Are you ready for spring training?

Winter is the perfect time to draw up a new season playbook

by John S. Ball III

It's the end of the year, the last day of paving. The screed is still warm, the water in the roller hasn't evaporated yet, and the crew is just getting into their cars to go home for the season. Your people know it's finally the last day, and they're ecstatic yet a little sad. They've been finishing up smaller commercial jobs these last few weeks, and they've been trying to work as a team, but it's been difficult because of the colder weather..

The company may be losing money because of the cold weather, and the crew knows that. The days are shorter, but in northern climates the crew has to move slower because the ground is colder and the hot mix cools more quickly. In warmer parts of the country, the crew has to fight fog and wet weather. By November, they've been paving jobs that absolutely have to be done before the snow falls or temperatures drop too low - mall parking lots for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, or entry roads to housing developments, to name a few.

With the first snow fall comes the last paving day. The manager breathes a sigh of relief because the phone isn't ringing off the hook with questions about when the customer will get an order for hot mix. He finally has a break from the stress - for a day, anyway.

Now the phone calls will be from the front office, asking how much tonnage was laid this season, whether the company made its profit goals, and what the profit margin turned out to be. Or, they'll come from the equipment manager asking what units will need to be repaired or replaced, and whether the company will be adding to the fleet, and whether it will be new or used equipment.

In reviewing the paving season in order to plan for next year, profit margins, cost reductions, and production increases are all important questions, but here are a few more. Do we have the right people for the next season? Are they all operating as efficiently as possible? Do we want them in the same positions next season? How do we keep the momentum going next season? How do we strengthen our people to work even better? Where do we go from here?

As the paver and roller are put to bed, and management takes the winter to focus on the business and get ready for next season, it's time to talk about spring training. It's time to look at your secret weapon - your people. Maybe you noticed during the previous season that you were locked into the positions certain crew members played on your paving team. You had all the players you needed, but maybe you weren't content with them and their work.

Maybe it's also time to examine your training program: Maybe you didn't cross-train your people, maybe they weren't allowed to do more than one job, and maybe you didn't strengthen the team as well as you could have. It's time now to evaluate this past season and see what went wrong or right. Is the roller operator happy or does he want to learn how to run the paver?

It is very expensive to recruit, hire, train and then replace unhappy workers. It's to everyone's advantage to recruit, train, and help build a career path for your employee. There are many good people who want to work with a progressive company with state-of-the-art equipment, a reputation for quality, and a challenging and rewarding job.

I have never heard of anyone who does not want to work for the best and with the best. It's time to think about who will fill the slots you have open next season so when you commit to quality and communicate with your people in order to keep costs down and that competitive edge up, you'll be prepared.

If you need to draft a few new players, now is the time to recruit them, and there are several ways to go about doing this. The traditional, tried and true method is to put an ad in the local paper. But, here are a few tips for drawing the best workers through your ad:

· Who among your crew members has that get-up and go? Who really wants to work? Picture your best crew members and the qualities they possess, and use them as the benchmark for new recruits. List their star qualities as requirements for the positions you're advertising.

· If you want to recruit from within and you want the hungriest, most committed crew member to fill the position, consider placing a blind ad in the local paper. See who from among your own pool of workers comes to your door first.

Some managers hold the mentality that the quality in their own backyard doesn't meet their expectations, but you may have overlooked the diamond in the rough. If you just give that person the opportunity to maybe live out a dream, give him a lot of leeway as you guide him through the operation of a piece of equipment that might be new to him, you can actually mold him into what you want. You know he's already got a positive attitude about the job because he's applied for it.

If you're looking for a different drawing card, try hosting a job fair at your facility. With a job fair, you can actually tantalize the unknown local public into working for you. One of the reasons this industry is not perceived as a glamorous place to have a career is because many in the industry don't advertise the opportunities within it. With such low unemployment numbers these days, the public needs to know there are careers beyond fast food.

Again, with a job fair, you might draw not only the interest of crew members from the competition's camp, but you've got a casual setting in which to get to know people on your own team you may have overlooked. It will also give you the opportunity to promote the asphalt industry as a place to make a career. Survival in this industry isn't one company standing alone. We're all in this together.

Being proactive and getting prepared now will help you out of the starting gate this spring. Look for all the sparkles in asphalt - you'll be surprised at all the diamonds!

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