In my 27 years of experience in the cement industry, the one thing that has made an impression on me more than any other is the fact that once you’re in the industry you rarely leave. It amazes me that so many cement industry employees from senior managers to front line workers have stayed within the cement industry for their entire careers. If for some reason, they have a lapse in judgment and leave the industry, many ultimately return. In CalPortland’s company newsletter, they list the anniversaries of employees who have been with the company for milestone years e.g., 10, 15, 20 years, etc. We have several employees at the company with over 40 years of experience. Why is that?
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As I analysed this question, I thought about why I enjoy this industry so much. I believe there are two reasons. The first is the people. The US cement industry is a relatively small industry with approximately 97 cement plants and 15 000 employees. It seems that there is a special camaraderie between “cement heads”. I see this every year at the IEEE-IAS/PCA Cement Industry Technical Conference where cement producers, equipment suppliers, engineering companies and consultants get together to share best practices, learn about new technologies and network with one another. Most “non-cement” folks don’t really have a concept of what goes on in the manufacture of cement. In fact, most don’t know the difference between cement and concrete. The people who make up the cement industry take a special pride in the work they do and know that the product they manufacture is critical to almost everything built in our society. The cement industry has provided a good living for many and its positive effect on local economies and communities is significant.
The second reason is that the cement process is fascinating. Where else could you work with the largest piece of rotating equipment in the world, trucks the size of small buildings, quarries where you can blow things up, enough electricity to power a small town and state-of-the-art technology? Cement production is one of the most complicated and interesting processes around. When you look at the types of employees the industry requires, it appears that each cement plant is like its own town. You need almost every engineering discipline to design equipment, structures and the process. You need programmers to design controls and IT applications. You need skilled employees to operate and maintain equipment. You need accounting, purchasing, payroll, environmental managers and many other support personnel. And you need laboratory employees to ensure that the final product meets quality standards.
With all the great things the cement industry has to offer, we have our challenges as well. We are undergoing one of the most difficult periods our industry has ever witnessed. There seems to be a constant litany of new environmental regulations and legislation that create enormous hurdles for us to continue operating our plants. We are experiencing the worst economic slowdown in our lifetimes and the US cement industry seems to be bearing the worst of it. This is not the best environment to attract qualified workers to our industry. And yet, most of us still love the business.
Despite our challenges, I believe the US cement industry will thrive once again. Given the projections for population growth, infrastructure re-building requirements and the demand for sustainable construction, the industry will be well-positioned for a strong recovery.