It’s winter and we are in a new year and a new decade. Perhaps it’s nostalgia for the end of one decade or optimism for the new decade, but this seems an appropriate time to speculate on the future of the industry. Demand for concrete structures remains strong, and it should increase over the next decade as more people move to big cities and the population grows. Add to that the need to build and repair our infrastructure, a slight increase in U.S. manufacturing, and the popularity of residential concrete projects that go beyond normal living spaces—like what we see on television remodeling shows—and the future looks rosy for our industry.

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I believe that over the next decade many commercial and industrial concrete companies will follow in the footsteps of the American farmer, with small operators disappearing and big companies thriving. Mega-companies with a competitive edge will continue to grow and either absorb or outbid their competitors. And just like we see hospital conglomerates buying up local hospitals, family-owned ready-mix producers will be gobbled up by national or even international companies.

Looking at our future workforce, the most productive leaders over the next decade will need to be bilingual. And with the general shortage of workers and a greater dissatisfaction with student loan debt, more young people will be open to careers in the trades. Some of the concrete-related college programs will help in this, but those programs alone will not be able to fill the void in our workforce. We will see high school vocational-technical programs and apprenticeship programs experience a renaissance. But to get our fair share, concrete contractors will need to be creative in recruiting the next generation’s workers, especially with the competitive wages welders and HVAC contractors are offering.

Innovation and research will always be years ahead of what we see in the field. That’s just how construction works. General contractors will demand higher standards of quality and we will see more on-site testing—even on residential projects.

The traditional brands in tools and equipment will change. For a generation, Bobcat was synonymous with skid steers, but they no longer dominate the field. Today, there are at least a dozen choices—with unlimited attachments—and that’s true for all types of heavy equipment. This trend of more choices will accelerate. Marshalltown will continue, though, their stronghold in the field of hand floats and trowels. And while you’d have to claw my Estwing from my cold dead fingers, sadly I’m not seeing the younger generation buying the age-old blue-handled hammers we older folks grew up with.

Let’s wrap up these predictions with a challenge: Mentor your replacements and teach your crew leaders to do the same. Since my company started pumping concrete and got away from just doing flatwork, I’m in contact with many more concrete contractors than ever before. I’m hugely disappointed in the common perspective that says, “Every time I train someone they either leave or start their own company.” There is no competition between lighthouses—we need to consider the greater good of our industry. If the ship’s registry is always low or if our people are continually jumping ship, maybe the captain needs to make some changes to ensure the future of concrete remains rock solid.