For ready-mixed concrete producers, solutions to the current skills gaps are, at best, works in progress. Every producer is faced with loss of sales because they have empty seats at some level. Unfortunately, the solution is not as simple as hiring bodies to fill those seats and training them to drive, operate equipment, dispatch, batch, or provide quality control and assurance. The solution is in filling the knowledge and experience gaps as quickly as possible.
This is challenging enough in the U.S., where the literacy rate is 99% and 20.3% of the skilled labor force is already found in manufacturing, extraction, transportation, and crafts, but even more so in a country where the literacy rate is 49% and 11% of the labor force is in general industry, primarily unskilled, and speaks the national languages of Creole and French.
In February 2014, we were asked to design, layout, install, and manage ready-mix concrete and precast panel operations for a startup mission-based group. This group had secured a contract to provide materials for construction of Port Lafito, a new Panamax port 39 kilometers northwest of Port Au Prince, Haiti. Our tasks included facility design, equipment and infrastructure sourcing, import, and installation. Our challenges were creating operational control mechanisms, management tools, and training programs necessary to successfully fill 40 operations and management positions from the available local unskilled labor pool.
We began by determining the level of existing skills, followed by identification of gaps that were common to all, and finally gaps that were position/function specific. These formed the foundation for all of the decisions, purchases, and programs that followed. Every action or activity was, by intention, highly structured and included education, training, and interlaced support systems.
Site preparation, hiring, and training began on February 3, 2014. The first milestone was placing 9 cubic meters of concrete for plant jack stand piers mixed in a quarter-yard portable mixer and placed with hand buckets on February 26. The mobile batch plant arrived on site June 21, 2014 and mix testing began on July 4. The first 4000 psi precast panels were cast on July 11 followed by the first multiple truck delivery of 30 cubic meters of 3500 psi concrete on August 14. During the remainder of 2014, the group produced and delivered 12,100 cubic meters of concrete; 2015 deliveries totaled 25,000 cubic meters of predominately high-strength pump mixes with spacings of 10 to 15 minutes and volumes ranging from 85 to 258 cubic meters. A notable accomplishment when you consider the deliveries were made without experiencing a single vehicular accident in a country where traffic is uncontrolled, street riots are frequent, and only 768 km of the 4,266 km of roadways are paved.
Today, every producer faces the same staffing and operational challenges regardless of their location, their market, or their internal resources. Meeting and conquering those challenges can be accomplished by every producer regardless of size. Through an operationally tailored approach, as detailed in this example, the opportunity to successfully fill the skills gap without sacrificing quality of product, customer service, and loss of revenue exist in every organization today. The ultimate challenge is to fill the gaps while building employee satisfaction, retention, and adding value to the community.