Eric Morse, Public Relations, Ingersoll Rand
The labor force in the United States is aging. According to the Center to Protect Workers' Rights (CPWR), the average age of the national workforce increased from 37.3 to 39.4 years between 1980 and 2000. During the same period, the median age of the workers increased from 35 to 39 years old.
The construction industry mirrors these numbers. In 2002, the last time the CPWR published a study on the subject, the average age for construction workers was 37.5. Many industry analysts now agree that the average age of construction workers has reached 40.
What does this mean for the asphalt industry? The United States is expected to have an increase in motor vehicle traffic from 2.7 trillion in 2000 to 3.3 trillion in 2010. Truck traffic alone is expected to double by 2020. The industry will need a robust workforce to maintain and build new roads to handle this traffic increase. A younger labor force will need to replace the current one as its members age and retire.
As with any industry or trade, the inexperience of younger workers is the biggest challenge in making them productive. Training is the key to preparing operators of asphalt pavers and compactors for careers that will meet the industry's demands.
"A young person starting in the business should start on the tools," says Peter Fleming, training specialist with the Ingersoll Rand Road Institute, an education center for asphalt paver and compactor operators and mechanics. "Young people should begin on the rakes, lutes, saws, brushes, and shovels so they can see the broader aspects of how asphalt surfaces are constructed."
Fleming places importance on the mentoring of young operators, and says contractors need to take the lead in drawing young people to the business. "I think the industry will have to make working in asphalt more attractive to entice younger workers into the business," says Fleming. "There needs to be a career path for those who want it and are sufficiently intelligent to take it. Young people don't want to think they will be shoveling asphalt for the rest of their lives. If they can see there are career paths and that maybe one day they can become a foreman, supervisor, superintendent, or even a company owner, it may attract them to the industry."
For young people already interested in working in asphalt, Fleming says contractors should gauge what sector of the trade their younger workers are interested in pursuing. "Give them every chance to experience all aspects of paving and compaction and let them take the lead in deciding what they would like to concentrate on," says Fleming. "A great way to begin is to hold a training day and lay asphalt or just sand somewhere on the company premises. Let your younger workers experience as much of the real job as they can, under supervision of course."
In any industry, younger workers will feel nothing but frustration if they haven't been adequately trained for the job they are expected to perform. Fleming says contractors should not hesitate to send their younger workers to the Ingersoll Rand Road Institute. "The Road Institute can provide an excellent base for the right person, male or female, to start his or her career with solid instruction, quality hands-on experiences, and an exchange of information from more experienced students," he says.
When younger paver or compactor operators attends a course at the Ingersoll Rand Road Institute, the training staff gauges the students' level of knowledge and experience with the equipment. "With new operators, we use ice breakers at the beginning of the course to see what their experience is," says Fleming. "If there are experienced operators attending the course, our staff will act as facilitators during discussions and have the seasoned operators share their experiences so that the younger operators can learn from their peers as well as from the instructors.