Over the past couple years, I have been excited about Nebraska’s workforce development/recruitment campaign, #ConcreteTough. Our campaign is historic because up until now, Nebraska hasn’t tackled our need to close the pressing skill’s gap we are experiencing in the trades, not at least as a concrete industry.  

We have all heard about the obstacles the construction industry faces when it comes to hiring and retaining quality and skilled labor. We see stories about this on the news, and it’s especially visible on social media.  Ever since the NC&AA launched Nebraska’s #ConcreteTough campaign, I have felt positive vibes.  People within our concrete industry, they get it! They understand the need to focus our attention on recruiting and retaining a skilled workforce. 

But then, I read a post on Facebook along with some corresponding comments, and immediately I felt like I was just, “Punched in the Chest.”  Here’s what I read: “How many of you guys are teaching your kids the concrete trade? I’m not. I’m keeping them as far away from as I can. My bones, brain and everything else hurts at the end of the day.  Why would you want that for your kids?”  -Facebook

How can this be? Yes, we should recognize concrete is hard work; it’s demanding, and labor intensive.  But to hear a respectable concrete finisher discourage his own kids from entering our trade simply because it “hurts” at the end of the day, that attitude just doesn’t fly with me!

The hurt that you feel, the pain you struggle with, I’m not sure I get it? That pain you are whining about, Mr. Debbie Downer is a reminder of your day’s accomplishments, it’s a reminder of a hard-earned skill.  When concrete construction is done correctly, i.e., with the right crew and in the right way, the hard work you do should bring more health benefits than harm.  I know what I’m talking about, trust me, I have been out of the field for over 10 years and I have never been more out of shape in my whole life.  I miss the feeling of relief when I first pulled off my boots from a hard day’s work.  I miss the feeling of stress when you first hear the sound of the first ready-mix truck turning the corner.  I miss the never-ending problem solving required for such an adverse workplace.  I miss the very things you are discouraging your own children from pursuing.

First of all, I believe in supporting whatever your kids want to do, PERIOD.  Even if it’s something that doesn’t require obtaining a 4-year degree.  The most important aspect of selecting a career path is to enjoy your career.  I don’t care how much money a particular career will statistically offer if you enjoy what you do, and you are the best at what you do, the money will come. Although this is more easily said than done.

I’d like to introduce “My Top Ten Reasons to Promote Concrete Careers,” it’s a spinoff from an article I read by Mr. Craig Cottongim, “Top Ten Reasons to be Proud to Work in Concrete”.  Mr. Cottongim is a second generation finisher and founder of Concrete Leadership Training. Craig recently spoke about leadership at the Nebraska Concrete & Aggregate Association’s 58th Annual Quality Concrete Conference.  

Therefore, in rebuttal to you, Mr. Debbie Downer, here’s my “My Top Ten Reasons to Promote Concrete Careers”:

  1. It’s a skilled craft – Very few people can do what concrete guys do. Very few.  Concrete guys belong to an elite group of craftsmen who has learned their skill, not out of a book, not by a professor, but by our colleagues & mentors, and through years of hands-on-learning.   AKA, the “School of Hard Knocks!”
  2. Camaraderie – Being on a crew builds teamwork, along with feeling you are part of a brotherhood.
  3. Opportunity – I’m proud to be in the concrete industry, simply due to its potential growth regarding technology and applications.  Technology is growing at an exponential rate.  Think back just 20 years ago, and just imagine the opportunities our industry will bring the next 2 decades.  
  4. Pride – It’s cool to show off your work. It’s cool to show people what you built.  If you do it correctly, you’ll be able to appreciate your work for decades.
  5. The people – The people I deal with are top notch, class act individuals, who I can always count on.  I owe everything I have today to the mentors I’ve had throughout my career.
  6. A Room With a View – Everyday offers a different view.  Did you want that corner office on the top floor? How about placing concrete on the 20th floor of an office building!
  7. Every day is different – You interact with different people in new places every day.  And due to concrete being environmentally sensitive…, that just adds to the excitement.
  8. Cool Toys – Who wouldn’t want to use power tools, set up lasers and GPS, run a laser screed, drive a skid steer, operate powerful equipment…, the list goes on. 
  9. We’re the toughest of all the trades – I will put a concrete guy against any other tradesmen!  Concrete construction is the only industry where simply being “Tough” is the ONLY prerequisite needed.  We are tough and that message needs to be promoted more.  #ConcreteTough
  10. NO GYM FEES – Being out of the field for 10 years…, I can personally attest to this benefit. Nowadays, I have back pain, hip pain, gout, and soft hands. Not good.  People usually state working with concrete breaks down your body.  It’s the opposite.  Not working, that breaks down your body.  

So with all of these reasons, why would anyone NOT consider a career in the concrete industry? I have a 15-year-old son who is just now thinking about career paths.  Am I pushing him towards a career in the world of concrete? No.  But I am going to teach him about the value of a hard-earned dollar.  He will learn how to use a hammer and a tape measure.  He will learn how to sweat. But most importantly, he will understand that success comes from hard work, whether it’s from your head or from your back.  And in the end, I will support whatever path he wants to choose for his career. 

Certainly, we need to change the mistaken perception that you can’t be successful working in concrete construction. Yes, it’s hard and it’s physically demanding work. But for some of us, that’s exactly what we are looking for.  Why?  Because working hard gives most people the deepest sense of accomplishment, along with a sense of pride that simply can’t be found elsewhere.  So, I’m asking: Why should that ever be discouraged? 

Jereme Montgomery
Stephens & Smith Construction Company
Twitter: @NEconcrete
Concrete Leadership Training click here
ConcreteGarb Podcast: Making Concrete Great Again
Prezi: My Top Ten Reasons