Leveraging Technology and Research to Recruit, Train and Retain the Industry Workforce of the Future

Julie Garbini

Contributed by Julie Garbini, Concrete Advancement Foundation

Workforce shortages in the concrete and construction industries are hardly new. However, what is new is the unprecedented level of vacancies (especially for drivers), competition with a growing gig economy, and “the great resignation” that has plagued the industry, and U.S. economy in general, in recent years.

The statistics are daunting. According to the 2022 National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) Mixer Driver Survey, 28 of every 100 concrete delivery professionals hired in 2021 quit in the first year. 71% of companies said their biggest hiring challenge was too small a hiring pool. Although ready mixed concrete production grew 9% over the last five years, 70% of companies reported lost business due to a shortage of drivers.

There is, however, hope on the horizon. The concrete and construction industries are actively pursuing innovative solutions to the workforce shortage, including leveraging technology to recruit, train and retain the workforce of the future. These new strategies hold the potential to crack the proverbial code on some of the industry’s biggest workforce challenges.

One of the most exciting and promising activities is a research study being conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Concrete Sustainability Hub (CSHub). The MIT CSHub is using a systems approach to evaluating the role of the concrete delivery professional, and how it may be transformed to attract and retain new talent. The study is also evaluating areas for greater efficiency and productivity, reducing downtime for existing drivers while also lessening the demand for new hires. The research is being funded by the Concrete Advancement Foundation. Command Alkon is supporting this work with the permission of some of its customers to share data with the researchers.

The MIT CSHub’s research is taking a holistic and multi-faceted approach. For the study so far, the researchers have interviewed approximately 25 key stakeholders across the concrete construction value chain and performed a survey of more than 500 concrete delivery professionals. They’ve analyzed data from over 35,000 deliveries to assess productivity and built a hiring and retention simulator to characterize the cost and revenue impacts of hiring and retaining drivers. The MIT CSHub and Concrete Advancement Foundation hosted a workshop in March 2023 to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of potential new strategies and engaged with related industry stakeholders and experts such as MIT’s Center for Transportation Logistics FreightLab, National Center for Construction Education and Research, MIT’s Learning and Engineering Practice Group (LEAP), and experts in immigration policy, to name a few. The researcher’s findings and recommendations will be summarized in a report due out this fall, but some of the key findings to date include:

  • The greatest areas of daily driver dissatisfaction are scheduling, management and the physical requirements of the job.
  • The biggest challenges for first year drivers are learning the properties of concrete, placing concrete for challenging pours, interfacing with contractors, and learning off-road driving skills.
  • The cost of hiring is notable, but it is dwarfed by the impact of foregone sales due to idle trucks.
  • Increasing retention provides significant productivity gains. For example, every additional week of average retention generates about $35,000 in value each year. Increasing the new hire tenure by 2.5 months provides the same value as doubling the hiring rate.
  • Firms on average need 10% more drivers than they currently have. However, just a 12-minute decrease in idle time per driver could eliminate the 10% vacancy rate.

Potential solutions being explored by the researchers include virtual reality and augmented reality for training; gamification of training and employee feedback/recognition; telematics, automation and robot-assist technology to reduce or enhance job responsibilities; tools to better manage customer demand and scheduling; among others. Increasing the candidate pool by attracting and enabling participation by largely untapped demographics such as foreign workers, women, and younger workers, is also being explored.

As the concrete and construction industries seek to increase the candidate pool for driver positions, as well as a variety of different entry-level roles, there are several other new resources available to attract new talent.

Skate4Concrete – Skate4Concrete is a targeted recruitment strategy connecting members of the skateboarding community, and younger workers in general, to careers in the concrete supply and concrete construction industries. The Skate4Concrete program was developed by Project Cornerstone, with funding by the Concrete Advancement Foundation. The program consists of recruitment videos featuring skaters, skatepark construction, and career opportunities in concrete, filmed in cooperation with 900 Films, the production company owned by skateboarding icon Tony Hawk. It also boasts a website to connect skaters to career opportunities, a social media campaign, and a high school-level technical concrete certification program. Visit www.skate4concrete.com to access the media kit, videos, certification and tips for leveraging the program locally. The Concrete Advancement Foundation will also release a “best practices” guide with specific case studies for how to use the guide later this year.

NRMCA’s Revamped Concrete Delivery Professional (CDP) Certification Program – NRMCA first released the CDP certification program almost two decades ago. It’s had several updates to content and delivery format over the years, but this latest iteration incorporates gamification and a state-of-the-art learning experience to appeal to younger workers. Funded by the Concrete Advancement Foundation, the brand-new version of the certification program, now available entirely online, offers exceptional flexibility for drivers to learn and earn the certification at their own pace. The revamped curriculum also meets the latest industry codes and standards. Learn more at www.nrmca.org/workforce-development/online-learning/concrete-deliveryprofessional/.

Deliver Your Future – NRMCA recently released the Deliver Your Future program for NRMCA members. Deliver Your Future offers wide-ranging resources to help concrete producers attract drivers to their companies and for potential drivers to match up with job openings in their area. Visit www.deliveryourfuture.org/ for more information.

Driver Recruitment Videos and Radio Spots – In an effort to help ease the driver recruitment issue early on, the Concrete Advancement Foundation funded the development of three driver recruitment/onboarding videos – 9 minutes, 2.5 minutes and a 30 second promo video – and two radio spots, all of which are available for free from the Foundation’s YouTube page.

Online Safety Series – Safety is always job #1. NRMCA , with cooperative funding by the Concrete Advancement Foundation, created a series of safety videos that may be accessed online and that provide automatic proof of training once the employee passes a 10-question quiz. The topics are wide-ranging with many titles appropriate for both drivers and others working at the plant. A new video on jobsite safety is expected soon. Learn more at www.nrmca.org/workforce-development/safety-series/.

Of course, new talent is also still needed in entry-level management positions in the industry. The Concrete Industry Management (CIM) undergraduate degree program continues to grow at five universities nationwide. Find out more about the CIM program at www.concretedegree.com and access resources for promoting CIM to your employees and their families through the new CIM Leave Your Legacy campaign, available on the website.

For more information on the work funded by the Concrete Advancement Foundation, please visit www.concreteadvancement.org or contact Julia Garbini at jgarbini@concreteadvancement.org.

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