A change is in the air!

By Pete Grass, P.E., CAE

It’s not because the fall weather brings the crisp clear air and leaves change in some parts of the country. It’s not because as I write, several hurricanes or tropical depressions are raising havoc to our infrastructure and usual routines. Tropical storm Olivia in the Pacific for our Hawaiian friends and Hurricane Florence come to mind.

If you haven’t noticed, you can’t be blamed. Change is sometimes insidious and that is the case with what is happening in the binder and hot-mix world. Mentioned and you may go “oh yeah” I knew that. Regardless, put it into the changing reality of our industry today.

Help wanted. Have you noticed the signs most all business sectors are displaying? There are many reasons, including record low unemployment and a robust and growing economy. This means we’re in the lowest unemployment season since 2000 or earlier. You might have this problem at your agency too – and in all career fields.

Lack of workforce is affecting our side of the business, too. Truck drivers are especially needed and for us, these professionals move our liquid to terminals and hot-mix plants to keep jobs going. Help wanted is also an acute problem for many of the positions on job sites across the country. While other sectors are advertising openings on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we’re just starting these non-traditional efforts to reach a smart-phone focused workforce.

Our industry is trying a few different things to help us compete for a shrinking labor pool. Here are a couple of interesting examples.

Go Build Alabama (gobuildalabama.com) was launched in 2010 and expanded into Tennessee (gobuildtennessee.com) in 2016. These programs seek to educate potential workers in the trades as to what’s out there, what you’ll do and how much you can make in pay. Importantly, they include resources for educators and lots of links to supporting organizations for more information to help guide students toward a trade’s career in our construction industry.

Another initiative, unique from what I’ve seen, was held by the Asphalt Pavement Association of Indiana in conjunction with that state’s Future Farmers of America Indiana to raise awareness of job opportunities in the asphalt industry. Many of these rural youths must seek a future off the farm. Here is an opportunity! The paving association held a paving demonstration day which drew over 250 students to see what goes into paving the FFA parking lot. This demonstration also included experiencing the use of equipment simulators by the students and other exhibits.

We’re also pleased to read that AASHTO’s new president, Carlos Braceras (Utah DOT), has made attracting and retaining a skilled workforce one of his top priorities. We all face the same challenge.  Doing what we’ve always done isn’t working anymore. Time for change.

We must work together to get there. It’s in the air.

Grass is the president of the Asphalt Institute.