Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What do You Pay for Veteran Workers?

How Do Employers Continue to Compensate Skilled Workers in Trade Industries?

In the asphalt industry, as with most segments of the construction industry as a whole, veteran employees are worth their weight in gold. Unfortunately, employers in today's economic environment aren't always able to pay that price to keep the skilled, 20-year or 30-year worker in his or her position on the team.

John Ball is the proprietor of Top Quality Paving out of Manchester, N.H. He travels to asphalt paving sites around the United States to consult and teach others best paving practices. He has shared with me that our veteran employees who retire leave a knowledge gap that is difficult to fill. The last thing an owner or manager needs to do is let skilled employees leave the industry or--worse--leave the company to join the competitor down the street.

The younger generation employee with his lower wage requirement may look attractive at first, but his lack of knowledge, unfamiliarity with the industry, short attention span, different work and learning style than the older generation, and other qualities can make him more expensive in the long run. From mistakes to insurance premium hikes to training time, newbies of any age add to overhead.

What do we as an industry do to train up the next generation of veteran, skilled workers, and how do we accomplish that training while keeping current veteran workers well-compensated and on our team?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Don't Waste Time When Delivering Asphalt

By John Ball, Proprietor of Top Quality Paving
From the April/May issue of AsphaltPro Magazine

It bears repeating: we work with a perishable product. When a haul truck leaves the asphalt plant with a load for the paver, the driver of that truck needs to take the most direct and timely route to the work zone as possible. There shouldn’t be stops along the way for coffee or even tank fill-ups. The foreman on the project has calculated the day’s yield based on many factors, including how long each truck will take to complete the circuit from loadout to loadout.

As I’ve outlined in AsphaltPro Magazine before, on a perfect day, it takes 3 minutes for the truck to get loaded at the plant, another 3 minutes to pick up the loadout ticket and get the tarp in place. If the work zone is 15 miles from the plant, you can figure it’ll probably take the truck 20 minutes to get from point A to point B. It should take another 20 minutes for the truck to back into position, charge the hopper in an even manner and move to the designated area for a quick clean-out. It’s 20 minutes back to the plant and 4 minutes in line to loadout.

That kind of calculation is valuable to the foreman and others on the paving crew. Truck drivers need to be educated as to why a mess-up in that schedule is detrimental to the crew’s success.

One of the problems a driver creates if he performs maintenance items or personal business during the route is getting trucks out of number order. The foreman wants to keep the trucks in sequence to keep the mat temperature consistent. Truck 4 should not bypass Trucks 2 and 3 on the way to the paving site because this sets up the crew for mix temperature and compaction variations behind the paver.

If a truck driver thinks he or she needs to stop for fuel, which would take the truck out of sequence, the foreman needs to tell him that fueling is a house-keeping item to address when the bed is empty. Fuel up before the shift or, if necessary, on the way back to the plant. A truck that takes too long getting to the site and is too far out of sequence suddenly has a load of expensive RAP to haul back to the plant.

Another idea I recommend is traveling the route before the project begins. If the foreman can assess traffic patterns and when interruptions in traffic patterns might cause asphalt delivery delays, he can adjust the route haul trucks take during peak traffic times or set up an alternate route altogether.

For instance, if the most direct route between the plant and the work zone takes drivers past a school that experiences heavy bus and carpooling traffic—not to mention children on foot—at regular times in the morning and afternoon, the foreman may suggest a different route that is less direct, but more timely and more comfortable for the community. Maybe the foreman can arrange the paving schedule so deliveries aren’t necessary during the affected hours of peak traffic. Whatever scenario you arrange, taking a pre-project drive of the delivery route will ease the foreman’s mind and set the haul truck drivers up for success.

Tracking haul trucks has become easier with all the GPS products on the marketplace today. I’ve mentioned Minds Inc. before. Navman Wireless—featured on page 38 of the April/May issue—is another company with GPS tracking software for fleets. These and other companies offer products that give owners the ability to check on truck staging and timing. When a haul truck reaches the plant, the foreman can receive a ring on his phone. He gets another ring when the truck departs. When the truck stops, the GPS lets the system know. Truck drivers get paid by the hour, so GPS tracking can help cut wasted time and money in some situations, and definitely help track the cycle of our perishable product and its best window of opportunity for perfect laydown and compaction.
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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Vote to Extend Now Rather than Later

by AsphaltPro Magazine Editor Sandy Lender

I’m a pretty optimistic person. I do ascribe to the theory that “only the paranoid survive,” but that’s more of a survival mantra than a viewpoint. When it comes to the transportation funding options floating around Congress these days, I’d say my take on things mirrors a mix of paranoia, preparation, hope, prayer, survival plans—a cornucopia of caution, if you will. When it comes to Congress, I don’t often feel comfortable.

For instance, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is what I’d call a loon.

She presented a nearly $340 billion plan ($339.2B over six years to be precise) for surface transportation legislation from her Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week that would authorize funding for six years. The mind-boggling aspect of her plan, given all the talk of the Highway Trust Fund an
d reliable funding during the past few YEARS, is its lack of funding suggestions.

The woman went on record saying that’s the Finance Committee’s job.

Really, Babs? Can no one follow through anymore? Does no one take responsibility for the schemes they create? You sound like Ray LaHood. (with less whining)

As if the $340B price tag—and its football-field-size gap from what The House has been murmuring about—isn’t enough to make a reader stop and say, “Wait, will that pass in today’s climate?” here’s something else of interest she’s suggested for state departments of transportation (DOTs) that are trying to make long-term plans concerning development, redevelopment and repair.

Borrow what you need.

Thousands of former homeowners can comment on this option. Boxer recently joined the cheerleading squad to expand TIFIA (the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act). This act gives low-interest loans to states for their federal transportation projects. Apparently, Congress has magically increased TIFIA’s lending power from $122 million annually to $1 billion annually. Boxer encourages state DOTs to get on board the housing market—I mean the transportation market train now to take care of their long-term projects.

Look, no one has the crystal-encrusted magic wand that makes all members of Congress—especially the freshmen members who don’t think they have a stake in transportation legislation—suddenly work in blissful harmony to pass a highway authorization bill within the next four to six months.

Senator Boxer has done her Democrat best to present a plan for which someone else will need to prep a funding plan, and John Mica (R-Fla.) will need to raise his sights to reality to get a little closer to her plan. Then everyone else will need to work in concert to draft a bill that gives the transportation industry the money and the confidence it needs to repair the infrastructure that’s been floundering during the highway bill extensions the past couple of years and to build the roadways that ease congestion (thus pollution) and assist economic recovery where necessary.

If no one in Congress thinks that bill can pass in the next four months, they should go ahead and vote for the SAFETEA-LU extension now, rather than waiting for it to come up to its next deadline in September. Then state DOTs can at least plan for the immediate future and immediate, emergency needs.

(Opinions are those of AsphaltPro Magazine Editor Sandy Lender.)
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Put the Phone Down

(from the April/May 2011 Editor's Note in AsphaltPro Magazine)

Smart phones bring a new level of control and communication to the foreman on the paving site. With today’s fleet tracking telematics, the foreman or supervisor can touch a button on the phone’s screen and see any number of facts about the haul trucks and tonnages en route to his project.

Think the clouds on the horizon look ominous? Hit the weather app and check into it.

We could brainstorm a hundred reasons to have a smart phone, an iPad and/or walkie talkies on the paving site including communication with the plant operator, DOT inspectors, dispatchers, quality control personnel and other crew members who aren’t close at hand. Those are wise uses of technology for ground personnel at the plant or foremen out on the road.

But smart phones have weaseled their way into dangerous positions in our work zones, too. From paver operators to the folks driving 33-plus horsepower compaction equipment through the work zone, construction personnel are taking risks by playing with technology toys at the worst of times.

When you’re in the control house, on the paver, on the roller, in a haul truck or working in any construction-related capacity, the last thing you need to be doing is sending text messages or visiting with buddies on the phone. You might think you can multi-task with the best of them, but you’re slowing your reaction time and dividing your focus.

I ask you to stop that.

Four or five years ago, would you have stopped the paver at a rest stop, hopped down while it was still running, and made a personal phone call to your wife or CPA or fishing buddy from the pay phone next to the rest room? Of course not.

To leave a paver running while unattended is unheard of. So why would you run a roller while talking on a cell phone to a friend? Why would you run a paver while texting your picks for the next fight to your bookie? Why would you risk quality or safety by dividing your attention between the job you’re being paid an hourly wage to do and personal riffraff?

Don’t try to justify unsafe practices by texting about work, either. If you have information about the equipment you’re operating, the mix you’re laying or the mat you’re compacting to communicate to a supervisor, there are signals in place to get that information across.

Since the dawn of paving, we’ve used flags, lights, whistles, hand signals and our voices to communicate more efficiently than putting a phone to our ears amid the engine noise on a paving project.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood may irritate the stuffins out of me when it comes to his policies on high speed rail and funding, but I have to agree with him on his push to get cell phones out of drivers’ hands. Distracted driving too often results in deaths and injuries that could so easily be prevented. Let’s not get into the habit of distracted paving.

Stay Safe
Sandy Lender (sandy at theasphaltpro dot com)

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Don't Lie to Me

(from the March 2011 Editor's Note in AsphaltPro Magazine)

I’m sure there are honest people within the concrete paving industry. I wonder if they’re as irritated as I am by their industry’s misrepresentation of information about our respective pavement products.

I’ve complained in this column before about the Portland Cement Association’s use of incorrect assumptions in their lifecycle cost analyses when comparing asphalt and concrete pavement thicknesses. PCA members didn’t appear interested in facts and figures from members of the Asphalt Institute to make corrections to their equations, so their software remains flawed. The Asphalt Pavement Alliance has since released realistic lifecycle cost analysis software, which can be accessed at http://asphaltroads.org/.

At the 56th annual meeting of the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) in Orlando in early February, presenters showed ads from a $1 to $2 million campaign the concrete industry launched against the asphalt industry last year. It’s frustrating to see an ad in which someone claims asphalt pavements fail in a certain number of years. (It sort of makes their lifecycle cost analysis efforts look silly.)

On a bright note, Howard Marks of NAPA shared a slide in which the actual carbon footprint of HMA sat comfortably on a level just slightly higher than the carbon footprint of WMA with 20 percent RAP. Both were at less than 500 CO2e for the 50-year lifecycle of the pavement. It’s impressive to see how little energy asphalt production requires. On that same slide, there was a tall tower of color that represented the carbon footprint of PCC. It was at nearly 2,000 CO2e for the same lifecycle of the pavement.

Holy cow.

I didn’t realize how bad it was. So I did some research and found a disturbing quote from a May 24, 2009, article at ScienceDaily.com. “Many scientists currently think at least 5 percent of humanity’s carbon footprint comes from the concrete industry…” The article explained that civil and environmental engineering professor Liv Haselbach of Washington State University is evaluating the lifecycle carbon footprint of traditional and new concrete applications, and looking for ways to improve them.

Apparently, they need improvement because the PCC folks are making up concepts like “feedstock energy” to try and make asphalt pavements appear as bad as the concrete industry’s product. According to the collective minds in the concrete industry, the “feedstock” known as petroleum that becomes entrapped in an asphalt pavement is supposed to remain flammable after its entrapment, thus remain capable of emitting bad stuff. Apparently, if you retract the asphalt from the pavement and burn it—and by doing this alone—you can bring an asphalt pavement’s carbon footprint “up” to a concrete pavement’s carbon footprint.

You can also make a concrete pavement appear to save on fuel use if you coast downhill on it. Real physics tells us that smooth pavements cut fuel use—thus costs. Real physics, and profilographs, tells us that asphalt pavements are smoother than concrete pavements. Those are facts that can’t be removed by the guise of coasting downhill and publishing the findings in some PR campaign. If we must find something nice to say about that, I guess it would be that by costing the end user more in fuel dollars, the concrete industry is contributing more substantially to the gas tax than the asphalt industry.

I again invite you to visit http://asphaltroads.org/ to download the free publication “Carbon Footprint: How Does Asphalt Stack Up?” and other items researchers have prepared. These white papers and publications will give you real-world facts and figures you can quote when someone outside of our industry misrepresents information. I find that arming myself with facts and information with which to correct others lessens my irritation.

Stay Safe
Sandy Lender (sandy at theasphaltpro dot com)

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Friday, February 18, 2011

What Comes After CONEXPO?

(From the February 2011 editor's note in The AsphaltPro Magazine)

This issue of The AsphaltPro Magazine is dedicated to two things: technology and CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2011. I’ve noticed that, similar to the turn of a new century, winding up to CONEXPO sends the construction industry into a sort of burst of technological advancement. There’s more on that concept in this issue’s technology roundup article “Automate Your Production Control” on page 18, so I’d like to concentrate on the “event” side of things here.

With technology and automation comes the promise of doing things more efficiently, more quickly, with better quality, with better control, with precision and with confidence. Whether it’s mixing asphalt at the plant, loading it safely from the silo, tracking it by the minute from Point A to Point Z, or placing it at the perfect depth and rolling it to the perfect density, there’s an app for that. What I wonder is will there be a need for that?

What are we going to do after the excitement of CONEXPO dies down and we all stare at the messes in our research & development departments. Technology has been on everyone’s collective mind as we rush toward the deadline of March 22—and much earlier if you’re shipping the final product out to a stand in Vegas.

Drayage invoices and credit card statements make for a financial hangover that puts corporate bosses in a foul mood. They don’t feel so technologically-motivated after CONEXPO, do they? Who carries the load then? Who’s going to come up with the next great idea that provides a super funding idea for the transportation construction industry?

Ah, yes. After CONEXPO, we still have to fight for our right to support the nation. The President’s State of the Union address Jan. 25 suggested he’s all for taking care of our crumbling infrastructure. He’s all about getting people back to work fixing our roads, bridges and transportation network.

The problem is he’s got this grand idea that we can do all that and build a bunch of high-speed trains that few people are interested in while Congress is going behind our backs with secret ballots to appropriate federal highway funds for whatever special need they come up with. AEM’s Dennis Slater and AASHTO’s John Horsley can get up the morning after such a speech and say they’ll hold the President accountable for his promises (and they did), but who in this country believes that man can get anything besides stump speeches done in the next two years?

It’s Congress we have to appeal to.

It’s Congress we have to write to.

It’s Congress that has to create a reliable highway bill this spring.

It’s Congress that has to pass a strong, fully funded highway bill that contains provisions that keep special interest groups—such as Congress—from undercutting the Highway Trust Fund on a whim.

It’s Congress that we have to get in touch with and get in touch with right now.

You all saw the timeline Jay Hansen outlined in this magazine in December. Get on the ball! The President releases his budget in early February, about the time this magazine hits the streets. By the time dandelions start blooming in the cracks in your concrete sidewalks, Congress needs to have a transportation authorization bill drafted. That’s not a lot of time for members of this job-creating force of ours to get ideas in front of the drafters.

Have you informed your representatives of just how important it is to improve roads and highways? As sad as it sounds, you also have to inform them of how important it is to guarantee funding for improving those roads and highways so your state can make long-term, realistic, efficient plans. Stop-gap measures don’t cut it anymore. This is where we put technology and intelligence to work.

I asked you what we do after CONEXPO. We can’t wait until after CONEXPO. You and I have to pick up the phone today. After CONEXPO, what does all our fancy technology matter?

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender (sandy at theasphaltpro dot com)
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Let's Sue Someone in 2011

(from the January 2011 editor's note in The AsphaltPro Magazine)

A new year always rings in with people asking what your New Year’s Resolution will be. I find that irritating 99 percent of the time. As a magazine editor, I have goals and deadlines every day of my life. As a member of the asphalt industry, I have additional goals that involve legislation and letters to city planners. Why would I add more? One of the goals I’d like to specify this January is to talk less about this obnoxious funding issue we’ve been facing the past few years. Aren’t you sick of it? Aren’t you ready for a big ol’ lawsuit to put it to rest?

Think about it.

Roads need to be fixed. The entities that own the roads must be responsible for fixing them or the motorists getting injured are going to sue the pants off those entities. (Pardon my glibness; it’s a function of my frustration with the subject.) I have to believe that once the first multi-million dollar lawsuit hits the courts for a federally-funded highway that didn’t get federally fixed because Congress couldn’t gets its collective act together on funding, we’ll see faster action. What’s the saying? It takes money to make money. For our purposes, I think it takes a discussion of loss of money to make money.

Perhaps that’s cynical, but it’s better than sending zombies from the concrete industry’s ill-planned pollutant-reactions to frighten our representatives into passing meaningful legislation. (See last month’s editorial column.)

I mean, the House did vote in a landslide 212 to 206 victory to approve H.R. 3082 back on Dec. 8, which would have continued appropriations for all of FY11. That means all federal government operations, including federal surface transportation and aviation programs, would get extended authorization through Sept. 30. Status quo, people. Status quo. That should be good enough for government work. Then the Senate stepped in and said, “wait, we’d like to add these 7,000 special items right here.” Enter government progress, right?

So we ended up with more hashing and re-hashing of the same old argument about spending and money and funding and earmarks. In the end, the continuing resolution will only carry our working government through March 4. Name one state DOT that can plan with that.

James Oberstar, ousted rep from Minnesota, got up Dec. 8 to say he’d rather we were voting to approve an adequate transportation bill that funds a real highway plan. Amen, Brother! As stated on the http://transportation.house.gov website, Oberstar stated that H.R. 3082:

• rescinds all remaining highway earmarks designated in the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987 (STURAA) (P.L. 100-17);

• rescinds all remaining highway earmarks designated in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) (P.L. 102-240);

• rescinds all highway projects designated in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) (P.L. 105-178) that have not obligated at least 10 percent of the funds authorized for the project; and

• rescinds all High Priority Project program funds authorized by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) (P.L. 109-59) that were not designated for use on a specific project.

What’s left? Apparently, we have $42.3 billion for federal-aid highway programs and $10.5 billion for federal transit programs. I think we’re all aware that that’s not enough to maintain the current system, let alone allow DOTs to plan ahead for serious maintenance projects or congestion-relief projects down the line.

It looks like 2011 is going to be another spot-check kind of year for industry. I encourage you to call on your Congressmen about funding, but I’m sick and tired of harping on it. I don’t want to spend the next nine months of FY11 haranguing readers to do what should have been done two years ago. This industry needed a long-term authorization plan, and a reliable system to pay for it, long before H.R. 3082 rescinded items and offered meager droppings from Congress’s table. If you’ve not already made the decision to participate in this May’s legislative fly-in to discuss this with your representatives, I can’t imagine a few sarcastic comments in my frustrated editorial column will convince you that you need to add it to your calendar.

Maybe you need to fall back to Plan B: Find someone who’s already had an accident or lost a loved one on a deteriorated federal roadway. Convince them to sue the pants off one of those Congressmen.

Let’s get to work.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender (sandy at theasphaltpro dot com)
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