Nebraskans have a reputation as hardworking, no-nonsense, can-do workers. To Jereme Montgomery, executive director of the Nebraska Concrete & Aggregate Association (NC&AA), these attributes suggest a plentiful supply of young workers wanting to become part of the construction industry. But in the last few years, Nebraska producers and contractors have been short of workers with which to grow their businesses.

Researching the workforce shortage, Montgomery discovered that concrete was not the only vocational occupation suffering from extremely low entry numbers. Supported by the NC&AA Board, Montgomery has organized a statewide workforce promotion effort named #ConcreteTough, whose key activity is the annual Nebraska Construction Career Days, managed by Integrated Global Dimensions, Lincoln, Neb. The initiative is partly funded by a training grant from the Nebraska Department of Roads and the USDOT Federal Highway Administration Office of Civil Rights.

Career Days

The Nebraska Construction Career Days’ education events are open to 7th through 12th grade students. In 2016, there were six locations attracting more than 1,600 students, a 100% increase in locations and student participation from 2015.

Three years ago, NC&AA launched #ConcreteTough. At each Nebraska Construction Career Day, the NC&AA Promotion Committee coordinated a #ConcreteTough station where students placed and finished concrete slabs. Mentors instructed the students on the proper tools and methods of placement, strike-off, bullfloating, edging, jointing, texturing, and curing the concrete.

The choice of the #ConcreteTough theme was to communicate to students that concrete is not an easy career, but is still very rewarding. “We refuse to sugarcoat anything because the world’s toughest building materials needs the world’s toughest people,” says Montgomery.

He believes #ConcreteTough is just the beginning of NC&AA’s effort. They plan to develop initiatives for ready-mix drivers, concrete technicians, and heavy equipment operators.

Montgomery enjoys interacting with the students. In fall 2016, he taught an introductory concrete construction and finishing course to vocational students at Metropolitan Community College. It’s been a rewarding, yet exhausting experience. “Preparing new coursework each week has kept me up at nights and working weekends,” he says.

Challenges Ahead

Montgomery knows #ConcreteTough faces difficult challenges. Many people have the wrong perception about hard work, especially construction. When driving through a construction zone, parents may say, “Look at those workers. If you don’t do better in school, you may end up like them.” Montgomery wants to change the perception of parents, councilors, and students. “They need to be aware that you can have a path to success through construction careers.”

Other groups have recognized NC&AA’s efforts. In October 2016, the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA) invited Montgomery to be the keynote speaker at its annual convention. Before their meeting, TCA staff worked with instructors at several local schools to develop a learning module about concrete as a career. The students completed a rigorous learning experience to earn a visit to the TCA trade show floor.

Montgomery’s passion for workforce development will be the focus of his seminar at the 2017 World of Concrete, “Increase Attraction of Concrete Careers and Resolve Workforce Issues.” Visit here to register for Seminar TH115.

More on Jereme Montgomery.