The Age Decline of Ready Mixed Concrete Workers

Ready mixed concrete is a generational business that requires both young innovators and older, experienced employees.

Our industry is in a demographic decline. We are losing older, steady hands much faster than their impact can be replaced, and continued enticements to delay retirement only last so long. Compounding the issue, most ready mixed concrete business leaders are rueful about having to hire younger, inexperienced workers who they fear lack the work ethic of their parents.

Yep, you hired them. The “duck you” (as your smartphone would transcribe) Gen Z kids who are game on from Day One, thinking everything sucks and must be changed NOW. 

Yep, you kept them. The gray-haired baby boomers who are fiercely resistant to change—any change—because challenging the status quo is bad.

They both can be a pain in the rear, yet the nasty truth is you need them working together to prosper. 

IQ is commonly divided into two factors: fluid and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to process new information, learn and solve problems. Crystallized intelligence is the stored knowledge accumulated over the years. 

Fluid intelligence is typically highest when an individual is in their 20s and peaks by their mid-30s. Crystallized intelligence steadily increases from childhood and is typically at its strongest near the end of a working career. While drastically different, the two IQ types work together and are equally important.

Think of Gen Z as “Disruptors.” Innovation thrives with fluid intelligence and often perishes with crystallized. The disruptive thinking that comes with fluid intelligence can lead to new ways of doing things that enable more to be produced with the same amount of labor and capital. 

Innovation raises productivity in the long run, making your company more efficient with capital and labor. It also requires investment: You simply cannot wake up one fine day and be an innovator.

Think of baby boomers as “Protectors.” Defense demands crystallized intelligence, and those who protect generally hate surprises. Protecting the current process allows a business to operate in a predictable, stable manner—which is critical for the ongoing health of the money-making engine of the company. Maintaining stability is almost always entrusted to steady, senior hands. 

Now is the time to actively seek the Gen Z Disruptors and partner them with the baby boomer Protectors for temperance and guidance. Don’t expect them to hang out after hours or attend a concert together, but you can anticipate them influencing each other’s thinking about the labyrinth of internal processes. Through their uncomfortable relationship, your company is more likely to harvest meaningful change.

Disruptive thinkers will sink their teeth into resolving hidden profit leaks like a pit bull on a squirrel. They may ask questions along the lines of: 

  • Why do we offer a 3 percent discount for prompt pay when everyone claims it via short pay, yet very few are paying immediately? 
  • Why do we have favorite customers who get better, more expensive logistics services while paying much less per cubic yard? 
  • Why do we scan our paper tickets just to save them as PDFs as opposed to using e-ticketing? 

Protective thinkers will defend tried-and-true processes in favor of smooth business continuity. While this has value in protecting ongoing revenue, it also presents consequences for structural improvement.

While the back office is a perfect starting point, real gains can come from teaming Disrupters with Protectors in operations. Disruptive thinking has led to using cleaner, cheaper compressed natural gas (CNG) for fleets, especially in high-cost states like California. Other solutions have included optimizing plant traffic flows with automated slump and washout to save expensive—arguably the most expensive—truck minutes after loading, but while trucks are still at the plant. Producers also have found that costly defensive over-cementing can be reduced or eliminated by proper tuning of the plant with new cylinders and gates. The opportunities are infinite. 

Ready mixed concrete is a generational business. The paradox is we are a frantic, real-time industry with a perishable product and a very long-term perspective. Simply put, we have a perfect need to harness both fluid and crystallized intelligence. To do this, consider creating a mentor program that binds a youthful hire with a high IQ to a seasoned employee with institutional knowledge. Or start a formal professional development program that matches new hires to steady hands. 

One way to find qualified Zoomers is to coordinate with the Concrete Industry Management (CIM) Program. Created to help alleviate the industry’s workforce shortage, CIM nurtures budding concrete industry professionals through a specialized, business-intensive college degree program. The degree is offered by a handful of universities across the country, and CIM graduates are ready to hit the ground running. 

“What has emerged from this program is a passionate, focused, skilled workforce with the technical and business acumen for all levels of an organization,” says Heather Brown, PhD., VP of Quality Control and Quality Assurance with Irving Materials Inc. 

Dr. Brown served as CIM program director at Middle Tennessee State University for nearly 20 years. She hopes to see the program grow to include more schools and receive new students from all 50 states, to effectively expand the network of alumni nationwide. “There is no better way to perpetuate your business than by investing in a young person so they can, in turn, pour their energy into your company,” she contends.

The hard reality is that our industry is losing centuries of experience each day due to retirement. We can’t fence time, but we can leverage it. We can build a better future by paring the enthusiasm and restlessness of youth with the experience of proven industry elders.

Craig Yeack has held leadership positions with both construction materials producers and software providers. He is co-founder of BCMI Corp. (the Bulk Construction Materials Initiative), which is dedicated to reinventing the construction materials business with modern mobile and cloud-based tools. His Tech Talk column—named best column by the Construction Media Alliance in 2018—focuses on concise, actionable ideas to improve financial performance for ready-mix producers. He can be reached at [email protected].