By Nate Tarbox
For many years those of us in the ready-mix concrete industry have complained and struggled to fill open delivery driver positions. As recently as 2017, almost one-half of ready-mix producers reported lost business due to the shortage of drivers. Over three quarters of our industry’s producers have been actively hiring drivers in recent years. We have the trucks but not the drivers.
Delivery professionals are the life blood of our business, representing over half of our employee population. They are not just critical to the role of driving, they handle customers, jobsites and are part of our manufacturing process. Sadly, even sign-on and referral bonuses are not enough to help the industry meet our hiring goals.
In that last 20 years of attending many industry functions, I cannot think of one instance when the conversation did not cover the driver shortage. The issues have always been the same, not enough qualified drivers, people do not want to work like they used too, etc. In addition, some industry professionals complain about existing drivers, noting that they are not safe, they do not want to work, or they do not understand what they are doing to our product.
As a longstanding issue facing the most important part of our business, it is embarrassing that, as an industry, we haven’t improved. Over the past few years, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association Driver Recruitment and Retention Survey results show that we have not made significant gains in hiring and keeping our delivery professionals. As an industry we need to ask why is this profession not appealing? More importantly, though, we need to ask ourselves a tough question: Are we a good employer? For many of us the answer will be uncomfortable.
We spend a lot of time and energy working to eliminate or limit driver interactions with the customer, the product and us. The theme is not helping to make the driver better at their profession but eliminating them. These themes and attitudes are a dangerous infection that manifests itself by minimizing the people that are our drivers, treating them as a commodity, or acting as if they are just part of an expense. We may think that it is confined to our offices and the parts of the business working to improve efficiency, but these attitudes and feelings rarely, if ever, are confined to offices. They do permeate throughout our organizations.
How do we change this? Why is it that people do not want to work for us? I would argue that there are plenty of quality people available for hire, and those people are rejecting us. We can try to cite statistics, population characteristics, even the character of our younger generations but we would be wrong and avoiding the real problem. Being a concrete delivery professional is simply not a job that people want. Behind that truth lies a simple fact: We are not serving as quality employers for the very people we need most.
It is imperative that we, the leaders in our companies, truly see our employees as individuals. We do not simply have a group of drivers; they are a group of people that each have their own dreams and aspirations, struggles and victories. Having a workplace based on respect is not enough. It is important that we know that about our people, and even more important that they know that we care, and care about more than their work product.
We have a decision to make. Do we lean into our employees, to our people, and value them, or do we complain that we cannot find enough of them? Those that value, celebrate and know our people do not have an employee shortage.
Nate Tarbox is the manager of Bay Ready Mix of Maryland, LLC. He joined the producer shortly after its 2015 acquisition by Ernest Maier Inc., a concrete, masonry and construction steel supplier in Bladensburg, Md. He has 20 years of experience in various concrete design and production capacities, is a student of positive leadership, and has completed Dare to Lead and Diversity Equity and Inclusion training. Bay Ready Mix is using new technology with empowered teams to have a positive impact on the society that is our customer.