From our very first issue, we’ve focused on those areas we feel are most important to the long-term success of your business, chief among which are safety, regulatory compliance, technology, and human resource development. Partly because it is the nature of the medium, but also because it’s the way we’ve approached information throughout our lives, the majority of our articles present these elements as separate entities, only occasionally ganging two or three together under the same banner. In general, this approach is effective in terms of passing along information, but it worries me that the process leaves something on the table…the knitting together of “the big picture.”
Fall is for me the silly season when it comes to conferences, trade shows, field days, and site visits. As sure as the sun rises each morning, the day after the kiddies are back in school, I can count on living out of a suitcase roughly half the time for the following three months. Admittedly such a schedule is a pain in the tail, all the more so in light of the senseless aggravations imposed by knee-jerk airport security measures…but that’s a story for another day. Luckily, however, the rewards for the time, expense, and effort are many, and in almost all cases—such a series of events in the past 30 days that took me to Livermore, Denver, Malaga, Louisville, and Tucson—quite profound.
The events in question were staged by the likes of Topcon, APWA, Caterpillar, ICUEE, and Doosan, and I was able to view and in some cases get hands-on time in a number of machines with a variety of laser and GPS and their operator displays.
Gee-whizzes and holy cows running rampant around the jobsite? You betcha! But there in the thrall of all this wonderful technology, another vision began to form…one that saw these marvelous systems not only in the context of technology, but as part of a continuum involving all the other elements of the effort as well.
It starts with the fact that despite all the machinery involved, dirtworking is not merely a mechanical exercise. If it were, we could go immediately to robotics and spend our time shuttling back and forth between our favorite fishing hole and bank while legions of little black boxes did all the work. Instead, machine productivity starts with the operator’s underlying knowledge of dirt, without which, all the skill in the world at video games doesn’t mean squat. This brings us face-to-face with the human resource element.
Some fundamental changes have been taking place to our work force ever since the start of World War II, when roughly two-thirds of our population was rural. The transformation of so much of our population and production to the wartime effort introduced changes to society that continue to today, one of which is that we are approaching the point where two-thirds of our population is urban. An immediate upshot is that with fewer family-owned and operated farms, our access to people who know dirt has dwindled to a trickle over the years. So while there are millions of gameboy wizards out there, dirtmanship in the US is fast becoming a lost art.
What machine-control systems are great at is making good dirtworkers better and more efficient, but while they can give a novice a hand up, they can’t give him what those with a rural/farming background bring with them their first day on the job. Even less so can they supplant the years of experience enjoyed by those who have grown old in the profession.
So what was the epiphany? Simply that faced with a looming crisis in the skill sets of people entering the workforce, we have an opportunity with many of those coming from south of the border to build on the agricultural background many of them bring with them to put our wonderful technologies to better use than ever. It seems to me that investments both in training and technology are the surest path to future success.