Chairman's Message: Planning for Pivots and What-ifs

Words: Dick Dentinger

When watching a football game, it’s always interesting to first see the play live in real-time, followed by the slow-motion replay afterward. In real time, it plays out in a handful of seconds. A running back receives the hand-off from his quarterback, charges forward as designed, and quickly runs into a charging defender. He then spins off the tackler, cuts one direction for a few steps forward, gracefully pauses to allow a gap to develop, and then cuts in another direction and explodes in a burst of speed for a moment or two of the open field.

While it looks choreographed, we know it involves all sorts of instinctive reactions and a flurry of split-second decisions. Relaxing in our recliners with chips and salsa, we’re usually treated to multiple slow-motion reviews of the play. Announcers will freeze-frame the replay to draw arrows and lines as they inform us of the reasons for each player’s movements during the few seconds of action. They discuss how a circled player anticipated another’s potential moves and instantly calculated which was most likely before pivoting left or right. They describe players’ instincts and decisions that occurred to create the action that followed. Twenty-two stakeholders in a football play, each reading the field ahead of them and calculating the need to pivot or change direction while going full speed ahead in the hopes of winning a foot, a yard, or more in the fight for a share of the field.

This drama of instinctive decision-making and pivoting in reaction to developments in front of us reflects what we do as mason contractors. We do the daily work at hand while simultaneously making calculations as to what trouble or challenge may be just ahead. Change and challenges are always lurking and can be overwhelming if you aren’t prepared. I learned much from Larry Vacala, our previous MCAA Chairman. This idea of being ready to pivot is top of mind to me because of him. Larry often spoke of how he was steadfast in always having his companies ready to pivot or move according to the conditions of the market or even staff changes.

One example of needing to pivot can be a disruption in the market of work we perform. You may be enjoying years of steady volume of a specific type of masonry revenue—perhaps educational work, high-end homes, or a seemingly endless run of multifamily home projects. But what if the market shifts? Eventually, it does. So while churning away at that steady work under contract, we need to simultaneously be on the watch for how we will replace that revenue when a market pauses or regresses. We need to continuously be prospecting other markets and customers by building relationships outside of those we've already solidified.

Another common “What if?” is when a key employee suddenly quits or makes a career change. It could be a foreman, field superintendent, project manager, or perhaps a key admin person. Who will handle what he or she does? How long will it take to train or hire a replacement, and what relationships with customers will be affected? So we must do two things at once: professionally manage the workload under contract and relationships with our team and customers, while also being proactively aware of and prepared for any surprises that may be brewing.

This discussion makes me happy to report that you should be pleased to hear our MCAA staff, officers, board members, and committees are doing the same while working on your behalf. They're doing the busy work of MCAA to service our membership while constantly raising the bar and tackling new ideas and planning solutions to challenges on the horizon.

As an example, consider this: What if the average bricklayer was in their 50s? They are. And that's a problem on the horizon. A few weeks ago, the four MCAA executive board members—Kent Huntley, Paul Cantarella, Melonie Leslie, and I—along with Ryan Shaver (North Carolina's lead man in recruitment and apprenticeship) made our way to Chicago to participate in a formal signing of an agreement between the MCAA and the Department of Labor to formalize our Apprenticeship program. This is our first step in an approach we feel will be critically important to our future promotion of the trade to young people. It is the first step in our larger goal to create a high school apprenticeship program, or what we refer to as a youth education program, which would expose young people (age 16-18) to masonry at the high school level and eventually have them work on a masonry job site in the summer months. This will introduce them to real-world working conditions. We envision the DOL working with us to build this high school designation which would then be underneath our recently completed Apprentice program.

MCAA and its affiliates saw the need to begin the recruitment and training of apprentices at a younger age and pushed hard for this program. High school youth education programs will introduce students to the benefits of a career in masonry and begin training them before they graduate. This is much better than waiting to see if they first choose to attend college before suggesting masonry as a career. North Carolina is one of the few areas of the country that has trailblazed this idea with success in offering education programs for high schoolers. Our program, when complete, will help expand it beyond North Carolina state lines.

This DOL-endorsed program is another example of MCAA efforts paying off in finding solutions. MCAA is at the head table on every front we face and is prepared to pivot to meet industry challenges. I'll share more with you in the months ahead. Lots of balls are bouncing, and our companies and the industry will each benefit.

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