Asphalt industry looking to grow workforce with agriculture students

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – While crews are out repairing roads in the area, some in the industry are working to find the next generation of workers. The Asphalt Pavement Association of Indiana said students interested in agriculture make good employees for the industry.

On Thursday, the industry had the chance to get more high school students interested in the field. Approximately 120 FFA students had the chance to learn more at the World of Asphalt 2019 Show & Conference, which ran from Tuesday through Thursday at the Indiana Convention Center.

The day was dubbed #AgtoAsphalt Day.

"Our industries are affected by the seasons," said Ryan Shotts, the workforce development committee chair for the association. "The equipment we use is similar. So, I don’t think we could find a better group of individuals to introduce what we do on a daily basis.

Shotts is a field superintendent for asphalt for Brooks Construction out of Fort Wayne. He said attracting new people to the industry has been challenging.

The association surveyed its members recently and found that 10 percent of the workforce is expected to retire by 2025, which could put a strain on filling potholes and completing other road projects if the workforce isn't filled to do projects across the state.

Students interested in working in agriculture likely have already gained experience that can be helpful in road work.  It could also provide work that might not be there on a farm.

"Not every farm can withstand every member of the family," said Shotts.

Jared McGraw, an FFA student from Oak Hill High School, said he's been working on a friend's farm for several years, but learned a career in asphalt may be a realistic option.

"It definitely makes you think that if something doesn’t work out down the road, it might be a second option," the junior said.

Malerie Minor is a junior at South Putnam High School. She wants to teach agriculture one day, and said she'd encourage her future students to get this industry a shot.

The partnership between the asphalt association and the FFA is relatively new. It began in 2017 when members from the association went to Trafalgar to pave its parking lot. The work led to at least three high school seniors in 2018 graduating and landing jobs at an association contractor three weeks into summer.

Officials from the FFA and the APAI both hope those numbers will grow in the future.

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