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O, Canada, This Sounds Familiar

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

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ORLANDO-When it comes to industrial protective coatings, what happens in Canada (or Australia or Indonesia or the U.S.) doesn't stay in Canada (or Australia or Indonesia or the U.S.).

No, the scenery may be different, but the challenges are the same around the world:

  • Politicians who won't fund maintenance work because it's not "sexy."
  • An aging workforce that fears being displaced by younger, stronger, cheaper labor.
  • Younger workers who need training from the same elders who feel threatened.
  • A patchwork of standards and regulations.
  • Red tape and hurry-up-and-wait schedules.
  • Projects blocked by turtles, barn swallows and other legally protected critters.
  • Million-dollar budgets for billion-dollar jobs.
  • Infrastructure so degraded that you can put your hand through a steel beam.
  • Crisis-driven projects.

Common Ground

Those are among the commonalities that a multinational audience found at Tuesday (Feb. 11) at SSPC 2014's first International Spotlight session.

Mohawk Garnet
Mohawk Garnet

Extensive environmental regulations in Canada can make project progress extremely difficult, said Bob McMurdy, CEO of Mohawk Garnet.

The first-year focus was on Canada, where SSPC has its largest non-U.S. membership.

SSPC hatched the idea for the International Spotlight on the theory that many issues in the industry cross borders. A four-member panel and multinational audience provided evidence that they were right.

The panel was comprised of former SSPC president and current board member Bob McMurdy, CEO of Ontario-based Mohawk Garnet; John (Cliff) Harper, CEO of Certified Coating Specialists Inc. of British Columbia; Brian Gingras, of Painters and Allied Trades/LCMI; and Bill Mogavero, of Ontario-based Harrison Muir Inc.

The discussion ranged across a familiar litany of concerns.

Training and Development.

Apprentice programs and classroom training are important, but "the real training happens out on the job," as Gingras said.

The problem, said Harper: "The fight comes in my company when you try to take the spray gun away from the 40-year-old and hand it to a 20-year-old. That's a challenge."

Younger workers end up on the worst shifts, unable to get the time they need on the gun, Harper said.

Attracting Younger Workers

Industrial coating is a good career, but the industry needs to do a better job of selling it in the schools. In booming Western Canada, Harper said his workers earned more than $100,000 if they worked nine months last year. "That's not bad," he added.

Bridge painter
Harrison Muir Inc.

Balancing the agendas and needs of older and younger workers is a perennial challenge, participants said.

Mogavero agreed. "This is an industry where young people can make an awful lot of money, and I don't think that word is getting out there to the schools," he said.

"Teachers are protecting their own jobs by trying to make these kids go to college and university," he added. Students planning their post-secondary life should be told, "You're going to come out [of an apprentice program] debt free and making, $50[,000], $80[,000] or $100,000."

Young people also might be more inclined to get in the game if they weren't always the first ones laid off, Mogavero said, adding, "But then the old guys will be afraid to teach the young guys because they're afraid of losing their jobs."

Preserving Infrastructure

Panelists let loose against elected officials who do not understand the importance of funding maintenance. Harper said he asked several regional officials why there was no maintenance money for 184 seriously degraded bridges and was told the problem wasn't "sexy enough" to win the public over.

He said that 10 years ago, he was able to push his hand through a rusted-out supporting beam on a bridge that he now refuses to cross.

"It's that bad," he said. "That bridge is going to fall down. And the politicians won't do a goddam thing about it.... Sooner or later, some woman, some child, some man is going to die crossing that damn bridge."

Railway Trestle

Railway bridges get "zero maintenance" and are particularly degraded, panelists and participants agreed.

Worst of all are railway bridges, Mogavero said to a roomful of nods. "When I started in business, we painted two or three [railway] bridges a year," he said. "I haven't done a railway bridge in 20 years."

Railway bridges get "zero maintenance," when a power wash every couple of years would allow many to "last forever," Mogavero said.

Moderator Jim Stone, an Ontario consultant, said, "We should be painting 30 bridges a year, just to keep up with maintenance. We're not painting any."

McMurdy said the same was true in the U.S. and an Australian member confirmed the same in his country.

Making their Case

To raise the discussion above a gripe session, McMurdy challenged participants to make suggestions for change and, specifically, to suggest how SSPC could lead the changes needed.

"Surely we can be proactive in some manner," by going out to educate municipalities with documented cost-benefits analyses of maintenance coating. He urged participants to leverage their connections to set up meetings where SSPC staff could make the case for protective coatings.

Wikimedia Commons / Eric

Panelists sought solutions to inflated, emergency-driven spending (like that which followed the 2007 collapse of the I-35 Bridge in Minneapolis) over less-expensive, less "sexy"  maintenance.

"It's Sales 101," McMurdy said.

As Gingras put it, "We have to educate them on the cost of corrosion. We have to prove to them that they can save money in the long run."

Although budgets are constantly strapped, resources are available for a coatings program that can prove its worth, said McMurdy.

"When there's an emergency, boom, they come up with money for it."


Tagged categories: Bridges; Certifications and standards; Corrosion protection; Hiring; Maintenance coating work; Maintenance programs; Painting Contractors; Program/Project Management; Rail; Regulations; SSPC; SSPC 2014; Worker training

Comment from jesse chasteen, (2/12/2014, 9:10 AM)

Penny wise Dollar smart....I think Cliff needs to take the politico by the hand and have him cross the bridge he mentioned...make sure he has proper fall protection so he will still be around to help change the problem...Good for all of you not afraid to state the truth..

Comment from jesse chasteen, (2/12/2014, 9:21 AM)

And another thought...I have been preaching the merit of becoming skilled in the trade for 25 years...I used a visual aid with a couple of my fingers as I told the youngsters that if you master the skills you WILL be able to make a wonderful life for yourself...I would continue with the analogy that if you can't find work you are either number one LAZY (include index finger) or number two (index down next finger up) LOUSY..always receives chuckle and usually gets em thinkin...Final suggestion for all...a mentoring incentive...offer a bit of cha-ching to the gray guys for the extra effort of ushering in the new Paul Harvey for the rest of the story...

Comment from Tony Rangus, (2/12/2014, 10:06 AM)

One thing seems to be missing and not addressed. The plethora of marginal coating materials touted as saviors (remeber when polyureas were touted as a gift to the coatings field because it was surface tolerant), and the large amount of poor coatings application. For those of you in the E&C world who pay shops to coat stuff & field applicators to complete a facility, how often do you receive items at a construction site with marginal to crappy coatings requiring touch-up or complete recoat; and field contract coaters that just don't give a damn. On multi-billion projects, you cannot be looking over everybodies shoulder 100% of the time. You rely on honesty & integrity, which sadly, seems to have gone the same way as the Dodo bird. We complain about the cost of corrosion due to not maintaining coatings, but bury our heads when it comes to striving for do it right the first time (deference to Mike Holmes). You can write the best coating specification ever, and mandate the best coating materials, but what I see is alot of marginal surface preparation and poor application control.

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