportunities,” she said.
Leadership NPCA is a good starting point for precasters looking to follow Harrell’s advice.5 Meant to sharpen students’ skills and abilities by providing management training, industry association experience and networking opportunities that are vital to successful leadership, LNPCA accepts up to 12 students per year in order to provide meaningful, small-group learning opportunities that will last throughout the participants’ careers. NPCA also offers free “Precast Learning Lab” videos consisting of 5- to 10-minute best practice discussions on specific production practices, sales techniques and marketing approaches.6
Precast University is another option and companies will soon be able to leverage a new onboarding webinar series, which covers everything a new hire needs to know when he or she begins their work.
“This will help employees get up to speed very quickly and is particularly relevant for younger generations that may not choose post-secondary education but are already familiar with online learning,” Harrell said.
Harrell reminds manufacturers that continuing education can be as simple as playing a short video on safety practices or on a new production concept during weekly, 15-minute team huddles. In other words, it doesn’t take a year-long, formal course to make employees realize that you’re willing to invest in their personal and professional development.
In the end, the investment is a win-win as employee development not only benefits the employee as they advance their career, but it helps your company succeed in the future.
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.