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Now Is The Time For Training!

The fall rush is almost upon you. You hope. Wow, residential construction is down. Down a lot. Earlier this year, the Portland Cement Association (PCA) predicted that residential construction would drop 20.5% in 2007 vs 2006. This is quite a dramatic loss of potential work and its associated profits. Everyone knows work would be down. I know you planned. But then what happened? PCA, in June, revised their numbers. The drop will not be 20.5%, but more like a 30% drop.

Ouch! How will you compete. Your customers, the builders, know that they must be more competitive than ever. Home builders who may utilize two or three foundation contractors may now only have enough work for one. Will your company be the one that is chosen to continue work in this down economy?

What will you do to differentiate yourself from your competition? There are may options. Most of you are shifting work more toward commercial construction. This makes sense and is a viable way to deal with lower volumes of residential work. However, we all, deep down, realize that commercial work will not fully compensate for the residential downturn. So how can you make sure your company is the one who continues to work for that builder who now only needs the one foundation contractor?

Let’s turn the table. How would you select the one contractor. The thought process is fairly simple. Let me give you an example, I was in need of a digital camera a few months ago and began to shop. I found the model I wanted. It was $175 at Best Buy and the same camera what $180 at Circuit City. So all things being the same, why would I pay more for the same product? The answer is easy. I didn’t; you wouldn’t. Similarly, let me ask you, if all things being equal, how will your customer determine which foundation contractor he will use. You got it. All things being same, it come down to the price of your services. May I venture to guess that you operate your businesses the same way?

So it seems to me that the name of the game is to separate yourself from your competition. Of course, you can do this by lowering your price. But the notion that this is a viable long term option, does not make sense. So separate yourself. If your company is clearly a better foundation contractor that all of your competition, then you will have the opportunity to survive this downturn. Training your people can afford you to separate yourself from the competition.

I presented an overview of the training I have developed at CFA’s summer meeting last month in Stowe, Vermont. The training, I believe, is suited for everyone on your team. From your general superintendent to the man placing your walls onto the folks in the office that order your ready mix concrete. The more knowledge your entire team has its disposal, the better service your people can provide your customers.

The training is broken down into seven modules that can each be presented in about an hour. I have found that an hour is a good time frame for working with folks who tend to get quickly antsy while sitting in a classroom environment. This type of information can quickly get too technical. This is not the case in this training. The concepts presented are purposely presented in a way that all skill levels can make a connection. Below is a brief summary of each module.


Should people who make their living working with concrete know a little bit about the material? I think so too. In this module, the difference between concrete and cement are discussed. The chemical process of hydration is discussed as well as the notion of water cement ratio. Each of the different concrete constituents are reviewed: cement, flaysh, slag cement, aggregates and water.


This module simply explains two areas of admixtures: the one that affects the physical properties of the cement paste(air entrainment) and the group that affects the chemistry between the cement and the water (water reducers & accelerators). Air entrainment is likened to protecting a can of pop in the freezer. Water reducers (normal, mid range and high range) and accelerators (calcium chloride, lower chloride and non chloride) are discussed. Other non traditional admixtures are also briefly mentioned.


This module explains the difference between a dry batch and a wet batch plant. When the group understands that most plant only put the correct amount of each constituent in the truck, the members of the class quickly understand that have a quality, well maintained ready mix truck is critical4 to success. How ASTM C94 addresses job site water addition is discussed. In addition, ordering concrete is covered. As I have said for a long time, the quality of service your ready mix supplier gives you is proportional to the timeliness and quality of the information you give them.


The different types of stresses (compressive, tensile and flexural) seen in a concrete member are discussed. Discussion of how concrete is stronger in compression than is tension is covered. The notion that the reinforcement is placed to take over the tensile stresses come naturally to those in attendance. Bar marking, lap splices and grades of reinforcing steel are discussed. The difference between barrier and reactive form release agents is covered as well in this module. As one CFA member has told me: “Thin Wins” when it comes to form release agents.


The different types of placing techniques are briefly covered. From a buggy to discharge directly from a ready mix truck onto pumping and/or conveying equipment – all of these methods are reviewed The idea of proper consolidation is also reviewed. Discussion of the radius of action of an internal vibrator is presented. In both the placing and consolidation discussions, the idea of removing air, either by vibration or by loss due to placing techniques, will result in a loss of concrete volume and thus a creating a yield issue.


This is a big one. With more and more of you entering this market, it is important to understand how expectations of your commercial customers differs from your residential customers. The role a superintendent and a project manager are discussed. The notion that inspections and concrete testing will be more thorough is presented as well. A brief review of the different ASTM methods for concrete testing is presented. Finally, the heighten safety awareness required of commercial construction is discussed.


Everyone realizes that all job site have issues. Experience tells us that is how the issues are addressed is what separates a good project from a bad one. In this module, foundation issues such as crack, leaks and honeycombing are discussed. Not just why and how they occur, but what should your company representatives communicate to your customers on these issues. Similarly, flatwork issues such as scaling, cracking and aggregate propouts are thoroughly discussed.

In the past, having this type of training may have been a luxury. In today’s market perhaps having all of your people well versed in these areas may be a minimum requirement for survival in today’s tough environment.

Christopher R. Tull, PE


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Concrete FACTS, a publication of the Concrete Foundations Association, is THE voice for residential concrete industry news, market intelligence, business strategies, technical solutions, product information, and other resources for professionals in the cast-in-place concrete industry. Subscriptions to Concrete FACTS is available to anyone involved or interested in the residential concrete industry as a service to your industry. Please contact CFA Headquarters to find out more about your free subscription or Email Us