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Talking Company Culture and Precast Concrete with Claude Goguen
Episode 3512th September 2022 • The Manufacturers' Network • Lisa Ryan
00:00:00 00:27:35

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Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. I'm here today with Claude Goguen. Claude is a civil engineer from Canada and works for the national precast concrete association, a trade association representing precast concrete manufacturers throughout North America.

He's been with NPCA for 14 years and mainly works on training and outreach. So Claude, welcome to the show.

Claude Goguen: Thank you very much for having me.

Lisa Ryan: So share a little about your background and what led you to do what you're doing with NPCA.

Claude Goguen: I graduated with a civil engineering degree in Moncton, New Brunswick, this little town on the east end of Canada. And it was poor timing for me for graduation because the local economy was in a bit of a rough shape. So I expanded my job search and got hired by a precast manufacturing company in Columbus, Indiana. So I packed my Chevy cavalier at the time and drove 30 hours Southwest to a new land of new opportunities.

And I ended up working there for ten years or so and then worked for general contractors and developers in Indianapolis, staying in Indiana. And finally, I ended up back in precast, where NPCA hired me in 2008.

Lisa Ryan: wow. So what is it that you like best about precast? What's kept you in the industry for so long?

Claude Goguen: Good question. I love concrete. I've always since I've been in construction. I've loved working with concrete, and precast concrete is a great industry because we get to make these amazing things out of concrete and then let them cure, and you can ship them out. It's almost like making art pieces, even for a manhole, sewer, or things. But just the idea and working with members and manufacturers have been a great industry from both sides. I've been on the precaster side and also on the association side. And it is a growing industry. It's something that even though concrete's been around for such a long time and seems such an ancient construction material, the technology behind concrete and the increasing new technologies that are coming out are so exciting. So it's still an evolving material in a sense. So I gravitate toward that.

Lisa Ryan: And especially since you're talking about concrete being the number two most used material resource on the planet with water being number one. And you said it'd been around forever. So what are you seeing in these new technologies that are super cool?

Claude Goguen: In a world of admixtures, these chemicals that they put in the concrete. Concrete is cement, water, and aggregates. From time to time, some of us will make our own concrete to put a fence post in or something like that in the backyard.

And that's still what's used today, except for the cement. The cementitious material varies more and more. You've got your regular Portland cement, and then you've got other types of cementitious materials. Some of them that are from another industry. They're waste from a different industry, coal or steel manufacturing. The chemicals they're making that make the concrete do one thing or another, either in its fresh state or hardened state, are just amazing.

And now, they are looking at concrete on a nanoscale. They study how to alter its properties and make it even better and more durable on a nanoscale. If I were to tell you that a nanometer is about my hair growing, my hair grows about a nanometer a second. So that gives you an idea of how small a nanometer is, and they are studying concrete on that smaller scale. And then 3d printing of concrete they're working on, and new things are always coming up.

Lisa Ryan: Wow. So what are they printing? I saw one of those home shows where they printed houses out of concrete. So what other things are they printing out of concrete?

Claude Goguen: They're printing bridge components for small pedestrian bridges. I know there was a bridge overseas in Europe that they 3d printed. But mostly, it's above-ground structures. For example, you said, a house or building panels or things that because the technology's still relatively new. The challenge is putting reinforcing in that printed concrete so it can withstand the intended loads. But it's an exciting industry, not just printing the concrete itself but printing other things that can be used to form and make precast concrete. So there are other uses for it.

Lisa Ryan: Yeah. That's what I love about my speaking career. And it's what I love about my podcast is being able to connect with people who are passionate about things that people don't think about. They put that spin on them—encouraging younger people to see the vitality of an industry that has been around for so long and perhaps consider that an option for them as they're looking at what to do with their lives.

Claude Goguen: Absolutely. In my role, I do outreach and speak to many students in universities and colleges, sometimes in high schools or even once in an elementary school. My passion for concrete comes out no matter who I'm talking to. I love talking about concrete and making it sound as exciting.

And I will get that feedback where the student will come and say, that's not even a career path I had considered, but that does sound exciting. And it is. Yeah. And so what are some of the things that we've talked a little bit about this, but that you see the concrete, precast, concrete industry heading well, what's happening is a lot of construction sites.

They are getting leaner, the term leaner, even you've heard of lean manufacturing, right? Finding ways to find efficiencies, reducing waste, finding efficiencies in production, and the same thing applies. To a construction site. How can we reduce the waste that occurs on a construction site? The waiting for materials, stuff like that.

And that has led very much to precast products because if you think about it, it's a pre-manufactured structure made elsewhere. It's ready by the time you need it. So when it arrives, it can be put into place right away, and it can be used right away. If you're using conventional concrete that you're pouring, you see the trucks going down the road with the big rolling drums, and you pour it on a construction site, then you have to wait for it to cure and wait as one of the wastes of lean manufacturing.

So in that sense, we've seen precast starting to be used in more and more traditionally cast in applications. So that's where the industry is continuing to grow. It was growing before the pandemic, and it continued to be busy. And then now it's gotten busy, but we see more and more applications.

And along with the technologies I mentioned earlier, it's giving the industry the versatility to meet the architect, to meet the engineer where they are, and produce whatever their imagination would come up with.

Lisa Ryan: So we talk about the industry from a technical standpoint, but I know that one thing that not only your members but manufacturers, in general, are struggling with is, finding people to come on board. So what are some things you've seen your members do to attract and retain people to join them?

Claude Goguen: Yeah, that is, in fact, a struggle, as it is with a lot of other manufacturing businesses. The thing about precast concrete is we're not. It's not well known if somebody is looking for jobs and they see that Amazon is hiring for a warehouse and fulfillment, you have an idea of what you're going to be doing more or less. If you see something about precast concrete manufacturing, it's not 

we're out there, and people know right away what that is. So we have an image issue. Not that we have a negative image, but we just don't have one.

We just, we're not out there. And so that's one thing that many of our members are doing now is just getting out there a lot more in many different ways. Visit local schools and universities, and they are opening up their plants for tours. They're going to job fairs, participating in your community, donating a structure for something in the town square, or sponsoring a little league team or Cub scout pack.

But things that, just getting the name out there so that people go, what is that anyways? And you can explain a little more what's involved.

So just opening the awareness of the industry is one thing we're doing. And then we're learning as everybody else is to think differently about how to attract and retain today's generation of young employees. So using social media, meet them where they're at and just offer them something that's going to be attractive to them. That will speak to their motivations and aspirations, and that's significant learning.

Lisa Ryan: Compared to doing the same for, let's say, a baby boomer or a generation X. And when it comes to because I love the fact of plant tours.

I know I've worked with several precast concrete companies and just going and seeing the size of the plant, the scope of what's being made, and the beauty of some of the pieces. And then also the pride that goes along with that immediate gratification of creating something that. But do you have specific stories or examples or a how-to if a person listening to this was thinking about opening up their plant for maybe using manufacturing day or just opening it up? How does that look? What do they do? Do they have activities during the day?

Claude Goguen: Yeah, we have this thing, first of all, that we've done for about three years now. It's called precast Days, where it's a coordinated effort amongst many of our manufacturers across the country, across North America, to open their plants about the same time of the year, usually around October and November, but some plants will do it differently.

We'll offer them some guidance on how they should advertise and what they need to think about in terms of safety and just Somehow make it as educational as possible to the people coming to see the plant. So some of them. We'll try to continue manufacturing, which can be a challenge regarding safety because we have buckets and things moving around.

And if you have people walking around, it's a sensitive thing. So you have to cord off some areas, but ideally, if you're going to have people in your plant, they will want to see the mud flow. They will want to see you mixing concrete, placing it in a form, and then having somebody explain the process so everybody can hear and understand.

So those are the challenges. We're helping our members with that. We're making the most of that experience so that people leave there. And with a good understanding of what precast is all about. And actually, precast days have turned out to be not only a good thing for increasing awareness, but it's resulted in some of our members hiring people from that plant door.

They came back, submitted a resume, and a couple of our plants still have people working there that they first met on the plant.

Lisa Ryan: Wow. Now, do they reach out to local schools? At what age do they start 

focusing and bringing people in for these plant tours?

Claude Goguen: Some usually won't reach the high school level. I've not heard of anything beyond that. And then, of course, universal level college at level schools they'll reach out to just, I don't know, just groups. But, first, they will bring in a few of their customers. One thing is some of their customers who purchase precast products have never actually seen the product made.

So they'll prioritize and invite all their customers; maybe some specify the product, some work for state authorities or private contractors, and then students, just community members. So it depends, but probably not any, not much younger than high school age that I've seen so far anyway.

Lisa Ryan: I know you've talked a lot about onboarding, and you have a background in engineering, and yet you developed an onboarding program for your members. So what does that onboarding program look like? Where do you continue to get ideas for the content of it?

Claude Goguen: So the onboarding program in, in, in a briefly its sort it's for our members, and it's set up into two pieces.

One component is an onboarding guide, and it's meant for the employer. And it just takes you through what onboarding means and how it differs from orientation. It's what you can do from the hire date and before that, with preboarding starting from that phase beyond a year.

Having a checklist that they can go through to make sure that they're getting the most out of that employee, the employees getting the most out of their experience so they can find out if they're a good fit for each other and that they're going to want to stay. And then, on the other hand, we have a suite of videos that we made that they can play for the candidate or the employee, and the videos range from there's some that talk about the industry in general.

And just the fantastic things that we do. So, for example, there's one video called the day and the life of a precaster. So some of it is first-person based. And, you arrive at the plant, you go in, you go through your day, you have lunch, we cut out the bathroom breaks, but things that that they can, see what a typical day in a precast plant is.

Then there are some safety videos, and Then there are videos that are role-based for further on, in, in the employment where they can learn to do specific things in a precast plant. So that's helpful to help the member educate the candidate, the employee who assists in retaining them.

How it came about or how somebody else had the idea. I wish I could claim the idea, but somebody else here had the idea to do it and asked me if I wanted to do it. And I was I'm the engineer. I usually deal with varied designs and the technical side of things. So this is a bit outside of my comfort zone, but at the same time, I was excited about it. So, where I got my information, I did a lot of reading materials, looked at stuff from experts, including yourself, and listened to some seminars read a lot, but also drew a lot from my own experience.

I just sat there and tried to remember how it felt during my first day. At NPCA or my first day at that precast plant in Columbus, Indiana. And how I felt in terms of little things, little stressors. I remember I didn't know what to put on or wear. I didn't know what to bring for my lunch.

Are they going to take me to lunch? Should I bring a brown bag lunch? Should I, where am I going to park? Little things add stress to an already stressful day. And they are then getting into that new environment, not knowing anybody. Things like that. And taking that and molding this onboarding program to try to address that, to make the employee as comfortable as possible when they arrive, they have a set parking spot they're taken out to lunch.

On the first day, clear instructions are sent on what, where, and what to expect. They get a schedule in the morning when they get there. Things that I remember and even. While you're interviewing them, and you remember something about, let's say, they love root beer than having a root beer sitting on their desk on their first day of work, there's nothing better than little things that make this different than other experiences, oh, they listen to me.

I don't even remember saying I like root beer. And making it very much as if you've just joined a new family. Whenever I listen to a new podcast or read something, I get a new idea to add to version 2.0 over our onboarding program. It's worked right so far. Plus, I'm getting feedback from those who have used it to try to make it better.

Lisa Ryan: When you look at these little things you can do, they don't take a lot of time. They don't cost any money. And yet when you think about that employee, they probably sent out a whole bunch of applications, and that you happen to be, they happen to accept the job from you, but that doesn't mean that everybody else will stop calling.

So if they don't have that great day and don't know where to park, what to wear, what to do for lunch, and all these things. It's just a matter of communication. Who knows what will happen when one of those other companies calls? And so say you, you're still looking, yeah. What you got, which brings us to another interesting point.

And that's the preboarding of connecting with those people, right after the interview and in that 

vulnerable place of time, between the time they accepted the offer and their start date, because I'm sure that you have heard many horror stories that people ghost you.

They're not calling. They're not doing anything. They are just not showing up. So the more preboarding you can use to build that relationship and build that commitment beforehand is probably assuring that you're not going to be ghosted as often. So what are some of the things you're seeing that they're doing before the start date?

Claude Goguen: And we're trying to get our members to do more of this, but the thing is to make it personal right off the bat. It's either sending a video from the president or the company's owner saying, Hey, I want to welcome you to this company. I understand we've got an offer, and you're coming to work for us.

This is what we're all about—and telling the story. People love stories, telling the company story because of a lot of our members. Our smaller mom-and-pop companies are big, but they started small. And then we have larger corporate-type companies, but everybody's got a story, and they can share that story and make it a little more personal.

And then give them and keep in communication with them throughout that period, because you're right. They, it's a prime time for them to get, it's almost a buyer's remorse after buying a house or a car, but it's hiring remorse, or I don't know what you would call it, you have friends saying, Hey, we're, where'd you get a job at precast?

What's that? Have you heard this other place is hiring? And so, if you just go quiet during that time, expecting them to show up on day one, you may get surprised. So we encourage our members to spend that message send some material for them to look at, get some paperwork done up front, if you can and do it in a way that's going to be, send them electronic files.

If they're younger folks, have it, meet them where they're, I said, and Yeah, just keep that line of communication going. Don't you think that's important?

Lisa Ryan: Oh yeah. And even when putting together my programs and slide decks when I use them and using people's pictures, the actual client, for NPCA, I went to your Facebook page to find several people. And the funny thing is, as I walk through the event, I'm so that person's in my slide. Oh, that person's in my slide, and coming from a speaker standpoint, it made me feel more at home because I thought I knew some of these people or knew something about them. The same thing for that brand new person coming in. They get a video from the president or from somebody in leadership that is welcoming them. So it's, oh, they're putting a face to the name. They get, I've heard other organizations that they will put together. Then, what is it? The org chart, but it's all people's pictures on it. So again, you can start to see, oh, I know that person. And even if you don't remember their...

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