I’m almost 50 years old, but even after a lifetime in concrete, I still feel like a 15-year-old right before a big pour. I get excited about concrete. It keeps me up at night, and early in the morning I can’t wait to get to the jobsite. Concrete is the center of most all of my conversations. So, what’s so special about working in concrete anyway?

Those of us working in concrete form a unique bond that’s stronger than any band of brothers. We experience challenges which the typical person couldn’t comprehend, and through sharing our particular hardships and victories, we develop authentic lifelong friendships.

The greatest gratification in life comes from somewhere in between the joy of learning, mentoring, and of knowing what it truly means to depend on others, while striving to be dependable for a team of dedicated professionals. But make no mistake, our work is demanding; we achieve a physical stamina that athletes competing in a triathlon would envy.

May this special 60th anniversary edition of Concrete Construction inspire you to persuade others to pursue a career in concrete too.

No other occupation delivers the sense of accomplishment for a job well done or contributes as much to civilization. Concrete provides the basis for the most durable infrastructure known to mankind, not to mention the role concrete plays in building our homes, laboratories, universities, and libraries.

Future worries

But I’m also worried about our future when I survey my gray-haired cohorts. So I want to spotlight two efforts aimed at helping our industry recruit some much-needed fresh blood.

I recently spoke to the Concrete Industry Management students at Middle Tennessee State University. Heather Brown and her colleagues are shaping the hearts and minds of dozens and dozens of students. It was my privilege to share with their group some of the “real life” aspects of working in concrete. The most rewarding part of the experience came when one student shyly approached and said, “I was thinking about changing my major, but after today I’m really inspired to be in concrete. Thank you!”

Secondly, Jereme Montgomery, the executive director of the Nebraska Concrete and Aggregates Association, recently started a workforce development program to help recruit young adults into the trades. He’s in discussions with the U.S. Department of Labor about creating apprenticeship programs for ready-mix drivers and for finishers.

He’s also urging the U.S. Department of Education to bring back coop programs to our schools. Thanks to his efforts, eight different trades have come together and started the Build Our Nebraska program. It is an exciting attempt to expose high schoolers and college students to the wonderful opportunities in construction through job fairs and on-campus visits.

Get them when they're young

“All of the people with a passion for concrete that I know started young," Montgomery told me. "We have to get them in when they are young!” Part of what he is doing is changing the image of our industry by showing young adults that they can be successful without a four-year degree. Keep an eye out on social media for the hashtag he started, #concretetough.

Also, Montgomery will present a seminar at the next World of Concrete titled, “Increase attraction of concrete careers and resolve workforce issues.” I can’t wait to attend his session!

Thanks to concrete we have a sense of pride, knowing few people can do our job and we have a work ethic others only dream of. May this special 60th anniversary edition of Concrete Construction inspire you to persuade others to pursue a similar career. We’ve heard the Call of Concrete, we’ve responded with blood, sweat and tears. Now it’s time to help the next generation hear the call loud and clear. So speak up, because people can’t respond to an invitation they haven’t received.

Author's note

Don Deetjen

This month's column is dedicated to the memory of Don Deetjen, 1942-2016. Don owned Deetch Industrial Concrete in the Chicago area from the 1970s to the 1990s. I worked for him for about 10 years and learned more from him than I did from anyone else. He retired in 1996 and died on July 2.