Meet CalAPA’s Brandon Milar
AsphaltPro spent time getting to know CalAPA’s Technical Director Brandon Milar to learn how CalAPA is assisting with workforce development and asphalt innovation in the state of California.
The California Asphalt Pavement Association (CalAPA), West Sacramento, Calif., was first formed in 1953. Now, the association includes 27 asphalt producers, many of whom are vertically integrated and also offer paving operations, as well as 30 paving contractors. According to CalAPA Technical Director Brandon Milar, CalAPA members represent an estimated 80 percent of all asphalt produced and placed in California.
Milar, who has been CalAPA’s Technical Director for two years and has more than 23 years of experience in the asphalt industry, was also the executive director for the Northern California Asphalt Pavement Association, which merged with California’s other asphalt pavement association in 2012.
AsphaltPro spent time getting to know Milar to learn about how CalAPA is assisting with workforce development and asphalt innovation in the state of California.
How do you work alongside your SAPA’s executive director to promote asphalt in your state?
The technical director specializes in the technical needs of the membership/industry. The credibility of our organization relies heavily on the technical expertise we bring to bear as we advocate on behalf of the industry, so we must be vigilant to remain on the cutting edge of innovation, best practices and delivering the best possible value to the purchasers of our product.
There are many required duties to keep the organization running smoothly. Like an orchestra conductor, Russell Snyder, our executive director, ensures all of the different parts are working together to create a harmonious work of art. I see my role similar to that of the 1st chair, to assist him in keeping my area of expertise functioning effectively and in key. With my previous experience as a SAPA executive director, I understand the issues that he is working on and can easily lend a hand when needed.
Do you have a degree related to the industry? Would you share a story from your college days that asphalt professionals can relate to?
I hold a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly).
When I look back to my college curriculum, I am amazed that my career is focused on asphalt pavements. At Cal Poly, my asphalt materials education only included two weeks of a 10 week construction materials course.
Why did you join the asphalt industry?
After graduating from Cal Poly, I accepted a concrete aggregate production shift supervisor position at Kaiser Cement in Cupertino, California. A technical service position opened up at Kaiser Sand & Gravel in Pleasanton, California. By accepting the position, I was able to expand my knowledge of aggregates and begin my understanding of asphalt pavements. I owe a debt of gratitude to my manager and mentor, Mr. Bruce Carter. He took me under his wing and exhibited the diligence and professionalism required of an engineer.
What do you see as the most important part of your job as a technical director of a SAPA?
Our association focuses on sharing information related to all aspects of asphalt materials and pavements. To address our members’ needs, I focus on understanding the technical issues and future direction of our industry and how to find the information and expertise to address these issues.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The largest challenge that we have in California is dealing with the “silver tsunami.” We are in the midst of a very large exit of extremely knowledgeable technical experts from our agency partners.
As a result we have to find a way to work with temporary replacements or individuals that are growing their expertise. While this can slow the process of change, I am optimistic that many of the next generation of engineers have an interest in learning and are open to new ideas and change.
This presents an enormous opportunity for our association, which has education at the core of our mission. We look forward to working with our agency partners to fill the knowledge gap in the workforce as it relates to asphalt pavements.
On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being none at all; 5 being very much), how much difficulty are your members having in finding qualified workers for their asphalt paving or production crews?
For the past nine years, we have conducted an annual survey of our newsletter subscribers (2,600) that is comprised of members, non-members, agency personnel and others. This year, workforce issues was the No. 1 challenge identified by participants in the survey. This is true of professional and technical positions, and particularly as it relates to craft positions in the field.
Could you give an example (or two) of a way your state APA assists members with workforce development?
There are some impressive workforce recruitment and development activities being done by others, so we are careful to avoid duplicate efforts. We look for opportunities where we can leverage the work of others, and amplify it, for maximum impact. Two recent examples are the national “Women of Asphalt” movement and “Project Cornerstone”.
At the 2018 World of Asphalt event, several remarkable women leaders in our industry created a Women of Asphalt leadership panel discussion. With the assistance of these leaders, we included a similar panel discussion at our Sacramento fall conference as a special evening event. Our impressive speaker lineup included our former technical director, Dr. Rita B. Leahy, and Mary Teichert, Chief Operating Officer for Teichert Construction, one of the most prominent construction companies in California.
Another effort bootstrapped by one of our members, EnviroMINE, and supported by many others, is called Project Cornerstone. It has developed interactive, hands-on curriculum and activities for schools to help youngsters understand the construction materials industry. This includes the many careers in science, technology and engineering that are connected to our industry. We also featured Project Cornerstone on the cover of our industry magazine.
In both of these examples, we are challenging our industry to think about how we can do a better job of telling our story, that we provide a welcoming environment for people of all types and backgrounds, and that rewarding careers await those who recognize that sometimes opportunity wears boots and a hard hat.
How do you encourage folks to get into the engineering side of the industry?
Every year we invite aspiring engineers from our local universities to attend our technical conferences. We employed an engineering student at Sacramento State University, Ritha Nhorn, in our office. Every year we sponsor a graduate student in engineering to participate in the International Road Federation Road Scholar leadership program to Washington, D.C. We jump at every chance we can to get in front of college engineering classes to expose them to asphalt concepts. We also promote the excellent college professor programs conducted via the National Center for Asphalt Technology at Auburn University. This is a great way for college professors who may be teaching students about construction materials to have a well-rounded understanding of asphalt pavements.
What courses do you recommend a community and/or four-year college add to its curriculum to educate and encourage engineering or trades?
We have worked with local university engineering programs to provide a course that focuses on the practical applications of the engineering concepts that are learned. For one course at Chico State, we contacted various members from all aspects of asphalt pavements to spend an evening in class with the students. They provided insights into materials, recycling, construction, maintenance, and design of asphalt pavements.
College curriculums need to increase the emphasis on construction materials. They should include hands-on education in the production of materials and the testing of materials.
What are the top two or three ways you have increased membership in the association?
We have found that our continuous effort to position our organization as asphalt pavement experts has resulted in an increase in membership. We take the lead on asphalt issues and this leadership role is acknowledged by the various stakeholders. Our conferences, educational programs and electronic newsletter is accessible to anyone, and many of our new members joined after being exposed to one of our educational programs.
In what month do you hold your annual meeting? What other activities does the state association hold throughout the year?
Every January, CalAPA conducts its annual meeting at the Jonathan Club in downtown Los Angeles. This historic private club founded in the late 1800s has hosted our annual meetings for many decades. It provides an incredible opportunity to interact with the industry leaders in California in an historic venue.
Every year, CalAPA conducts a pavement conference in Ontario, in southern California, and a second one in Sacramento, in northern California. These two conferences provide an opportunity for us to share the latest information on all aspects of asphalt.
In addition to our conferences, we provide asphalt training classes throughout California. Classes include Asphalt Pavement 101, Quality Asphalt Paving, and Essentials of Pavement Smoothness for both industry and agency personnel. We plan to add a course on asphalt rubber in 2019.
Although we focus on technical activities, we also recognize the importance of networking, socializing, and fun. We host an annual golf tournament, a Day at the Races during the opening weekend of thoroughbred horse racing at Del Mar, and are now including events in conjunction with the conference (Top Golf – Roseville).
Proceeds from these events assist in addressing the resource needs of the association, which includes our annual International Road Federation Scholarship program and pooled fund research activities with our SAPA partners.
Does your staff hold educational seminars or webinars for members separate from the annual meeting/convention(s) throughout the year?
CalAPA hosts a series of technical courses that are held throughout California. These half-day courses cover the basics of asphalt paving (Asphalt Pavement 101) and advanced pavement courses (Quality Asphalt Paving, asphalt mix designs, pavement smoothness, etc).
CalAPA continues to evaluate the courses that are offered. New course offerings are developed based on discussions amongst the members of our Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), industry trends from across the country and changes to the current practices both statewide and locally.
Also, we host regional technical committee meetings that provide an opportunity for local stakeholders to network and discuss current asphalt trends.
Could you share an example of a time when your state APA hosted elected officials to educate them on the need for highway funding, asphalt materials, construction workforce development, etc.?
CalAPA encourages our members to set up plant tours for our elected officials. This is becoming a common occurrence throughout California. But this important activity is not limited to elected officials. We also assist with plant tours for the various agency/public works personnel from both technical and environmental efforts.
Last year, we worked with our member company Granite Construction to coordinate a plant tour for a large group of Caltrans engineers. The tour showed the engineers the entire process from aggregate extraction in the quarry to the production of HMA at the plant. We also facilitated a tour of a Teichert plant for a group of environmental regulators. We are also working with our partners in San Diego to highlight the process our industry uses to process millings from paving projects into RAP for use in HMA production.
On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being none at all; 5 being very much), how much of a threat to your members’ marketshare/livelihood is the concrete industry in your state?
We hesitate to place a number on it. We work hard to have a productive working relationship with our colleagues who represent concrete paving interests. In many cases, we have common interests.
In the past year we worked closely together to engage the California Department of Transportation on their pavement smoothness specifications. Our general approach is that we strive to provide project owners with technical information that is credible, thoroughly researched, peer-reviewed and field-tested so that they can make the best-possible engineering judgements with regard to pavement type selection.
We understand the enormous pressure public agencies, in particular, are under to ensure they are getting the best possible value for the taxpayer dollar. We want to be a trusted resource of technical and practical information in this regard.
What emerging trends have you identified pertaining to asphalt paving in your state?
In 2012, California began the transition towards full Superpave implementation. Several pilot projects were constructed by Caltrans with the Superpave specification. Seven years later, Superpave is the mix design methodology for all of the work for Caltrans. Local agencies have not fully embraced the Superpave process. We see a need to work with our local agency partners to develop a Superpave specification that meets the needs of residential and collector routes. The Caltrans Superpave specification works well for highways with heavy vehicular loading but may not be appropriate for lower volume routes.
Also, California leads the nation in the use of asphalt rubber mixes. The superpave effort also includes asphalt rubber mixes. After several years of usage, our members have concerns with variability in test results from the tests used in the Superpave specification. We are working to identify the sources of variability and determine the appropriate changes necessary for implementation.
What do you find most enjoyable about your job as a technical director of a SAPA?
We are fortunate to work in an industry filled with incredible people of diverse backgrounds. Throughout my career I have learned that this experience is true here in California, across the U.S., and even overseas. I enjoy spending time with my industry colleagues to share our career expertise and compare our life’s journey.